Roald Tweet

Writer and Narrator of 'Rock Island Lines'

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.

It was from Rock Island’s rich heritage that Dr. Tweet spun his histories, biographies and "stretchers." Among his favorite topics were railroads and riverboats, which he combined on a CD in celebration of the Grand Excursion in 2004. "Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet" received awards from the Illinois Historical Society as well as the Towner Award from the Illinois Humanities Council.

Dr. Tweet was professor emeritus, retired from the Augustana College English department, where he was professor and Conrad Bergendoff Chair in the Humanities. A writer and radio personality, Dr. Tweet was also an accomplished woodcarver and whittler.

Dr. Tweet left us in November of 2020, but his legacy lives on. You can hear many of his Rock Island Lines in podcast form here and also in a forthcoming book from WVIK and East Hall Press.


Apr 23, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Benjamin W. Clark was an entrepreneur who planned ahead. Few speculators would have disagreed with his decision to establish a ferry service across the Mississippi just below the mouth of the Rock River. Clark reasoned that the flood of immigrants expected to head for newly opened Iowa farmland would cross the river at the most logical place. Lake Michigan, whose tip was almost due east, prevented those immigrants from going further north, while the multiple channels of the Rock River delta would make it difficult to get to the Davenport ferry upstream at Rock Island. To the south, Illinois was already settled, having become a state in 1818.

Down-River Men

Apr 22, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Some of the finest schools on the Upper Mississippi River in the 19th century were the ten-acre rafts of Minnesota and Wisconsin white pine floating down to the sawmills of Rock Island, Davenport, and Moline. The twenty to thirty men who worked on these rafts and steered them down to the mills may not have diagrammed sentences or practiced their multiplication tables along the way, but they learned the habit of attention, and a philosophy of life likely more true than yours or mine.

Swords into Plowshares

Apr 21, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Visitors who come to the Rock Island Arsenal with preconceived notions of stark, purely functional military architecture are surprised to find a good deal of attention to aesthetics.

General Rodman

Apr 20, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman arrived on Rock Island in 1865 to complete the long-delayed Rock Island Arsenal building at the downstream tip of the island, he was already famous in military circles. He had invented the Rodman Gun, a cannon that lasted as much as twenty times longer than conventional cannon. It was the most formidable weapon of the Civil War.

The Poor House

Apr 19, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Whenever I wake to one of those cold, blizzardy mornings tempting me to call in sick, a childhood song floats into my mind. "Over the hill to the poor house." I'm up, shaved, and off to work in ten minutes. The only place worse than hell in my Midwest Lutheran home was the county poor home.

Henry Kahl

Apr 16, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Henry C. Kahl was born poor in a cottage in northwest Davenport, Iowa. He was never a Boy Scout, he was not in school long enough for the deportment side of the report card to instill in him the Protestant work ethic, and there's no indication that he ever read Ben Franklin. It's almost as if Henry knew instinctively that the American dream of "rags to riches" required something more than dreaming.


Apr 15, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

"Chippiannock" is a Sauk Indian word meaning "city of the dead," a fit name for the city of Rock Island's first cemetery, ninety-five acres lying on a plateau not far from Saukenuk, where the war chief Black Hawk grew up. The place was originally called Manitou Ridge because of the Indians' belief that here the Great Spirit spread his wings among the hills to keep floods away.

Frederick Schwatka

Apr 14, 2021

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in 1826 to study its new citizens, he was amazed at their restlessness—moving an average of once every five years—an average that still holds true today.