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Cleaning Up Dixon

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

The men of Dixon, Illinois, must have breathed a sigh of relief back in 1901 when they learned that the newly formed Dixon Council of Women's plan to clean up the town meant simply planting flowers. What harm could there be in a rock garden?

The Council of Women grew out of a cemetery association which had refurbished the unkempt, neglected Dixon Cemetery. The town of Dixon straddled the Rock River, named for the magnificent rock formations along the shores. As in many river towns, the banks were littered with trash and weeds. Underneath this trash, the Dixon women saw the potential of creating a stunning, and long, rock garden.

The Council of Women appointed a member from each city ward to plan an attack on blight. The women took the mayor and city council on a tour of the riverfront and got them to hire a man to begin the rock garden. Within a few months, the banks of Dixon bloomed with native trees and wildflowers amid the rocks.

Unfortunately, the rest of Dixon now appeared shabby in comparison with the riverbanks, and the women decided to keep going with their cleanup.

Before long, the teachers and school children got interested in beautification. The children brought seeds and plants to school and planted them around the bare school foundations and the playground. On Arbor Day, they planted dozens of native trees all over Dixon. Poor children were given free seeds to make their homes beautiful.

But the cleanup was not done. As Dixon grew more and more into the Garden of Eden, ugly spots showed up more clearly. Billboards, for instance. An ordinance brought them down. Then the women pressured the city council to prohibit spitting and expectorating on sidewalks, in halls and stairways of public buildings and offices.

By 1902, Dixon could boast of beauty almost everywhere. Lawns were kept mowed; flowers bloomed in beds. But the Council of Women realized they were not quite finished with Dixon. It may have been at this point, when the women announced that they were going to begin inspective back yards and alleys for signs of slovenliness, that the men of Dixon realized that even a rock garden can get out of hand—that beauty can spread even faster than weeds.

Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, 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.