Friday, July 3, 2015

A Trip to Iowa


I flew to Iowa on Sunday to see family members.  While there I devoted one morning to visiting the Davenport river front and admiring the vestiges of Davenport's golden era of a century ago.  The history and beauty of old Davenport has been under attack during recent decades (more about this later).  The old buildings, carefully adorned with elegant details and flourishes, are my favorites.  Here is the Petersen redstone building, the most famous of the downtown Davenport buildings.  My family shopped at Petersen's when I was young.




A Davenport history buff supplied a nice review of the Petersen building on Wikipedia:

"J.H.C. Petersen was an immigrant from Schleswig in present-day Germany where he was educated until he was 16. After settling in Scott County, Iowa he worked in farming and at a match-factory. He and his three sons Max, Henry and William opened a dry goods store in 1872. By 1875 they were handling both wholesale and retail lines of merchandise from Chicago. Branch stores were opened in Clinton, Iowa and Geneseo, Illinois in the 1880s. The J.H.C. Petersen's Sons' Store was built in Downtown Davenport in 1892. The structure was designed by Frederick G. Clausen, a German immigrant who moved to Davenport. It followed the latest marketing principles of the day with specialized departments under one roof. The three sons took over the store's operations at this time. During this same time period several competitors established operations in the city. J.H.C. died in 1910 and Max and Henry died in 1915. The following year William sold the store to one of their competitors, Harned and Von Maur Co. In 1928 the J.H.C. Petersen's Sons' store was consolidated into the Petersen-Harned-Von Maur Store and it ceased independent operations. The Redstone Building, however, would continue to house the flagship store well into the 20th century, keeping the Petersen name until 1989. The name of the department store chain, which expanded in several Midwest states, was simplified to Von Maur.

The Petersen's Sons Store is a small-scale version of Burnham & Root's Rookery Building in Chicago. It is a local example of the late 19th century development of the department store. The structure is four stories in height, and built of stone on a brick foundation. It features round arched arcades around groups of vertical windows and the name plate decorated in terracotta on a slightly projecting entrance frontispiece. Diaperwork spandrels are located between the windows. The building culminates in elaborate parapets with oversized finials. At the roofline is a traditional brick cornice and the spandrels above the third floor arches are plain."


Down near the river (the great Mississippi River, that is, to make things clear for my overseas readership), there is a lovely fountain.  According to Wikipedia, it is a memorial fountain to Iowa Chief Justice John F. Dillon, "erected in downtown Davenport, Iowa in 1918, carved of Indiana limestone in Romanesque style, by sculptor Harry Liva."  This fountain is Davenport's link to the illustrious New York Yankees baseball team.  (Stay with me. An explanation follows.)


"Dillon Memorial" by Ctjf83 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The placard emblem states "Presented to the city of Davenport by John F. Dillon, May 5th 1914."



From Wikipedia:  "John Forrest Dillon (December 25, 1831 – May 6, 1914) was an American jurist who served on federal and Iowa state courts. He authored a highly influential treatise on the power of states over municipal governments.

Dillon was born in Northampton, Montgomery County, New York (now part of Fulton County, New York). He studied medicine at the University of Iowa at the age of 19. Shortly after beginning his medical practice, he abandoned it to read law, and was admitted to the Iowa bar in 1852. He worked in private practice until he was elected Scott County prosecutor in 1853, and then to a judgeship in Iowa's 7th Judicial Circuit in 1858. He was elevated to the Iowa Supreme Court, serving from January 1, 1864, until he resigned December 31, 1869. For two years of this period he was Chief Justice. In 1869, President Grant appointed him to the United States Circuit Court, which became the Eighth Circuit."

Okay, Dillon was a venerable old jurist and philanthropist and he gave Davenport a nice fountain.  Where do the Yankees come in?

More from Wikipedia:  "John F. Dillon's sister married John B. Jordan, a Davenport, Iowa, merchant. That marriage produced a daughter Jennie, who married Louis Stengel. Louis and Jennie Stengel had a son, Charles Dillon (Casey) Stengel, named after the Judge, who had a long career as a baseball player and manager."

Yes, this is the same Casey Stengel who found fame as the manager of the New York Yankees (and later the Mets).  Here are some of Stengel's colorful quotes:

"They say some of my stars drink whiskey, but I have found that ones who drink milkshakes don't win many ball games."

"The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds."


On a less cheerful note, I walked to the levee to see the loathsome gambling boat, which has filthified downtown Davenport for many years.

The boat will be relocated soon, leaving a hole in the downtown economy and rendering pointless an expensive pedestrian walkway constructed to convey suckers from the hotels to the river boat.


The little boxy structure in the foreground is a defunct concession stand.  The stand is of historical interest because it records the high-water marks for past flooding of the Mississippi River.  As the marker below indicates, in 1965 the river crested well above a normal person's height.  My father sold our house in the river flood plain and moved to his present house, safe on high ground in northwest Davenport, right before this horrific flood of 1965. 


Finally, no blog article about Iowa could be complete without a picture of the rich Iowa soil.  Here is my father's garden of tomatoes, green beans, and kale.




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