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Street Names

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

It took a visit to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia for the City of Rock Island to name its streets properly.

There had been several previous attempts. Almost everywhere, street names began as a practical way to give directions. If you took Rockingham Road, you ended up in Rockingham. The Galena Road got you to Galena. On the Post Road, you were likely to find the mail being carried. Water Street was along the river.

George Davenport and the others who laid out the town of Stephenson—later to become Rock Island—thought to improve the sale of lots by sprinkling the town with names like Peach and Plum, and even a Cherry Alley.

These fancy names didn't take. Rock Island went patriotic, and chose to name its streets Jefferson and Washington, with an occasional Eagle thrown in.

That lasted until 1876, until the city fathers went east to the Centennial. There they discovered how backward Rock Island was. Up and coming eastern cities like Philadelphia had already gone to the latest and highest of fashions: numbering its streets instead of naming them. No proper city had names like Eagle.

The chagrined city fathers returned to Rock Island and shortly corrected their old-fashioned ways. Soon there was a Seventh Avenue and a Sixth Street. Rock Islanders could proudly point their fancy visitors who came from the east by train to the Harper Hotel at Second Avenue and Nineteenth Street. You don't catch Rock Island sleeping.

I was reminded of this last week when I went to visit a colleague in one of those new housing developments across the river in Bettendorf, near Feather Glenn Road and Barcelona Terrace. That's just up from Tanglefoot Lane. 

Are these suburbs way ahead of their time, or are they already far more out of date than Rock Island ever was? Or, more likely, did their developers bypass a trip to Philadelphia in favor of a week at Disney World?

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.