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Controlling Davenport

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

By 1946, Davenport had had enough. The city declared itself the capitol of the State of Scott, formerly a mere county in Iowa. The new State of Scott elected a governor, held a week of inaugural activities, including a parade through town with honorary senators elected from all the surrounding communities. It marked the end of a hundred-year long skirmish between the pure and wholesome state of Iowa and the legions of sin only a Mississippi River town could claim—second, some thought, only to Armageddon.

Davenport did make some early sporadic efforts to police itself. A total abstinence society formed in 1839—three years after the city was founded—boasted that "cold water has become all the go here." But it spoke too soon. The Germans who came to Davenport in 1848 were soon dancing and drinking in beer halls every Sunday.

So, the State of Iowa moved in. They sent in the Sons of Temperance who quickly obtained abstinence pledges from 56 Davenporters, leaving some two thousand free to continue drinking.

In 1855, Iowa upped the ante, passing a state-wide prohibition law. The news must not have reached Davenport. The 1858 city directory listed 24 lager beer saloons and 68 regular saloons.

Iowa brought in hired guns, the Women's Christian Temperance Union, but nothing worked. A tougher state prohibition law in 1884 led Davenport saloons to turn into pharmacies dispensing alcohol medicinal drinks with such names as Mum, Seafoam, Hop Nectar, and Kentucky Blue Grass.

National Prohibition merely brought out more ingenuity in Davenport, sending stills out onto islands in the river, and jugs of booze strung on wires out to houseboats. A single raid on one island produced several truckloads of illegal equipment and many barrels of moonshine.

In the end, Iowa did what any defeated opponent does. If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em. On July 2nd, 1934, weeks after the repeal of prohibition, the state Iowa opened its first liquor store in Davenport, at 411 Harrison Street.

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.