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Rolling Stone, Minnesota

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Along the banks of the Mississippi River near present-day Minnesota City lies the remains of a dream. The Sioux Indians called the place "Rolling Stone," from the round stones they gathered there for their religious ceremonies. To the two advance agents of the Western Farm and Village Association who arrived there from New York in the winter of 2852, this level break in the bluffs which lined the river seemed the perfect place for their grand utopian experiment. The name was perfect, too, for they dreamed of a place which would combine spirituality with great commercial possibilities. Like a rolling stone, they were not about to gather moss.

The two agents reached LaCrosse amid arctic temperatures, and skated up the Mississippi past Winona, carrying only a little food and bearskins for sleeping in the snow. The agents were looking for a locale that would combine a healthy climate, fertile soil, extensive waterpower, and transportation to market their goods. They were disappointed in much of the prairie land along the river, but when they came to Rolling Stone, which lay long and level under the snow beneath the bluffs, they claimed the whole valley in the name of the association.

Back in New York, members of the association drew up plans for their community. The town would be divided into four sprawling quarters, each containing a 24-acre public park. Each block was to consist of twelve acres, with three to four acres per lot. Around two centrally located village squares facing Broadway Street would stand the public buildings: a courthouse, city hall, and post office. Three hundred and twenty acres were reserved as the site of a major university.

By then, however, back on the Mississippi, it was April, and the snow was beginning to melt. What had appeared to be rich level land turned out to be the Mississippi River, a tangle of sloughs and swamps. Early arrivals had to wade through a half mile of water to get to high ground. A worse site for a grand city could hardly have been found.

But there was one bit of good news: no moss.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.