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Dr. Silas Reed

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

There has never been a more committed booster for the city of Rock Island than Dr. Silas Reed. Unfortunately, Dr. Reed lived in Stephenson.He had moved to Stephenson shortly after its founding in 1835, and while he recognized the potential of this new community at the foot of the Rock Island Rapids, he never liked the name Stephenson. Few other people in Stephenson did, either. The name was the result of a dirty political trick. The plat map of the new town had borne the name "Davenport," in honor of the area's leading citizen, but when it reached the legislature in Springfield, Illinois, opponents of Colonel George Davenport replaced his name with Stephenson, a minor figure in the recent Black Hawk War.

Stephenson, Dr. Reed felt, was a stupid name for a city destined to become the Queen of the West. In 1841, he began a letter writing campaign in a local newspaper The Upper Mississippian, suggesting that without a proper name—like Rock Island—the community would never amount to much. With the correct name, he suggested, all kinds of commercial development would take place. He predicted that within thirty years, Rock Island would surpass St. Louis in size, and that it would stretch all the way from the Mississippi to the Rock River. He predicted, thirteen years before it happened, that the railroad from the east would reach the Mississippi first at Rock Island.

His glowing accounts of the growing commercial possibilities of the community, aimed at convincing eastern capitalists to invest, always ended with a plea for the name Rock Island. Change the name to Rock Island, he wrote, and the city would become "the resort of rich invalids and men of leisure," since its air was second only to mountain air in purity.

Silas Reed's letter-writing campaign had the desired effect. In May of 1841, the Illinois Legislature officially changed the name of Stephenson to Rock Island—the very same month, incidentally, in which the good doctor left for Washington to see his friend William Henry Harrison inaugurated, and never returned. Only once, many years later, did he pass through the town his letters had named—but he did not stop.

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.