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A County Seat

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Folks around here once took their right to vote seriously. They cared about who won.

That was one-hundred and fifty years ago, but it might give us something to think about. The year was 1838. The brand-new Iowa Territory had divided itself into sixteen counties each of which was to select a county seat.

In Scott County, two towns were in the running: Davenport and Rockingham just downstream. Rockingham was larger and was located just across the Mississippi from the mouth of the Rock River, a good port location. It seemed to be the logical choice. But the Rockingham citizens had not counted on the zeal with which Davenporters accepted their responsibility as citizens. 

Davenporters not only got out the vote, they got out the voters, too, bringing down several sleigh-loads of lead miners from Dubuque, and paying them ten barrels of whiskey to vote for Davenport. "The most wretched looking rowdies that ever appeared on the streets of Davenport," Rockingham complained to the territorial legislature after Davenport won the vote.

Getting to be county seat was serious business in 1838. It meant a courthouse, political power, new roads, perhaps even a young ladies academy or a college of arts.

The legislature invalidated the spring election, and a second, equally corrupt vote the following August.

Prior to a third election, Davenport's leading citizen, Antoine LeClaire, an Indian agent and translator who had founded the town of Davenport in 1836, offered to donate land for the courthouse and three thousand dollars toward its construction.

Rockingham knew when it was time to give in. Davenport became the county seat of Scott County.  Rockingham slowly shrank into nothing, leaving only Rockingham Road in west Davenport as a memento.

I don't know how you feel, but today when thirteen percent of us turn out to vote on who will run our schools, aren't we missing a little of the fun of being democratic citizens?

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.