Events that shaped us 

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

Deer & Co Credit Union
3950 38 Ave
Moline, IL 61265

2018 4 Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

Walcott Trust & Savings Bank
101 W Bryant St
PO Box 108
Walcott, IA 52773

Mississippi Laser
7700 47 St
Milan, IL 61264

Longs Carpet
4200 11 St
Rock Island, IL 61201

Roth Pump
Box 4330
Rock Island, IL 61201

Hughes Telephone
1117 Blackhawk Rd
Rock Island, IL 61201

ASAP Equipment
4730 44 St

Taylor Garages
Airport Rd
Milan, IL 61264

Michael Warner, Attorney
1600 4th Ave, Suite 410
Rock Island, IL 61201

Kansas City Life
5019 34 Ave B
Moline, IL 61265

Dr. Romeo
1705 2nd Ave
Rock Island, IL 61201

Morton Building
Highway 6
Atkinson, IL

Pathway Hospice
500 42
Rock Island, IL 61201

Farm crisis remembered by former mayor

By Carol Loretz, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer

Growing up in a family of 20, former Davenport mayor Thom Hart saw how bad the farm crisis could get when all but one of his siblings had to leave the Quad-Cities to get jobs.

Mr. Hart's memories of those trying days from the late 1970s through most of the 1980s put a human face on the words ``farm crisis'' and ``economic recession.''

He was able to stay because, since 1973, voters had elected him to the Scott County Board, Davenport City Council and finally as Davenport mayor. Today, Mr. Hart works for the Quad City Development Group.

But during the tough times, unemployment lines grew longer and longer as local factories laid off thousands of workers, and businesses closed. Families dependent on high-wage jobs in the farm-implement industry saw their incomes plummet and competition increase for the remaining jobs.

The lucky ones got hired, though they often earned paychecks far smaller than their education and skills warranted. The rest lost their mortgages and felt they had no choice but to abandon their homes. Tearful goodbyes pulled families and neighborhoods apart.

Many never returned.

``I knew people who just walked away,'' Mr. Hart said. ``It was a very painful decision for them.''

Higher unemployment meant less dollars were circulating, so the effects of the farm crisis rippled through the local economy. A declining population contributed less tax dollars for local governments and schools. Fewer kids in the classrooms put teachers out of work, too.

Real estate values nosedived as ``For Sale'' signs sprouted faster than dandelions. Rental properties in central-city neighborhoods went from no vacancies in the late '70s and early '80s to double-digit vacancy rates in the mid-'80s, Mr. Hart said.

``We lost 8 percent of assessed valuations the first year I was mayor,'' he said. ``Try to build a budget around that.''

Some businesses were unable to cope, closing their doors forever. Others scaled back, throwing more people out of work, yet barely surviving.

Two years ago, Mr. Hart went to Florida and met a former Quad-Cities couple running a novelty shop. They noticed his Scott County license plate and started a conversation.

The couple had run the same kind of business in the Quad-Cities, but the lack of customers caused them to sell it in 1985. Their business skills had not been deficient, Mr. Hart said, because they were doing well in Florida.

While the farm crisis crossed the years of low automobile sales nationally, Quad-Cities streets and parking lots boasted more older cars than in more vibrant areas, Mr. Hart said.

Run-down vehicles reflected their surroundings, he said, as people stopped painting and deferred maintenance of their homes and businesses. The crisis hastened the decline of downtowns, which already had begun losing their customers to suburban malls in the 1970s, Mr. Hart said.

At the end of 1984, McCabe's Department Store closed in downtown Rock Island. Store manager Robert Millett blamed shutdowns and layoffs at farm-implement plants and reduced downtown traffic for the closure.

McCabe's not only drew shoppers downtown, but symbolized downtown pride, then-mayor Jim Davis said.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy was the blows to the human spirit.

``People found it hard to look at the situation regionally or globally,'' Mr. Hart said. ``Instead, they saw themselves as failures. They told themselves, `I'm not worth anything.' In a place where people derive a lot of personal satisfaction from work, that was the tough thing.''

Some of their dissatisfaction expressed itself in the voting booth, where new mayors were elected in Rock Island and Davenport, Mr. Hart said.

``I campaigned for the city to be more aggressive and take more risks,'' he said. ``This area had been pretty risk-adverse, but people became more willing to do things differently. The line between public and private responsibility was no longer as clear.''

As public officials gained more responsibility, they undertook frank assessments of the area's assets.

``They recognized the Mississippi River was more than an open utility and its banks could offer more than parking lots,'' Mr. Hart said. ``That was a healthy reassessment.''

Although the era deeply frightened Quad-Citians, they began to recognize their interdependence and realized their individual success depended on working together to improve the entire area, he said.

Fifteen years later, he said, Quad-Citians are seeing the positive results of that cooperation.

Economic diversification was an important route to that goal, he said. Besides moving from a farm-based economy, manufacturing became more technologically advanced, needing fewer people to run the machines.

In the 1970s, he said, manufacturers needed strong bodies, but the next decade, they needed smart minds that understood technology.

``When I was a kid, my grandfather used to talk about the Depression and said, `Things were so bad, you couldn't buy a job,'|'' Mr. Hart said. ``That phrase came back to me a lot in the '80s. Nationally, the country was in a recession, but people said we were in a full-scale depression here.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.