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Boys Will Fight

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Back in the 1870s, when Rock Island and Moline were still small boys, a six-mile strip of forest and pasture separated them from each other.

And a good thing it was, too. Moline was the classic good little boy every parent envies, a boy who goes to church and thinks moral thoughts, while Rock Island was your typical bad boy who plays hooky from school and even smokes cigarettes. Moline had been settled by staunch New England Congregationalists who believed in the work ethic. Rock Island's citizens came from a more relaxed southern culture, perfectly content with being a river port with more than its share of bars.

The six-mile barrier kept the boys from fighting, but not for long. When puberty hit, and both boys started growing, they began growing toward each other, tree by tree, ravine by ravine, and lot by lot. By 1870, the only thing that separated the two towns was the pasture and apple orchard of William E. Brooks’ farm, which kids used as a playground.

But even the pasture was soon swallowed by seven different subdivisions and hundreds of homes. Everyone predicted there would soon be fisticuffs.

Rock Island began the fight, as bad boys will. On November 16, 1872, the Rock Island City council secretly annexed 400 acres next to Moline, based on the semi-legal request of several new residents who lived there. Council members saw this as the first step in grabbing so much Moline land, and attract so many businesses, shops, and factories, that Moline would soon give up and agree to merge with Rock Island.

Rock Island underestimated the good little boy. Moline found out about the annexation and retaliated with some land-grabbing of its own, annexing all the remaining available land between itself land Rock Island, without the consent of the residents.

The fight came down to a single street between the two towns. Both claimed it, and still do. That is why, today, if you drive south on that street you are on 46th Street in Rock Island, while if you drive north on the same street, you are on First Street in Moline. Being more bluff than action, Moline and Rock Island still stand there, toe to toe, daring each other.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

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.