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St. Margaret's

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Generous hearts often find it difficult to draw a line between being a gracious giver and being a pushover. That was not the case with Antoine LeClaire, the Indian interpreter at Fort Armstrong in Rock Island, and the founder of Davenport, Iowa. He knew just how far to go.

Generous, he and his wife both were. When he founded Davenport in 1836, he named the town after his friend, George Davenport, rather than himself. He donated the land for St. Anthony’s, Davenport’s first Catholic church, and a city square for a county courthouse. He was generous with new arrival sin Davenport, supporting them with advice and often with money. The LeClaire home was open to the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians who often came there in need. LeClaire himself played violin for weddings and community parties.

His most generous act came in 1856. St. Anthony’s church was proving too small to serve a growing Catholic population. LeClaire’s response was to donate a whole city block on the bluff, at 10th and LeClaire Streets for a new church, to be named St. Marguerite’s in honor of his wife.

LeClaire’s generosity did not stop there. He donated money to build the church itself, an 80 by 40-foot brick building. St. Marguerite’s was dedicated on June 29th, 1856. It was the finest church in the city, its spire, some said, reaching to the clouds.

But a church needs a bell. LeClaire donated it. Then it needs an altar. LeClaire, again. Then pews, and an organ, and vestments. All donated by Antoine LeClaire.

In the end, St. Marguerite’s lacked only one thing. LeClaire, at over 300 pounds, was too large to fit in the pews. The solution was to move his favorite huge armchair from the LeClaire home to the rear of the church.

By now you know that LeClaire was generous, but lest you think he was generous to a fault, be advised that he drew the line at his easy chair. Among the church records is a bill for the transfer of property (namely, one armchair) from LeClaire to St. Marguerite’s for the sum of five dollars.

In this armchair, the only item in the whole church not donated by LeClaire, Antoine sat during services for the rest of his life, satisfied, no doubt, that he was not an easy mark.

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.

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.