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Nancy Hartzell

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Nancy Hartzell might well have lived out her life in Rock Island as a dutiful and hard-working Methodist pioneer wife had it not been for the group of strange men who appeared at her door one October day in 1836.

Nancy had married Michael Hartzell the previous May in Pennsylvania. The newlyweds soon headed for the far west, specifically, toward Rock Island County, where they intended to make their home. They made their way by canal boat, horse, ox cart, and flatboat to St. Louis, and then came up the Mississippi River on one of the newfangled steamboats to Stephenson, as Rock Island was then called.

The couple moved into a small log cabin by the river while Mr. Hartzell set about building a permanent, two-story home. Nancy washed her clothes in the Mississippi and hung them on bushes to dry.

It was on the first Sunday in Stevenson that Nancy noticed the strange men, apparently looking for something. She inquired. They were looking for a church. Since there was no church anywhere near, the Hartzell's invited them into the cabin, where a social prayer meeting was soon in progress.

The warmth of the prayer meeting led the Hartzell's to form the first Methodist class in Rock Island, and this, in turn, soon led to the first Methodist Church.

Nancy went on to befriend many other strangers, and to feed hungry Indians who came to her door. She became one of the first Crusaders of the National Women's Christian Temperance Union and helped conduct prayer meetings in area saloons. Several of her thirteen children went on to become missionaries to Africa and organizers for the temperance union.

Who were those strangers? By the time the Methodists celebrated the 75th anniversary of that Sunday morning in the log cabin as the beginning of the Methodist Church in Rock Island, the story was that they might have been angels in disguise.

Not only does that give our Methodists a dramatic start; it explains why Methodists in Rock Island seem friendlier than anywhere else. After all, if it happened once, it could happen again.

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.