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Hideaway Plastics
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PO Box 379
Viola, IL 61486

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Walcott, IA 52773

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Milan, IL 61264

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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Rock Island, IL 61201

ASAP Equipment
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Airport Rd
Milan, IL 61264

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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Moline, IL 61265

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Rock Island, IL 61201

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Highway 6
Atkinson, IL

Pathway Hospice
500 42
Rock Island, IL 61201

QC Carbide
1510 17 St
East Moline, IL 61244

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Moline, IL 61201

Metro MRI
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Moline, IL 61265

Litton Life Support
2734 Hickory Grove Rd
PO Box 4508
Davenport, IA 52808

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New Windsor, IL

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Viola, IL

Quad-Cities Graduate Studies Center
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

Taylor Freezers 1885 Earhart Dr
Sandwich IL 60548

Marycrest International University
1607 W 12 St
Davenport, IA 52804

St. Ambrose University
518 W Locust
Davenport, IA 52804

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1000 Brady St
Davenport, IA 52803

Augustana College
639 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

H & R Block
1715 W Locust St
Davenport, IA 52804

E & J
200 24 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

American Institute of Commerce
1801 E Kimberly Rd
Davenport, IA 52807

Rock Island County Farm Bureau
1601 52 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Hempel Pipe and Supply
951 S Rolff St
Davenport, IA 52802

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Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
220 North Main St Suite 900
Davenport, Ia 52801

McGladrey & Pullen, LLP
Certified Public Accountants and Consultants
600 35 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

1607 John Deere Rd
East Moline, IL 61244

John Deere Pavilion
1400 River Dr
Moline, IL 61265

John Deere Store
1300 River Drive Suite 100
Moline, IL 61265

Birdsell Chiropractic
1201 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2484 53 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

17th St and 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2132 E 11 St
Davenport, IA

1422 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

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2432 16 St
Moline, IL 61265

Teske Pet & Garden Center
2395 Spruce Hills Dr
Bettendorf, IA 52722

Moline Welding Inc
1801 2 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Barnett's House of Fireplaces
1620 5th Ave
Moline, IL 61265

DeGreve Oil Change
2777 18 St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

DeGreve Oil Change
3400 State St
Bettendorf, IA 52722

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3900 N Pine
Davenport, IA

DeGreve Oil change
2125 53 St
Moline, IL 61265

DeGreve Oil Change
1618 38 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

DeGreve Oil change
3560 N Brady St
Davenport, IA

1305 5 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

Pratt's Antiques
125 E Main St
Aledo, IL 61231

Main St Antiques
114 E Main St
Aledo, IL 61231

Conner Co
PO Box 888
East Moline, IL 61244

Kimball Cleaners
308 SW 5th Ave
Aledo, IL 61231

Williams Studio
New Windsor, IL 61465

Andalusia, IL 61232

Hideaway Plastics
1801 17 St
PO Box 379
Viola, IL 61486

Streetcars provided transport, entertainment

By Evan Harris, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Click here for larger view.
Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Augustana College Library
The ``Picnic Special'' makes its way to Campbell's Island in 1905. The streetcar line had a special picnic grounds on the island. An ice house is in the background.
There were many words for it, but `fast' was not one of them.

As one Chicago reporter put it, "speed without progress, movement while standing still." It was said that a passenger could begin the ride in the morning and finish as night fell. Important and revolutionary as it may have been, the first operating railway in the Quad-Cities was no bullet train.

Horse-drawn, connecting Rock Island and Milan, the streetcar debuted on Oct. 29, 1868. It was the brain-child of Bailey Davenport, son of Col. George Davenport, the first settler on Rock Island. With his father's enterprising spirit, the younger Davenport had begun campaigning for the street railway four years earlier. He saw it as multi-beneficial innovation.

In addition to promoting growth between the fast-developing cities, Mr. Davenport visualized the railway as an essential factor in successfully developing the piece of land known as `Black Hawk's Watch Tower;' later known as Watch Tower Park, and presently Black Hawk state historic site.

In Mr. Davenport's time, it held a single coal mine, but he saw an opportunity to turn the land into an amusement park. The horse-drawn line, which he planned to eventually convert to steam-powered vehicles, would both carry customers to the park, and haul coal away from the mine.

It was not until 1882 that Mr. Davenport saw his vision realized. During this year he became owner and superintendent of the Rock Island and Milan Steam and Horse Railway. The first steam-powered railway car had been introduced in the city of Davenport four years earlier, and the vehicles were in use on three lines in the Quad-Cities.

After becoming superintendent, Mr. Davenport oversaw the construction of a railway line linking nearby Searstown and Rock Island along 11th Street. It was this line that carried people to his brand new Watch Tower Park.

Click here for larger view.
Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Augustana College Library
The car barn of Mississippi Valley Transit in 1905. The facility was on Moline's 2nd Avenue.
From this point, the public transportation system of streetcars exploded. More rail lines were put in, commerce between cities grew, the population increased, and prompted the need for more streetcars. The industry perpetuated itself. Many would-be business men saw the economic opportunity of streetcars and made a go of it.

The competition was fierce, according to Dr. Albert Zimmer, an East Moline resident and local streetcar expert.

"The streetcars covered the area well. In the late 1800s, there were 13 streetcar companies operating in the area,' he said.

Such intense, concentrated competition made the Quad-Cities the location of many industry innovations. Not the least of these was the 1888 introduction of the electric streetcar in Davenport.

Powered by electric lines running along the rails above the car, this new railcar was much quieter than a steam-dummy and considered by many to be more humane than a horse-drawn car.

"The first electrified streetcar went in on Brady Street hill. It was the second in the country," said Dr. Zimmer. "Once that was done, the number of routes served was really expanded."

According to Dr. Zimmer, streetcar routes continued a steady spread throughout the Quad-Cities, growing in popularity and patronage. The public had accepted the new system, and business was booming.

"(Streetcars) were common in the downtown area, and the system was fairly extensive. The public was pretty receptive. As always, there was the complaint that they were charging too much for the fares, but that is to be expected," Dr. Zimmer said.

Though the revenues from the fares alone were impressive, there was another reason that the streetcar companies did so well during the late 1800s and early 1900s, Dr. Zimmer said. In fact, it was one of the main reasons that Mr. Davenport had pushed for a street railway in the first place.

"The streetcar companies built amusement parks and would run special cars to those areas. Of course, this was a money-making proposition for them, and it was a way that a lot of people would spend their weekends," he said.

The amusement parks that railway companies set up at the ends of their lines certainly did thrive. The business of which Mr. Davenport had envisioned the beginnings was huge by the turn of the century.

Watch Tower Park was the most successful. Before his death, Mr. Davenport put in a summer pavillion, picnic benches, and walking trails. It even contained a spring, which had `medicinal properties.' The park became the largest amusement park west of Chicago.

After Mr. Davenport's death, it passed into the possession of D.H. Lauderbach, the managing director of the Davenport and Rock Island Streetcar Co. During his short ownership, he converted the horse-drawn cars to electric cars, greatly increasing the customer potential. When the Holmes Syndicate bought out the Davenport and Rock Island Co., it gained possession of the very profitable park.

For the next 20 years, Watch Tower Park was a huge attraction. Many took the train into the Quad-Cities and then road the `Tower Line' out to the park. Business was so good that the `Tower Line' ran hourly.

As it grew, the park included an inn, rides, and a bandstand. It's biggest draw came on the Fourth of July, when families filled the park, spending the entire day picnicking and celebrating.

In addition to Watch Tower Park, many visited Campbell's Island for a day, or sometimes an entire weekend.

The railcar ride to this park was much more nerve-wracking. The rushing water between the island and the mainland was spanned by nothing more than a thin track, along which the car rode.

Some people would try to walk across the bridge, stepping over the wood, from slat to slat. Even if these adventuresome types managed to overcome the fear of losing their balance, they still had to contend with the prospect of the railcar crossing the bridge before they could walk all the way across.

Dr. Zimmer remembers riding this line himself.

"I can remember as a kid going over to Campbell's Island with my parents. There was only the wires above and a thin strip that the car would straddle across the water. It was kind of a frightening experience, especially to a little kid."

As the parks flourished, the streetcars continued to be a success in the Quad-Cities, and the industry's ownership continued to change.

In 1897, the Chicago-based Tri-City Railway Co. took over the operation, including Watch Tower Park. One year later, a local group of investors bought the Tri-City Co., bringing ownership to the Quad-Cities.

In 1906, the J.G. White Co. bought all the railway systems and utility companies in the area. Then, in 1912, the United Light and Railways Co. bought out the J.G. White Co. By this time riding the streetcars was an integral part of life, Dr. Zimmer said.

"Practically nobody had cars back in the '20s, unless you were very well off, and so people had to ride the streetcars to get someplace. In the rural areas, there was real trouble with transportation, and the street cars took care of that too.

"I remember as a kid we'd take the streetcar downtown to see a movie on a a Saturday or go to the dimestore, but then we'd walk back, unless we were feeling wealthy. Then we'd take the streetcar back, too."

But as quickly as the railways had taken over the city, the next wave of transportation appeared. The bus made its debut in 1924, and by 1940 the streetcar had disappeared entirely.

"In the '30s, they started substituting buses. They were convincing people that they could put (buses) in many more places, and it was easier to change or add routes. They said that the streetcars were much more costly because they had to put in the rails and run the wires above the street. And of course (the bus) was something more `modern,' and everybody likes something more modern. Some of what they told us was pure con, and some had some actual economic basis," said Dr. Zimmer.

But even after the streetcars stopped running, evidence of their presence remained for many years, he says.

"For a while, you could see the rails running all over the roads. Even after they pulled up the rails, you could see the bricks in the middle of the road were in a different pattern, because they had been put back in after the rails were removed. Of course now, they've paved most of it."

That very paving which covered the last evidence of the railways cemented the bus as the mass transport of choice. Overall, the initial transition was fairly smooth, with buses simply running the streetcar lines. And, as anticipated, the addition of new bus routes was easier for the city.

Since Mr. Davenport's establishment of the first railway, systems of mass transit in the Quad-Cities had remained under the control of private companies. This trend continued with the advent of buses.

The privately owned Tri-City Railway Co. oversaw the implementation of buses onto its routes during the late '30s. In 1942, the company's operations were taken over by the newly formed Iowa-Illinois Gas and Electric Co. For eight years, Iowa-Illinois managed the growth and maintenance of the bus lines until National City Lines bought out the bus system in 1950.

Setting up the Rock Island-Moline City Lines as a local division, this national company, which had local operations all over the U.S., oversaw the mass transit bus system in the Quad-Cities.

As public and popular as bus usage was, it suffered from the trappings of private industry just the same. In 1952, a strike ceased all bus service. For more than 70 days, the buses did not run.

Though the percentage of private citizens who owned cars had grown exponentially over the previous 20 years, that figure was still well below the number of today. Many found themselves without transportation. Carpooling was common, and some even took to hitchhiking just to get to and from work.

As the strike stretched on, talk began about a city-run bus system, one that would be free of the possibility of a paralyzing strike. Eventually, the issues were resolved, and the strike ended, and although the talk subsided, it was not forgotten.

For the next decade, bus patronage steadily declined. In addition to the effect of the expansion of private automobile ownership, many had found alternate means of transportation after the strike fiasco. In the early '60s, the Rock Island-Moline City Lines wasn't profitable, and began to cut back on its routes.

By 1968, the situation for National City Lines was desperate. Its buses were in disrepair, and it was rapidly losing money. That year, the Rock Island-Moline Lines approached the five cities it served, Rock Island, Moline, Milan, East Moline and Silvis, and requested a total of $26,000 to continue service.

The request rekindled the debate over a public transportation system. Many argued that if the city was going to be supporting the bus company anyway, it might as well buy out the operation and run it. Other pointed out that perhaps there was no need for a public system, if the patronage was so low. Imposing more taxes to subsidize or buy the bus company only to have patronage continue to plummet would be a costly mistake.

After two years of debate, a vote in each participating city gave the Rock Island-Moline City Lines its subsidy. But inherent to the appropriation of this money was the understanding that while the City Lines ran on taxpayer money, the cities would organize a public bus system of replace it.

Four months after the subsidy approval, Moline, Rock Island, East Moline, Milan, and Silvis formed the Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District, or the barely-more-catchy acronym RICMMTD.

Over the next four years, the RICMMTD planned its public bus system. The cities were aware of concerns about insufficient patronage, and began advertising and pushing their new system. In March of 1974, the city took over bus operations.

Somewhat surprisingly, patronage increased almost immediately. School-aged children began to ride the buses to school, and many others started to opt for the cheaper, worry-free ride. The public decided to make use of the system that they were supporting with taxes. The RICMMTD proved a success, with money from fares and both the state and federal government.

In 1988, the public transportation system held a contest to rename the bus system. The winning submission may sound familiar: Metro Link.

Editor's note: Sources for this story included: The Rock Island County Historical Society; "An Illustrated History of Rock Island and the Rock Island Arsenal," by Thomas J. Slattery; "An Illustrated History of Rock Island County, Vol. 1," edited by Newton Bateman, L.L.D., and Paul Selby, A.M.; "The Magnificent Mississippi" by Jim Arpy/John Zielinski; and "Rock Island: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" edited by Bj Elsner.

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.