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Spencer Square

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Archeologists have shown us how often a prime piece of real estate is used over and over again by newer civilizations. South of here, where the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers meet, at least eight separate civilizations lie piled atop each other.

We Rock Islanders have our own example: Spencer Square in downtown Rock Island.

The original donors of the land, John W. Spencer and Jonah I. Case, named it Union Square, hoping that churches of all denominations would build there and share the land.

Several congregations did briefly worship in a small schoolhouse in the square, but one by one, the congregations moved away to their own turf. John Spencer donated it to the City of Rock Island in 1850, stipulating that it be used for the public good.

For years, Spencer Square remained an unkempt rocky, swampy lowland, often flooding, with a stone quarry adding to the ugliness. City officials hid the eyesore with a whitewashed board fence.

Then in 1887, a Citizen's Improvement Association took matters in hand. The quarry was filled in, the land graded and landscaped with a series of crisscross and circular walkways. Prominent citizens gave statuary, ornamental vases, and benches. The park featured a grand fountain and a granite statue of Black Hawk. A Rock Island park commissioner declared that "Spencer Square is the grandest in Illinois, if not the United States, for its size."

Eventually, Rock Island forgot about its square all over again. Sidewalks crumbled; weeds sprouted. Benches, vases, and statuary were confiscated to grace newer Rock Island parks.

The square lay in disrepair until 1954, when the Federal Government took over the land for a huge Post Office Building.

Any day now, once the Mayan ruins in Guatemala have been thoroughly excavated, I expect university archeologists to arrive at Spencer Square to begin exploring our own forgetful and very careless civilization.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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.