Laying Out Davenport

Antoine LeClaire Monument, Mount Calvary Cemetery, Davenport, Iowa.

By the time the City of Davenport was laid out, the Black Hawk War had ended. American men involved with the war, including some who would later become famous — Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, Winfield Scott, and Jefferson Davis — had departed. There was this land on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River.

With the Indian tribes removed, something needed doing with it, or so they believed. By any measure, the enterprise was a commercial venture in an arbitrary location. Its lackluster beginnings would haunt the city, certainly until I was born more than a century later.

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In the fall of 1835 a group of men met to form a company for the purpose of purchasing land and laying out a town site on the Iowa side of the river across from the fort. These men met at the home of Colonel George Davenport to discuss the issues concerning the town. Other than George Davenport the following men attended the meeting and became part of the company: Major William Gordon, Antoine LeClaire, Major Thomas Smith, Alexander McGregor, Levi S. Colton, and Philip Hambaugh. Another member of the company was Captain James May, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania at the time.

The spring of 1836, Major Gordon surveyed the land that was to become the City of Davenport. The spot selected was west of the LeClaire Reserve and bounded by what is now Harrison Street on the east, on the north by Seventh, west by Warren, and south by the river. It included 36 square blocks and six half blocks. The cost of the entire platt was $2000.00.

In May, the area had been divided into lots, streets, and a proposed business section. Then the enterprising company offered an auction. People were brought from St. Louis by a steamboat and docked on the river front. The sale continued for two days. During the day the area was shown and in the afternoon an auction was conducted. In the evening the ballroom of their steamboat hotel was turned into a place for a lavish party in hopes that the second day of the auction would be as big a success as the company had hoped for. Unfortunately the sales were far from what was expected. Only fifty or sixty lots were sold at $300.00 to $600.00 apiece.

The promotional adventure to sell the city of Davenport was not a success in the number of sales made or amount of money collected. Most of the lots went for low prices to St. Louis speculators who hoped to make a profit on a resale.

A Clearing in the Forest by Gayle A. McCoy