HISTORY OF DAVENPORT
"PAST AND PRESENT"
The province of the Historian, is less cause than effect - rather facts, than the mediate or immediate agencies of their production. Thus, in the present case, I might overstep the limits of duty by particular inquiry into the causes which have transformed the West from a wilderness to an Eden; or by discussing the probabilites of the existence of some latent "serial law" of human operations, whose result is Progression; or, less metaphysically, by inquiring whether railways, English capital, the influences of monarchial despotism, or omnipotent American enterprise, is the remote or immediate cause of these wonderful changes.
For the present let the simple facts suffice - let it be enough to know that tens of thousands of miles area have, within the memory of young men, been wrung from the grasp of luxuriant Nature by systematic Act - that forests which yesterday were growing but to decay, are now employing myriads of men in transforming them into the utilities of civilization - that the yell of marauding savages is still fresh on our ears, while its echoes are being caught up, and re-flung to the winds by the shriek of the locomotive, as the thunder of its approach heralds the advent of Enlightened Industry - that the tomahawk yet unrusted by age, is supplanted by the plow-share - that the music of water-falls, scarcely yet dead upon the ears of forest hamadryads, is now absorbed in the bust hum of wheel and revolving saw and the clang of machinery, all ascending as the grand anthem of Progress - that the echoes which yesterday slept, or drowsily repeated the hum of forest-life, are to-day sending back the ten thousand voices of many tongued civilization. These facts - in their magnitude, in the lightning-like quickness of the transformations which they involve, and their kaleidescope beauty results - will sufficiently interest non-philosophical readers, without a strict inquiry into their rationale.
Let one devote himself more particularly to a contemplation of the illimitable benefits conferred upon Humanity by the unlocking of such a store-house as the West - to the contemplation of states of acres so rich that they need but "tickling to make them laugh" in the exuberance of joyous plenty - of its vast coal beds, and the lead mines - and in short its profusion in all that contributes to wealth and happiness - and where More's magnificent dream of Utopia finds its nearest possible material interpretation - and he will have abundant opportunity for earnest reflection, while our present history will obtain ample material for its completion.
Let us turn to them for a little, by referring to "PAST and PRESENT."
Thirty years ago there was not, save the blackened remains of a chimney at Fort Madison, a single vestige of civilization from twenty miles below Keokuk to Galena, west of the Mississippi. That part of Wisconsin, now known as Iowa, was unknown - her vast fertile prairies and rich-stocked coal beds were un-worked; and the populous, busy cities now spread over here bosom, and teeming with the vitalities of Industry, Wealth, Beauty and Intelligence, were undreamed of by the wildest schemer of the age.
Standing upon Rock Island then, one saw opposite of him, on the Wisconsin side, but a waving, irregular semicircle of bluffs, inclosing an amphitheatre of some hundreds of yards in breadth, and two miles in length. The floor or "bottom" of this amphitheatre sloped gently from the water to the foot of the bluffs, and in its quietness, and with its abrupt back-ground, whose many outlines seemed drawn by some tremulous artist-hand, against the sky, formed a pleasant and beautiful scene. Destitute of trees, covered with prarie grass in Summer, and its snowy shroud in Winter, there was not much, however, to long interest our spectator.
But could he, as he, stood there at that moment, have been imbued with the power of piercing futurity for the short space of thirty years, he would have found very much to chain his attention. He would have seen at first a straggling cabin or two - a little longer, and more of them - the rude "tavern," the insignificant store - a few new sounds indicating the travail of Labor-birth. Years hurry along - a more commodious residence supplants the cabin, a "hotel" improves upon the "tavern," more stores are erected, the bluffs are invaded, and surveyors and stakes mark the outlines of a "city." But a little longer and the rude cabins disappear, and lines of brick houses, lofty warehouses, and the church, mark the rapidity of change.
The "thirty years"vision ends, but as it fades away a dozen lofy spires reaching high in the blue ether; palatial banks of brick and marble; and regal residences surrounded by the green of woodland foliage; massive colleges and seminaries; long, wide streets, with smooth hard bottoms, fringed by long lines of twinkling, brilliant gas-lights, and the vast white structure which spans the River, meet his view. As the sounds of his vision fade, there come upon his ear the pulsating of a score of steam-pipes, the sharp clang of a thousand hammers, the hoarse signals and deep throbs of passing steamboats, the thunders of long trains of freight and passenger cars, the scream of the locomotive, the hum of a great crowd, each member busily evolving the problem of Progression, and in short the voices, the roar, and the murmur of a GREAT CITY.
So much for "Past and Present" - for the transformation of less than thirty years - for the magical operations of the Genius of Civilization, as she waves her wand over the silent unproductiveness of Nature.
Having thus rapidly outlined a series of events, the next chapters will be devoted to developing them in detail. That the task both to reader and writer will prove pleasant, profitable, and interesting, is more that probable - it amounts to the character of a certainty.
NOTE: A picture of Davenport taken from the Rock Island side can be viewed by going to the Scott County Main Page and clicking on Pictures/Documents.