This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.
Had David Benton Sears not been as restless as he was, he might have been content to bask in the double glory of being the Father of Manufacturing on the Mississippi River and the Patron Saint of Moline. In 1838, he built the first power dam anywhere on the Mississippi east of Rock Island, and here, in 1843, he had platted out Moline. He owned mills, warehouses, horse stables, a steamboat landing, and a ferry service to Davenport.
But he was too restless. By 1855, he had become a partner in a new water power venture at St. Anthony’s Falls in Minnesota. Sears owned one-fourth interest in this project, with which he planned to build a whole community around the dam at the falls.
As he had done at Moline, Sears entered the project whole hog. On the shore of nearby Lake Minnetonka he founded Lake Minnetonka City, with a trading post and mill.
But before the St. Anthony’s Falls project had gotten very far, Sears’ restlessness returned. His family had remained back in Moline, preferring civilization to the northern wilderness. Sears turned his attentions south again. In particular, he noticed the mouth of the Rock River. As the Rock flowed into the Mississippi, it split into four channels. All four of those channels could be dammed for power. Together with a navigation canal, such a project would dwarf poor, crumbling St. Anthony’s Falls.
Sears sold his quarter interest in Minnesota to Governor Washburn of Wisconsin for $4,000, and returned to Moline to found the Rock River Waterpower and Navigation Company. He founded a manufacturing center there known as Searstown. Soon, there were paper mills turning out tons of wrapping paper, and a cotton mill turning out flour sacks, flannel, and duck clouth.
Meanwhile, St. Anthony’s Falls turned out somewhat better than expected. One could even say that Sears made a serious error in judgement. On the other hand, Minnesota lost something, too, when Sears left. The town that rose around St. Anthony’s Falls might well have the grand name Sears City, rather than that strange conglomeration of Sioux and Greek syllables they call Minneapolis.
Rock Island Lines is underwritten by the Illinois Humanities Council and Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, with additional funding from Humanities Iowa, the Iowa Arts Council, and Augustana College, Rock Island.