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Putnam chronicles Q-C history

DAVENPORT -- A Mastodon molar. A brass bedwarmer. A Scottish curling stone and a Rubik's Cube.

What in the world could these things have in common? Or perhaps the question should be phrased, what in the Quad-Cities?

Since 1984, these items and thousands of others have been on display as part of ``River, Prairie and People,'' a permanent exhibit at Davenport's Putnam Museum chronicling the history of the Quad-Cities.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the display is that all the items were used, made, invented, sold, played with, written, burned, sewn, carved, sat upon, worn and/or eaten right here.

``If you want an overview of the Quad-Cities, that's what it is,'' summarized the museum's Curator of History, Eunice Schlichting.

``Any town has its own story,'' Ms. Schlichting said, ``because each has its own character and its own founders.''

But River, Prairie and People traces origins of this area far back beyond the arrival of Col. George Davenport and Antoine LeClaire, and before the explorers Marquette and Joliet ventured this far into what was then the western frontier.

It follows the area's development from before the Ice Age through the computer age, and continues to grow and change with the Quad-Cities.

``It really bespeaks of this community,'' Ms. Schlichting said, ``that it has a 125-year-old museum when most communities west of the Mississippi don't have that.''

The part of the exhibit that covers what Miss Schlichting calls the ``pre-human history of the area,'' actually begins with formation of the earth, and features fossilized remains of some of the area's tiniest and earliest inhabitants.

It follows the Mississippian civilization of pre-Native American people, through the European clashes with the Sac and Mesquakie tribes. An early spinning wheel and leather-covered box belonging to Black Hawk help illustrate the way of life during this early period.

The exhibit's great number of items that belonged to Indian interpreter and settler Antoine LeClaire and his wife is impressive. The family's desk and red, plush Victorian-style sofa and a 100-year-old oil painting of Davenport and Rock Island are centerpieces of the town founders section of the exhibit.

The rich, diverse cultural makeup of the Quad-Cities is impressively represented with items brought to the area by immigrants from all over the world. A color-illustrated German-language Bible and pipes with china bowls represent the area's German population. An ornate, wooden clock carved in the shape of a majestic-looking elk is one of the more impressive pieces.

An array of Scandinavian items includes a carved cabinet. A brass Menorah is among the items from Jewish settlers, a curling stone from the Scots, and a set of 19th-century ice skates, which look more like long metal saucers, come from the Irish.

The area's military heritage also is well-represented. Statues in colorful dioramas sport the original blue wool uniforms of Camp McClellan soldiers, and Civil War items such as an officer's sword and ammunition pouch remind visitors that Rock Island hosted a Confederate prison camp.

Of course, uniforms, caps and medals from World War I and World War II also have prominent places in the exhibit.

From time to time during the day, visitors are treated to a chat with a ``real'' steamboat pilot. In period dress, Pilot Pete, also known as actor Dino Hayz stands at the wheel of the fictitious Prairie Bell and tells tales of how pilots directed steamships through the dangerous Rock Island rapids.

The exhibit also outlines countless business ventures born or practiced in the area, from the lumber industry in Moline to coal mining in Coal Valley, washing machine manufacturing in Davenport to Muscatine's pearl button industry. Priceless original Buddy L trains and firetrucks steal the show.

There's even an full-size replica of the first plow John Deere designed.

A dizzying number of quality of life items gives visitors a snapshot of life here in the Victorian era. The most notable include a china-head doll, a mustache cup, carved wooden hat and umbrella stand, and a fierce-looking foot-powered dentist's drill.

Some of the more modern items include an original set of headphones from radio station WOC-AM, and union paraphernalia from to farm industry workers.

The last, and smallest section acts as a reminder Quad-Citians are making history every day. It has items from the 1950s through the 1980s, including an old, boxy television set and mint-green hair dryer from the '50s, roller skates and Tinker Toys from the '60s, political buttons featuring Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford from the '70s, and a Rubik's Cube and Cabbage Patch doll from the '80s.

The exhibit is a useful tool to learn about the area. It explains why a hotel and college are named Black Hawk, how Arsenal Island became a military post and where places like Davenport and LeClaire got their names.

For many, it's like a walk down memory lane.

For all, it's a rare treasure that shows why Quad-Citians are proud to be who they are.

-- By Marcy Norton (January 22, 1998)

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