© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Town that Got Saved

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Those itinerant evangelists who followed the American settlers west to the Illinois prairie in the 19th century, bringing religion to small frontier towns ahead of established churches, found varying soils. In some places the harvests were good, in other places, thin. The soil south of here must have been exceptionally good. Back in 1872, a traveling Baptist revival minister saved a whole town.The little community was called Goose Neck, from its location at a Y where the northern, southern, and western tracks of the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad met. The name left something to be desired, so Anton Calkins, who had laid out the town, changed the name to Calkinsville.

That, too, left something to be desired, especially since its main competition was an older community, Oxford, only four miles to the south. Oxford was certainly a more dignified name than Calkinsville.

It was then that Anton Calkins remembered the Baptist revival, and the sermon on Revelation 1:8—"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end." Calkins had always been a deeply religious man. Long before he platted the town, his home had been a station on the Underground Railroad. There was also a more practical concern. A name like Alpha would outdo even Oxford.

And so, the little town became Alpha. It held its head up high, and began trying to live up to the name. And it worked. Soon, the Baptist church in Oxford moved to Alpha. Then a business or two followed. Several houses moved four miles up the road. Then, another church, and more businesses. Within a few years, Oxford disappeared. Everyone had moved to Alpha.

I said at the beginning that the traveling evangelist saved the town. He did. As for its citizens, that I don't know. You'll have to drive down Highway 150, stop in for morning coffee at the cafe, and judge for yourself.

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.