Rock Island – Davenport Ferry

Rock Island – Davenport Ferry

The waters of historic old Mississippi, with-in smoke-signal of the Watch Tower of Black Hawk, the Sachem, have been parted by the keels of Illini dug-out, Huron birch canoe, batteau of voyageur, flat boat of pioneer, winch-ferry of the early settler, horse-ferry of established villagers, steamer of modern date, and motor boat of oil and electricity of the opening era, and almost without exception, the introduction of these modes of passing over its waters have been due to transversely directed migration rather than lateral travel-the desire to cross the river rather than float with or stem it. At this point the “Father of Waters” is a trifle over three-fourths of a mile wide, and while- not deep enough to float an ocean liner, it is never shallow enough to ford; and even the earliest settler found himself naturally beset with the hankering to keep both sides the mighty stream under foot sovereignty. As a result, the boat. Probably at first a canoe or dug-out did duty for such as dared the red man’s treachery-white taught; but the day was soon when the advent of the advance guard of the pioneer host made its appearance and household effects, and women and children called for better accommodation-and got it. Just when Antoine LeClaire of Dubuque started ferrying his followers across is problematical, but May 28, 1837, it is sure that he deeded to John Wilson, of Rock Island County, Illinois, “the right, to keel) and operate a ferry across the Mississippi at a point known as `The Ferry House,’ recently erected and standing on the west bank of the Mississippi in the town of Davenport, extending one miles up and one miles down the river” together “with the boats and crafts now used on said ferry,” and including the “privilege of passing over his land for purpose aforesaid,” for the sums of $5.00 in hand and $1,000. The phraseology is not of the clearest and the “one miles” up and down river is especially obscure, but the intent is clear so far as the ferry being already in existence as owned property is concerned, as is also the fact that the said Antoine LeClaire owned much land in the locality. By another clause it is also made clear that the said Antoine Le-Claire was fairly modern in his ideas and would have done credit to this day and age, namely: “Subject to the said LeClaire crossing in ferry free of charge.” That the ferry in those days was not a gift enterprise is shown by the schedule of prices affixed to this document, now yellow with age, held in the vaults of the Rock Island National Bank by the present secretary-treasurer, which schedule shows as follows: FERRY RATES, 1837-Footmen, 25 cents; man and horse, 75 cents; loose cattle and horses, 25 cents per head; yoke oxen, 50 cents; loaded wagon and two horses, $1.50; loaded wagon and. yoke oxen, $1.50; loaded wagon with horse or ox, 25 cents; two-wheel carriage with horse or ox, $1.50; hogs and sheep, 12 1/2 cents per head. Just when John Wilson and wife came into the matter is uncertain, but in 1853 and 1854 John W. Spencer, James Grant and Thomas J. Robinson acquired the Wilson interests in this ferry, and January 28, 1857, the first actual charter for the ferry was issued to Spencer, Grant and Robinson. It gave wide latitude to the landing place, allowing for the growth of Rock Island and Davenport up or down the river, but stipulated the keeping of a Rock Island landing between Buffalo and Madison Streets, the keeping up a suitable equipment, etc. April 7, 1888, the original license to operate this ferry was issued by the United States Treasury Department, and April 26, 1888, a charter was issued to the incorporated body -The Rock Island-Davenport Ferry Company, with a capital stock of $60,000. From that. time practically no change of stockholders in the corporation nor in its management occurred until the death of Thomas J. Robinson, which occurred in April of 1899, when his stock was heired by his son, J. Frank Robinson, and with it went the management. Upon the death of J. Frank Robinson in May of 1902, it was learned that he bequeathed the Robinson stock to his cousin, Captain Marcus L. Henderson, who had been in charge of the ferry as general manager since 1896. Captain Henderson is the president and manager, with H. E. Casteel secretary and treasurer. In 1891 the “Augusta” was put in service. In 1902 she was rebuilt, re-christened the “T. J. Robinson,” electric lighted and re-furnished. In 1904, entirely without public demand, the “Davenport” was built at Rock Island by Kahlke Brothers, and put in commission. She is also of modern design.


City of Rock Island 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

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