This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Town founders are no different from other parents when it comes to naming their children. The name of the year's top movie star is duplicated in a whole generation of babies. In much the same way, that's how there came to be a Potosi, Wisconsin, back in the early 19th century.
In 1545, in the Bolivian Andes, the conquering Spanish discovered what turned out to be the richest mountain even mined.
So much silver, copper, lead, tin, tungsten, and bismuth poured out of the mines around the village of Potosi, Bolivia, that the name came to be synonymous with great wealth. After Cervantes used the phrase "worth a Potosi" in Don Quixote, scores of would-be Potosi's sprang up around the world, including our Wisconsin Potosi, sitting among the region's rich lead mines.
The first miners who flocked here, lured by its exotic name, discovered not a snow-capped Andes mountain, but a bluff, and a community with almost no houses. They were forced to dig shallow holes in the hillsides as sleeping quarters. These looked so much like overgrown badger holes that Wisconsin came to be known as "the Badger State."
Potosi tried desperately to live up to its grand name. Houses appeared. More miners came. Lead shipments grew, until by 1830, Potosi had a population of ten thousand, and was well on its way to becoming the capitol of the new state of Wisconsin. It threatened to rival nearby Galena as a major river port.
Then, alas, gold was discovered in California, and overnight, seven thousand of Potosi's ten thousand residents went west. Potosi's moment in the sun was over.
Or was it? The mines are gone, except for a tour or two, and even the Potosi Brewery finally closed in the 1970s, but a few residents have refused to give up on its famous name. Each year, the second week in August, you can drive up the Great River Road and help Potosi celebrate itself as "the catfish capitol of the USA" a claim that had yet to be seriously challenged by any of the other Potosi’s.
Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.