(Pictures included with this chapter are:  The Ferry "Davenport - Davenport Waterworks and Settling Basin - A Short Line Packet - John Wilson's Ferry Showing The Old Fort Across The River)

In April, 1823, Daniel Smith Harris, a lad of fifteen, left Cincinnati on the keel-boat Colonel Bumford for the LeFevre lead mines, now Galena, where he arrived June 20th, following, after a laborious voyage down the Ohio and up the Mississippi.  It came about in the evolution of things required for specific purposes that the keel-boat was constructed.  This boat was built to go up stream as well as down.  It was a well modeled craft, sixty to eighty feet long and fifteen to  eighteen feet wide, sharp at both ends and often with fine lines, clipper built for passengers or traffic.  It had usually about four feet depth of hold.  Its cargo box, as it was called, was about four feet higher, sometimes covered with a light curved deck, sometimes open, with a "gallows frame" running the length of the hold, over which tarpaulins were drawn and fastened to the sides of the boat for the protection of the freight and passengers in stormy weather.  At either end of the craft was a deck eight or ten feet in length, the forward or forecastle deck having a windlass or capstan for pulling the boat off bars or warping through swift water or over rapids.  Along each side of the cargo box ran a narrow walk about eighteen inches in width, with cleats nailed to the deck twenty-eight or thirty inches apart to prevent the crew from slipping when poling up stream.  About the time the keel-boat Colonel Bumford was passing St. Louis the steamer Virginia departed for the upper river with a load of supplies for the United States military post at Fort Snelling.  She arrived at Fort Snelling May 10, 1823, the first boat propelled by steam to breast the water of the upper Mississippi.  She was received by a salute of cannon from the fort and carried fear and consternation to the Indians, who watched the smoke rolling from her chimneys and the exhaust steam from her escape pipe with a noise that simply terrified them.  The Virginia was scarcely longer than the largest keel-boat, being about one hundred and twenty feet long and twenty-two feet beam.  She had no upper cabin, the accomodations for the passengers being in the hold in the stern of the boat, with the cargo box covering so common to the keel-boat of which she herself was but an evolution.


What did the young steamboat man see in his voyage from Cairo to Galena in 1823?  In his later years, in speaking of this trip he said that where Cairo now stands there was but one log building, a warehouse for the accommodation of keel-boat navigators of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.  Cape Girardeau, St. Genevieve and Herculaneum were small settlements averaging a dozen families each.  St. Louis was built almost entirely of frame structures and had a population of about 5,000.  The levee was a ledge of rocks with scarcely a fit landing place on the whole frontage.  Alton, Clarksville and Louisiana were minor settlements.  What is now Quincy consisted of one log cabin only, which was built and occupied by John Woods, who afterwards became lieutenant governor of the state of Illinois and acting governor.  This intrepid pioneer was "baching it," being industriously engaged in clearing a piece of land for farming purposes.  The only settler at Hannibal was one John S. Miller, a blacksmith, who removed to Galena in the autumn of 1823.  In later years Hannibal was to claim the honor of being the birthplace of Mark Twain, the humorist historian of the lower Mississippi pilot clans.  The last farm house between St. Genevieve and Galena was located at Cottonwood Priairie, (now Canton) and was occupied by one Captain White, who was prominently identified with the early development of the the northwest.  There was a government garrison at Keokuk which was then known as Fort Edwards, and another at Fort Armstrong on Rock Island.  The settlement at Galena consisted of but a dozen log cabins, a few frame shanties and a smelting furnace.  If Mr. Harris was looking only for the signs of an advancing civilization, the above probably covers about all he saw on his trip.  Other things came to his notice, however - the great river flowing in its pristine glory unvexed to the sea; islands set like emeralds in the tawny flood; the trees and bushes taking on their summer dress of green in the warm May sunshine; prairies spreading away in boundless beauty, limited only by his powers of vision.  Later, as his craft stemmed the flood and advanced up the river, he saw the hills beginning to encroach upon the valley of the river, narrowing his view; and later the crags and bastions of the bluffs of the upper river beetling over the very channel itself and lending an added grandeur to the simple beauty of the banks already passed.  His unaccustomed eyes saw the wickyups and tepees of the Indians scattered among the islands and on the lowlands, the hunters of the tribes changing the firelock for the spear and net as they sought to reap the water of its harvest of returning fish.  It was all new to the young traveler who was later to become the best known steamboat man of the upper river, the commander of a greater number of steamboats than any of his compeers and who was to know the river in all its meanderings and in all its curves better than any other who ever sailed - Daniel Smith Harris, of Galena, Illinois. 


Of the early boats stopping at this port Captain W. L. Clark furnishes the names, and the steamers that came up from St. Louis in 1827, for the government and for traffic at the Galena lead mines and with supplies for the few settlers; they were:  Red Rover, Captain Otis Reynolds; the Shamrock, Captain James May; the Indiana and Black  Rover, captains' names not recalled.  The captains in 1831 and 1832 were:  Throckmorton, steamer Warrior; O'Flagerty, Forsyth, VanHouten.  Captains from 1833 until 1836; Cole, Smith Harris, Orin Smith, Scribe Harris, Ben Campbell, Cameron, Clime, Ward, John Atchinson, George Atchinson, Mark Atchinson and Hardin Roberts; from 1836 until 1842; Leroy Gabbert, Blakesley, K. Lodwich, John Lodwich and Barger.

Several of the commanders named above continued on the upper river until 1850, and three or four until the early '60s.   Mrs. Erie Dodge, of Buffalo, Scott county, kept a record of early years and noted the following list of names of vessels that plied the waters of the Mississippi:  1845 - War Eagle, St. Croix, Fortuna, Mungo Park, Monona, Mendota, Galena, Falcon, Lynx, Uncle Toby, Time, St. Louis, Oak, Sarah Ann, Cecilia, General Block, Osprey, Potosi, Reveille, Lebanon, LaSalle, Confidence, Amaranth, Brazil, Iron City, Iowa Mermaid, Dial, Nimrod, Otter, U. S. Mail, Herald, Iowa, New Haven, Archer, Jasper, Ohio; 1848 - Iowa City, Uncle Toby, Montauk, Bon Accord, Senator, Red Wing, Pearl, Domain, Clermont, Confidence, Falcon, Piazza, Mondoanna, Mary Blain, Ellen, Dubuque, St. Peters, Time and Tide, Alexander Hamilton, Highland Mary, Odd Fellow, Ohio Mail, Otter, DeKalb, Leiza Stewart, Kentucky, North Alabama, Dan Rice; 1849 - Senator, St. Croix, American Eagle, Dr. Franklin, Bon Accord, St. Peters, Time and Tide, Newton, Wagoner, Otter, Archer, Oswego, War Eagle, Dubuque, Clermont No. 2, Montauk, Highland Mary, Financier, Anthony Wayne, Cora, Kentucky, Red Wing, Bay State Planter, Oregon, Wisconsin, Palo Alto, Saranak, Revenue Cutter, Herald, American, Yankee, Mary Blaine, Domain, Allegheny Mail, Tiger, Piazza, Magnet, Danube, Minnesota, Caroline, No Name.  John P. Robertson, a  Davenport boy of long ago, loved the river and kept this list of boats which landed here from 1850 to 1852; Amaranth, Archer, Asia, Anthony Wayne, Bon Accord, Black Hawk, Brunette, Brazil, Ben Campbell, Ben Franklin, Cora, Caleb Cope, Danube, Di Vernon, Diadem, Enterprise, Express, Excelsior, Fortune, Falcon, Fleetwood, Financier, Galena, General Gaines, Golden Era, G. W. Sparhawk, Glaucus, Highland Mary, Iron City, Iowa, Ione, Irene, J. H. McKee, Jennie Lind, Lamertine, Lynx, Mendota, Minnesota, Monogalhela, Mary Blaine, Montauk, Martha No. 1, Martha No. 2, Mary O, Northerner, Nauvoo, Osprey, Ohio, Oshkosh, Oneoto, Ocean Wayne, Pembina, Potosi, Prairie Bird, Red Wing, Robert Fulton, Ripple, St. Paul, Shenandoah, St. Croix, Silas Wright, Swamp Fox, Senator, Time and Tide, Tempest, Tobacco Plant, Uncle Toby, War Eagle, Wisconsin, Warrior, Wyoming.  All these boats were built for freight and passengers and the most of them were side-wheelers.  Trade was immensely profitable.  Previous to 1850 there were no boat lines as we have today represented locally by agents.  Each captain solicited freight when his boat came to land.  Emigration was tremendous and freight rates high.  Steamboats costing fifty thousand dollars would pay for themselves in a single season.  In the season of 1855 from the arrival of the first boat, March 15th, to the time of the river closing, December 8th, there were 1,113 arrivals and departures of steamboats at the Davenport landing.  Of all these boats about six were lost during the season, four being burned and two sunk.


"Old Times on the Upper Mississippi River" - the recollections of a steamboat pilot from 1854 to 1863, was written by Captain George Byron Merrick and published in 1909.  Of his experiences on the Mississippi river he has the following, in part, to say:

"The majesty and glory of the great river have departed; its glamour remains, fresh and undying in the memories of those who, with mind's eye, still can see it as it was a half century ago.  Its majesty was apparent in the mighty flood which then flowed throughout the season, scarcely diminished by the summer heat; its glory in the great commerce which floated upon its bosom, beginnings of great commonwealths yet to be; its glamour is that indefinable witchery with which memory clothes the commonplace of long ago, transfiguring the labors, cares, responsibilities and dangers of steamboat life as it really was into a mid-summer night's dream of care-free, exhilarating experiences and glorified achievements.  There were steamers running between St. Louis and Fort Snelling, near St. Paul, from the year 1823 in more or less regularity.  The Virginia, Captain Crawford, was the first steamboat to reach Fort Snelling, which occurred May 10, 1823.  The crowning achievement of Captain William Fisher, of Galena, was the taking of the City of Quincy from St. Louis to St. Paul, Captain Brock being his partner for the trip.  The City of Quincy was a New Orleans packet that had been chartered to take an excursion the length of the river.  The vessel was of 1,600 tons burden, with length of 350 feet beam and was the largest boat ever making the trip above Keokuk rapids.  Two or three incidents of Captain Fisher's river life, among the many which he related to me, are of interest as showing the dangers of the Mississippi.  The following is one which he believed was an omen prophetic of the war of the rebellion.  I give it as told to me:

"I am going to tell you this just as it happened.  I don't know whether you will believe me or not.  I don't say that I would believe it myself if I had not seen it with my own eyes.  If some one else had told it to me I might have set it down as a 'yarn.'  If they never have had any experience on the river some men would make yarns to order.  It is a mighty sight easier to make them than it is to live them - and safer.

"When this thing happened to me I was entirely sober and I was not asleep.  If you will take my word for it I have never been anything else but sober.  If I had been otherwise I would not be here now telling you this at eighty-two years old (the relator told the story in 1903).  Whiskey always gets 'em long before they see the eighty mark.  And you know that a man can't run a steamboat while asleep - that is very long.  Of course he can for a little while, but when he hits the bank it wakes him up.

" 'This story ought to interest you because I was on your favorite boat when it happened.  The Fannie Harris was sold in 1859, in May, or June, to go south.  She came back right away, not going below St. Louis, after all.  I took her down to that port.  Joseph Jones, of Galena, had bought  the bar for the season when she was sold, and lost thirty dollars in money by the disposal of the boat.  Captain W. H. Gabbert, who died a few months since, was in command and I was pilot.  I left Galena in the evening.  It was between changes of the moon and a beautiful star-light night - as fine as I ever saw.  By the time we got down to Bellevue the stars had all disappeared and it had become daylight, not twilight, but broad daylight, so light that you could not see the brightest star, and from 11:30 to 12:30, a full hour, it was as bright as any day when the sun was under a cloud.  At midnight I was right opposite Savanna.  Up to this time Captain Gabbert had been asleep in the cabin, although he was on watch.  We were carrying neither passengers nor freight for we were just taking the boat down to deliver her to her new owners.  The captain woke up or was called and when he saw the broad day-light and that his watch indicated that it was only just midnight, he was surprised and maybe scared, just as everyone else was.  He ran out on the roof and called out "Mr. Fisher, land the boat, the world is coming to an end."  I told him that if the world were coming to an end that we might as well go in the middle of the river as at the bank, and kept on going.  It took just as long to get dark again as it did to get light - about an hour.  Then in another half hour the stars had come out, one by one, just as you see them at sunset - the big bright ones first and then the whole field of little ones.  I looked for all the stars I knew by sight and as they came back, one by one, I began to feel more confidence in the reality of things.  I couldn't tell at all where the light came from - but it grew absolutely broad daylight.  That one hour's experience had more to do with turning my hair white than anything that ever occurred to me, for it certainly did seem a strange phenomenon.  "Was it worse than going into a battle?" I asked.  Yes, a hundred times worse, because it was different.  When you go into battle you know just what danger is, and you nerve yourself to meet it.  It is just the same as bracing yourself to meet a known danger in your work - wind, lightning or storm - you know what to expect and if you have any nerve you just hold yourself in and let it come.  This was different; you didn't know what was coming next, but I guess we all thought just as the captain did, that it was the end of the world.  I confess that I was scared, but I had the boat to look out for and until the world did really come to an end I was responsible for her, and so stood by and you know that helps to keep your nerves where they belong.  I just hung on to the wheel and kept her in the river, but held one eye on the western sky to see what was coming next.  I hope when my time comes I shall not be scared to death, and I don't believe I shall be.  It will come in a natural way and there won't be anything to scare a man.  It is the unknown and mysterious that shakes him and this midnight marvel was too much for any of us.  We had a great many signs before the war and I believe this marvel was one of them, only we didn't know how to read it.' "

Captain Merrick graphically describes a race between the Itasca and the Gray Eagle, which took place in 1856 on the Mississippi from Dunleith to St. Paul.  He says:  "As a race against time, the run of the Gray Eagle was something really remarkable.  A sustained speed of over sixteen miles an hour for a distance of 300 miles up stream is a wonderful record for an inland steamboat, anywhere, upper river or lower river, and the pride which Captain Harris had in his boat was fully justified.  'A' few years later she struck the Rock Island bridge and sank in less than five minutes, a total loss.  It was pitiful to see the old captain leaving the wreck, a broken-hearted man, weeping over the loss of his darling and returning to his Galena home, never again to command a steamboat.  He had, during his eventful life on the upper river built and owned or commanded scores of steamboats and this was the end."  Captain D. Smith Harris in 1855 brought out the Gray Eagle which had been built at Cincinnati at a cost of $60,000.  He built her with his own money or at least had a controlling interest and intended her to be the fastest boat on the river.


Captain W. A. Blair gives an interesting description of rafting on the Mississippi river in the following article which first appeared in the Chicago Tinberman:

"The rafting of logs began about 1845 and reached its height in 1890 when the Chippewa river alone sent out over 600,000,000 feet of logs, besides over 400,000,000 feet of sawed lumber for the yards at Brulington, Keokuk, Hannibal, Louisiana, St. Louis and Chester.  The first rafts floated down the Mississippi were very small, were carried along by the current and handled by large oars on the bow and stern.  The logs were rafted in strings seventeen feet wide and held together by poles across them, to which each log was fastened by wooden plugs and lockdowns.  These strings were fastened together into rafts from five to ten strings wide and about 250 feet long.  Delays by wind, sticking on sandbars or breaking on islands were common and while the price per thousand feet was very high, the proceeds of the entire trip were often required to pay off the crew.

"In 1865 W. J. Young, of Clinton, Iowa, one of the most successful pioneers of the lumber business, encouraged Captain Cyrus Bradley to try a small steamboat hitched to the stern of a raft to push and guide it in the stream.  His first efforts were not highly satisfactory but enough so to induce him and others to try pushing rafts with better boats in the same way, which they did with very gratifying results.


"By 1870 the business of towing rafts by steamboats had become well established but considerable trouble attended all their efforts to properly handle and guide the rafts until Chauncey Lamb, of Clinton, Iowa, invented the famous 'Clinton nigger,' since then in use on every boat in the rafting business.  By its use the boat's position can be easily and quickly changed so as to shove forward or back up in different directions as the change in wind or course of the river may require.  The boat's head is made fast to the stern of the raft as near the middle as possible, and the stern is held in position by two gang lines of large ropes made fast on the stern corners of the raft and rove around the drums of the 'Clinton nigger' placed aft of the boat's center and amidships.  'Running the nigger' pulls in one gang line and passes out the other, changing the direction of the boat accordingly.  A boat hitched in this way can handle a much heavier tow than if hitched in stiff depending entirely on the rudders for steering and handling.  During the early part of 1895 the steamer Saturn, 120 feet long, twenty-four feet wide, with engine fifteen inches in diameter, four and a half feet stroke, made a very successful trip to St. Louis with a raft of lumber 1,584 feet long and 272 feet wide, containing over 7,000,000 feet of lumber besides shingles, laths and pickets enough to load a good sized steamer.  About the same time the steamer E. Rutledge brought to Rock Island a raft of logs 1,450 long and 285 feet wide, containing over 2,000,000 feet log measure.  Either of these rafts would cover ten acres but were brought successfully through some very narrow, crooked places.

"Floating rafts are a thing of the past and many of the famous old floating pilots have long since crossed to the other shore.  They were a strong, hardy, self-reliant lot of men, accustomed to expsoure, hard work, long watches and the handling of the rough, boisterous men who composed their crew.  When wind-bound or tied up near some small town where liquors were to be had, these raftsmen of the olden time were much inclined to paint things a very brilliant color, and where local authorities failed to control them they generally hunted up the pilot to take charge of his men and save the town.


"Captain S. B. Hanks, now living in Albany, Illinois, (1905) at the age of eighty-nine years, gets the credit for having been the first recognized raft pilot.  He saw the business grow from a single trip to a great industry in which ninety steamers were engaged regularly all season long, whose crews numbered, all told, 1,800 men, with a monthly pay roll of over $80,000.

"The average raft steamer is 130 feet long, twenty-six feet wide, four feet hold and has two inch pressure boiler with engine thirteen inches in diameter and six feet stroke.  Some of them have very nice cabins with accommodation for the crew of twenty and a few extra.  The logs are driven down the small tributaries into the Black, Chippewa, St. Croix and upper Mississippi rivers, and then flooded and driven down loose into the Mississippi river.

"Black river logs are rafted at North LaCrosse at the mouth of the stream.  Chippewa logs are driven down into the Mississippi at Reed's Landing, then twelve miles down into West Newton slough, where they are held, sorted, scaled and rafted by the Minnesota Boom Company, which company can turn out, when conditions are favorable, 10,000,000 to 15,000,000 feet per day.  St. Croix logs are rafted at Stillwater, where the St. Croix river enters St. Croix lake.  Upper Mississippi river logs are driven loose from St. Anthony's falls and rafted between Fort Snelling and St. Paul.  From these points the steamer tows them to the saw mills at Winona, LaCrosse, Lansing, Guttenberg, Dubuque, Bellevue, Lyons, Fulton, Clinton, Moline, Rock Island, Davenport, Muscatine, Burlington, Fort Madison, Keokuk, Quincy, Hannibal and St. Louis, while rafted lumber is sometimes taken to Chester, eighty miles below St. Louis.

"The average speed of a tow boat and raft down stream is three and a half miles an hour.  Of late years several operators have adopted the plan of making their rafts very long and using a small steamboat fastened crosswise of the bow.  By going ahead or backing the bow boat the raft can be pointed around or kept in the channel much more quickly than the boat at the stern could do it alone.  Another point gained by this plan is that while the ordinary raft is too wide for the bridge draws, and can only be put through one half at a time, lengthened out double length and half width, double tripping the bridge is avoided and much time saved.

"The business has seen its best days.  Forest fires and the chopper's ax have destroyed nearly all the good timber accesible.  The average size of the logs diminishes each year.   Mill after mill will close when its supply of white pine is exhausted.  One by one the tow boats that have chased each other down the grand old river will be laid to rest and rot, while their crew, who have waited in vain for the pleasant message to 'get her ready at once' will wander off, sadly trying to catch a land lubber's step and earn a hard living on shore, thinking often of the old familiar whistle he will hear no more."


Colonel George Davenport established the first public ferry between Warsaw on the south and Prairie du Chien on the north, a distance of 500 miles.  This took place in Davenport in 1825 and full crews were employed, both at the "slough" and the main channel, for the original ferry led across from the island and not below it.  The slough ferry touched the Illinois shore near where the freight depot of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific now stands.  The island landing on the main channel was just in front of the Davenport mansion, while on the Iowa shore there were two, an arriving and a departing landing.  The rapids current was strong and the boats, usually propelled by oar and helm, were naturally carried well down stream in crossing.  The first landing was at a point where Renwick's mill was subsequently built, and from this point the boat was poled up along the shore to a point at the foot of Mississippi avenue, from which it returned to the island landing.  Two oarsmen and a man at the helm composed the crew, and the rates for putting a man and horse across the stream was $1.25, or $2 for a two horse team, and sinle passengers in a skiff 25 cents.  While living at Andalusia Captain Benjamin W. Clark established a ferry at Buffalo before he moved across the river.  This was for many years the most noted ferry between Brulington and Dubuque.  In 1834 Antoine LeClaire started his ferry below the island, which put the Davenport boats and crews out of business.  LeClaire began with flat boats and his first captain was L. S. Colton.  At the expiration of two years Mr. LeClaire sold his franchise and boats to John Wilson for $1,000 and quit the business.  Captain Wilson was a man of energy and enterprise and at once began building new boats and conducted the business in a methodical manner.  He made commutation rates with the Rock river ferry at the mouth of Green river, whereby one fare paid the way over both ferries.  This arrangement was well advertised and greatly increased Captain Wilson's business and brought to this county many people seeking homes who would not otherwise have come here.  The Iowa Sun of August 4, 1838, announced that Captain Wilson had a steam ferry upon his docks which he would launch in due time.  For some reason, not now known, the boat was not finished until 1842, but when it appeared on the water it was found to be in advance of the times, and was taken off to reappear no more until 1852.  It was the first steam ferry on the river above St. Louis.  There were twelve ferries chartered in 1842.  Every town along the river had its ferry.  Captain Benjamin W. Clark had one at Buffalo which existed up to a few years ago.  In the spring of 1838 he was licensed to run a ferry at Buffalo.  John H. Sullivan and Adrian A. Davenport had one at Rockingham and Marmaduke S. Davenport at Credit island, which have long since gone out of existence.  Just below Buffalo Joseph and Matthias Mounts had ferries.  Avery Thomas ran a flat boat at Pinneo's landing, now Princeton, and Benjamin Doolittle had a ferry on the Wapsipinicon near its mouth.  These men all had flat boats.  Gilbert Marshall ran a ferry on the Wapsipinicon at Point Pleasant in 1840, which was subsequently turned over to J. W. Curtley in 1842 and afterward became the property of Judge Grant.  A ferry was started at Pleasant Valley by Lucien Well in 1842 and Parkhurst, now LeClaire, had its ferry about the same time.  In the county commissioners' court at Rockingham in May, 1838, the following schedule for licenses was adopted:   Davenport, $20; Buffalo, $10; Rockingham, $8; all others at $5 per annum.  For Mississippi ferriage the following rates were followed:

Footmen...................................... $   .18 3/4
Man and horse.............................      .50
One vehicle and driver..................      .75
Two horse vehicle and driver........    1.00
Each additional horse or mule.......      .18 3/4
Neat cattle, per head....................      .12 1/2
Sheep or hogs..............................      .05
Freight per hundred......................      .06 1/4

It was also ordered at this meeting that each keeper give due attendance at all times from sunrise until 8 p. m., but that they shall be allowed double rates on ferriage after sunset.

Among the improvements instituted by Captain Wilson was the ferry alarm.  Says a local writer:  "In primitive times in order to arouse the ferryman on the opposite shore the Stephensonites (now Rock Islanders) who had been over here in Davenport to attend evening services and overstayed their time, or zealous Davenporters who after dark had occasion to visit Stephenson in a missionary cause, had to raise the 'war-whoop.'  In order to discourage relics of barbarism Mr. Wilson introduced the ferry triangle, an ungainly piece of triangular steel which, when vigorously pounded with a club, sent forth from its gallows tree a most wretched clanging noise.  But it brought the skiff, though it awakened the whole town.  That triangle was immortalized by Davenport's local bard.  In an inspired moment he ground out an epic or a lyric or a something in seven stanzas and from seven to seventeen poetic feet.  We would reproduce it if we were quite certain our readers were all prepared to die."

After the death of John Wilson the ferry fell into the hands of his son-in-law, Judge John W. Spencer and Thomas J. Robinson, then associate judge, and in 1854 Judge James Grant, of Davenport, was added and the firm name changed from J. W. Spencer & Company to Spencer, Robinson & Company.  An extended history of Judge Spencer's life was written by himself is given in another part of this work.  Thomas S. Robinson left his native state, Maine, in 1837 and landed in Green county, Illinois, where he taught school several years, and was county clerk for some time.  In 1847 he went to Rock Island county and there engaged in farming for two years.  The following three or four years he engaged in merchandising at Port Byron, and from 1853 to 1868 almost without a day's absence he was the captain in command of his prosperous steamer, ever active, pleasant and accommodating and attending to his business in a business-like manner.  The first permanent steam ferry boat that plied between Davenport and Rock Island was the "John Wilson."  It was followed by the "Davenport" in 1855 and ran in connection with that boat in those busy transfer times of 1855 and 1856 before the completion of the railroad bridge.  In 1857 the "Rock Island" came into service and the "John Wilson" was sold to the Fulton & Lyons' trade.  The "Davenport" became a government transport during the Civil war and eventually met the fate of all things perishable.  The "Rock Island" continued in the service several years, when it was supplanted by the "J. W. Spencer," whose successor was the "Augusta."  In 1902 the "Augusta" was remodeled and rechristened as the "T. J. Robinson," which name it bore in honor of the man who gave this locality its earliest ferry service and who kept it up to a high standard in the years that followed.  The boats now in commission, "The Davenport" and "Rock Island," furnish the finest service between St. Louis and St. Paul.  They are provided with the latest approved machinery procurable for such service and the accommodations provided for the traveling public are the best possible.  Trips are made between the Rock Island and Davenport shores every fifteen minutes, which are kept up constantly during the day and until late in the evening.  On April 7, 1888, the original license to operate this ferry was issued by the United States teasury department and April 26, 1888, the charter was issued to the incorporated body - the Rock Island-Davenport Ferry Company - with a capital stock of $60,000.  The original incorporators were Thomas J. Robinson, D. Nelson Richardson, Henry Lischer, Joe R. Lane, Edward D. Sweeny and J. Frank Robinson.  Thomas J. Robinson died in April, 1899, and his stock in the ferry company was inherited by his son and only heir, J. Frank Robinson, and with the stock went the management which the elder Robinson had wisely administered.  J. Frank Robinson died in May, 1902, and bequeathed his stock to Captain Marcus L. Henderson, a cousin who had been in charge of the ferry as general manager since 1896.  At the meeting of the stockholders Captain Henderson was unanimously elected president and manage, with H. E. Casteel secretary and treasurer.


The part which a good system of inland waterways would play in the development of this section was clearly understood by the early settlers.  When Davenport was but a hamlet the progressive citizens were alive to the necessity of deepening the channel on the rapids.  River improvement conventions were held which were attended by delegates from Burlington, Muscatine, Dubuque and Davenport to the number of 150.  Such a convention was held in Davenport in 1846, but the rocks were undisturbed by the flow of eloquence for, as Hiram Price expressed it, "They had been there since the morning stars sang together, and they did not propose to be disturbed by long speeches or resolutions upon paper."

In early days the canal as a means of transportation was held in high esteem and even after the advent of the railroads in this section those interested in freight rates well understood the benefit an east and west canal would be, January 19, 1864, a Chicago and Mississippi canal meeting was held at LeClaire hall and a committee appointed to secure an appropriation from the Iowa legislature for a survey.  The expenses of the committee, $350 were pledged.  In March the efforts of the committee at Des Moines were aided by the strike of engineers on all Chicago roads which cut off Iowa from the world.  The Iowa legislature appropriated $1,000, the first money devoted to this waterway by anybody having power to vote funds.

From January 19, 1864, to November 15, 1907, the date when the first boat passed through the completed Hennepin canal, was a strenuous forty-three years for the friends of the measure.  Meetings were held in Davenport almost without number.  The hat was passed for expenses over and over again.  Editorials were written by the mile and delegates attended uncounted conventions.  Congress was bombarded with petitions and interviewed by delegations.  In September, 1874, the preliminary survey was completed.  The following January the measure had favorable action in congress.  Congressman J. H. Murphy was so insistent for the construction of the canal that he was nicknamed "Hennepin" Murphy.  In July, 1882, the National senate passed an appropriation of $100,000, the Milan route was approved.  In November, 1894, the first section of the canal was completed and water admitted thereto.  In April, 1895, the locks of the canal opened to receive the first boat.  In the fall of the year the first coal was received in Davenport from the Hennepin canal.

The building of the canal from Hennepin to Milan presented many engineering problems but none to compare with those attending the construction of the feeder ditch from Sterling south to Sheffield.  The canal is nearly 105 miles long, the main line measuring seventy-five miles, and the Sterling feeder, twenty-nine and three-tenths miles.  The canal is eighty feet wide at the surface, fifty-two feet wide at the bottom and is seven feet deep.  The construction of the locks and canal walls near Milan was the first instance in the United States where cement construction was substituted for cut stone in work of this sort.  The successful use of concrete here caused its general adoption by the government, the railroads and large contractors everywhere.

The total excavation on the canal was 8,080,512 cubic yards, the fill in embankments, 5,551,378, making a total of 13,631,890 cubic yards of earthwork.  Timber and lumber were used to the amount of 8,250,444 feet.  The cement construction in the canal has a total of 236,348 cubic yards.  The Hennepin is spanned by seventy highway and farm bridges, eight railway bridges and two pontoons, has nine acqueducts, thirty-three locks, fifty-two culverts, eight dams and nine sluiceways.

The total cost of the canal was $7,224,408.77.  Those who enjoy figures have computed that the concrete used in this canal, the first one to be constructed by the United States, would lay a sidewalk from Davenport to Boston.

While the completion of the canal has not been followed by the increase in shipments anticipated by those who worked for its construction for the forty years when work was necessary to keep the project moving, it is confidently expected that in the near future the canal will justify the expense of construction and become an important link in a system of interior water ways that will handle shipments greatly in excess of the capacity of the railroads to move.


In the spring of 1845 John Casper Wilde, a gentleman of considerable reputation as a landscape and portrait painter, made his first appearance in Davenport.  On his arrival here he was totally dependent upon his talent, which was of a very high order.  In 1846 he painted a fancy sketch which was the nearest approach to an artistical smile of which Mr. Wilde was ever known to be guilty.  He had neither humor of his own nor appreciation of humor in others.  He looked tragedy, thought tragedy and his conversation, outside of business and art, was never much more cheerful than tragedy.  This little oil sketch, a facsimile of which appears in this work, represented three notable characters of the village, each of whom at that time was personally known to almost every man, woman or child in the place.  They were collected at the well remembered ferry house and near the equally well remembered old bell post.  The bell there suspended was then furiously jingled, and often with disagreeable pertinacity, by those who wished to call the old ferryman, John Wilson, from the opposite shore.  The ringer was generally considered under personal obligation to stand at the post some time in company with his horse and vehicle, if he had any to cross over, so that the ferryman might, with proper deliberation, determine whether the skiff or horse-power boat were required by the nature of the cargo.  The large person of Antoine LeClaire sits in a buggy, to which is attached the notable old white horse that used to drag his master about the place.  Close by stands Gilbert McKown, whose store was on Front street, a few steps distant, and whose burly figure and good-humored face when on any street seemed a part and parcel of the town and directly identified with its corporate existence.  The third figure is Sam Fisher, as he was familiarly called by every acquaintance.  He then lived in the house later owned and occupied by George L. Davenport at the corner of Brady and Third streets.  Sam Fisher was the best fisher in the town, a good story-teller and had a most marvelous memory of past times and incidents, facts and dates, which, united with some peculiar eccentricities of character, exclusively and honestly his, has since made him a conspicuous character.  One of his smaller eccentricities is shown in the picture.  He is standing with his trousers turned up to the top of one boot and down to the sole of the other, doing a favorite gesture, and evidently doing the talking, of course.