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Walter Butler

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"If you build it, they will come" is an Iowa idea that goes back at least as far as the beginnings of Iowa City.

On May 4th, 1839, the Iowa Territorial Legislature meeting at Burlington, unable to choose a permanent location for the capitol from among 27 Iowa cities eager to be chosen, designated an unimproved unsurveyed site along the Iowa river as the capitol. They named it Iowa City.

Almost immediately, settlers from in and out of the state began moving there hoping to get in on the ground floor of a lucrative government center. Among these was a Tennessean, Walter Butler, who brought his family there that summer, bought three lots and built a hotel. By 1840, he was ready for business.

Unfortunately, there were no legislative offices for the legislature to move to. They continued to meet at Burlington. Late in 1840. Word reached Iowa City citizens that the 1841-42 legislative session would meet in the new capitol, provided there were quarters to meet in, to be provided free.

Meeting after meeting in Iowa City failed to produce plans citizens could agree on; every plan was rejected. Finally, in February of 1841, Walter Butler decided to build his own capitol right next to his hotel. With the pledge that if he built it, the legislature would come, Butler began erecting a two story 30 by 60-foot frame building. Butler's Capitol was built of stout timbers hand hewn in the forest and rip sawed by hand. It had a council chamber and a hall of representatives.

True to their word, the Fourth Legislative Assembly did move to Iowa City and into Butler's Capitol that fall. After they adjourned in late winter, the building found constant use. There were lyceums and lectures and educational classes. The Baptist Universalist and Methodist Episcopal churches used it for services while their own buildings were being completed.

Filled with legislators, lawyers, politicians and visitors, Walter Butler's hotel became a success, as did Butler himself. His good opinion was solicited by professional men seeking to establish themselves in Iowa City. Twice he was elected Sheriff of Johnson County, and his home became a meeting place for local celebrations and civic activities.

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.