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River Landings

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

As romantic and as mythic as the Mississippi River is, the names of towns sprinkled along its banks are fairly prosaic.

Perhaps the sturdy pioneers used all their creative juices just finding a place, with none left over for names. Many founders picked names that were already second and third hand: Andover, Cambridge, Peru, Burlington. Others stated the obvious. Iowa City is, of course, in Iowa, and Illinois City is—guess where. A few founders just used their own names—Dubuque, LeClaire—or the name of the local feature—Rock Island, Rock Falls, Rock Ford. Some used the name of former inhabitants: Keokuk, Peoria.

But they're all dull compared to the colorful names of the 19th century steamboat landings along the banks of the river. Names of steamboat landings had a little excitement to them. Take Monroe County, Illinois, for example. The west edge of Monroe County lay along fifty miles of the Mississippi, and in that fifty miles were at least forty-five boat landings, each landing for a different purpose.

Merely listing the Monroe County landings makes a poem. Here were Sand Bank, Pull Tight, Cottonwood Tree, Shoreless Ferry, Corduroy, Smith, Sulphur Springs, Meissner Island, Ihorn, Harrisonville, Bamber, Nolan, Calico Island, Manes, Mogdelin, Heatherly, McCauley, Frest Home, Harlow, Lilly, Lowery, Goodman, Martins, Kemper, Ivy, Durfree, Selma, Ollyers, Prieskers, and Penitentiary Point.

And that's only the first stanza. Behind each name was a good story. Pull Tight Landing had such a steep bank that teamsters had to pull back on the horse reins to keep the wagons in control.

I'm sure the difference between staid town names and the wild nicknames of steamboat landings has to do with responsibility. Steamboat landings were never on official maps, nor did they have town halls and mayors and schools to worry about. They were free to be themselves.

Unfortunately, people eventually take on the tone of their town name, don't they? Think how much more exciting we Rock Islanders would be if we lived in Pull Tight, Illinois.

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.