Columbia Park

Dec 18, 2020

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Think of Chicago as our Philistine giant, Goliath, and all the small Illinois villages and towns as so many Davids, each hoping it might have a change to sling a stone in just the right place. That kind of thinking led the cities of Rock Island and Moline to one of their rare moments of cooperation. Two Davids, they reasoned, might have a chance.

The event was the upcoming 400th anniversary of Columbus's “discovery of America” in 1892. Chicago had already planned to hold a Columbian Exposition—a world's fair—in 1893, but Rock Island and Moline had other ideas. Let's beat Chicago by a year. After all, we are the farm equipment capitol of the world. What better site to celebrate not only Columbus, but the brave new industrial world of the 20th century? Two Davids just might get the job done.

The two chambers of commerce sold shares, paid farmer William E. Brooks $1,500 an acre for fifty-five acres that had cost him $1.25 each, and created Columbia Park in Rock Island, east of 38th street, between the Mississippi River and seventh avenue. Here was to be held a magnificent "Twin-city Columbian Exposition."

Columbia Park was graded, streets paved, a racetrack started, and a grandstand constructed. However, rain ruined the first celebration on July 4th, 1892, and I am sorry to report that the two Davids began quarreling and throwing stones at each other instead of their original target. Rock Island and Moline began to accuse each other of not doing their fair share, plans grew more and more obscure, and a depression in 1893 left Goliath intact and the Davids minus their slings.

Columbia Park hosted a few games and concerts, but a fireworks display went awry and burned the grandstand down, and the grounds were eventually broken up into commercial and residential lots.

All the glory ended up in Chicago and its magnificent 1893 world's fair. Think how different our Rock Island area would be had the attention of the world been directed toward us by a great exposition. We might have been another Chicago.

Now think about this. For us Rock Islanders, does this story have a sad ending—or a happy one?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.