LeClaire, Iowa was known mostly for location and river traffic. It is situated on the point where the Mississippi River makes a sharp turn to the West and runs southwesterly for fifteen miles. In earlier days this was known as the Upper Rock Island Rapids. It was dangerous to navigate because of high rocks and a narrow twisting channel.
During the 1840’s to 1910 LeClaire was a widely known river town. The rapids marked the extremities of a rock bound gorge excavated by the river as result of an ice invasion which forced the stream into its present position. It was and still is a favorite fishing area.
Chief Blackhawk of the Sauk and Fox tribes.
Members of the Sauk and Fox tribes lived in the area of LeClaire. There was a fierce Indian battle in 1804 in the area between LeClaire and Princeton, Iowa, where the Olathea Golf Course is located today, that was fought by the Sauk and Fox tribes against the Sioux tribe. Around 1000 Indians were killed in the fight.
In 1829 three white families moved into the LeClaire area and through the Peace Treaty of 1832 the Indians gave a section of land at the head of the Upper Rapids to Antoine LeClaire. This tract is where the City of LeClaire is now located.
William F."Buffalo Bill" Cody
Click here to proceed to Buffalo Bill Cody information within the PBS series THE WEST web site containing Cody's history and complete autobiography!
The City received its Charter in 1834. The years up through 1850 showed the town growing. There was one hotel, a town pump, boat supply store and several river pilots built homes. The Stone School was built in 1866. A cemetery was established. The state of Iowa became the 29th state in 1846 and in April of that same year "Buffalo Bill" William F. Cody was born in a log cabin two miles northwest of LeClaire. By 1850 LeClaire development was so rapid that it had promise of becoming a large city. By 1856 there were eighteen new stores, and employment available for carpenters, caulkers and mechanics on the boatyards. There were sawmills, flour mills, a plow factory and brick making among the early industry. From LeClaire itself came much of the stone, brick and wood used in the construction of the homes many which are now recognized as part of the nine block Cody Road Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Winter street scene 1893-1894
Antoine LeClaire owned and operated a sandstone quarry (located where the flower shop and antique mall are now housed). Stone from that quarry was used to build the Clock Tower on Rock Island Arsenal, Augustana College and abutments on the Government Bridge.
Boatyards of LeClaire (1898)
The LeClaire School Building was built in 1870 and now houses the LeClaire Recreation Center.
By 1857 financial panic hit LeClaire after Davenport bridged the river. By the late 1890’s the railroad came through town, and wing dams and revetments built on the upper Mississippi made nearly all channels navigable. Both these events caused decline in river pilots and river traffic reached a low point - logs and lumber were now railroaded. Farming became more popular with the decline in river employment.
The Green Tree
The famous Green Tree elm was located along the banks of the Mississippi River in LeClaire. It was known as a landmark among people who lived in LeClaire or to people who had visited LeClaire. In 1920 it was placed on the register of the American Forestry Association's famous trees. In 1964 it contracted Dutch Elm disease and had to be cut down. One section of the famous tree can be viewed in the Buffalo Bill Museum in downtown LeClaire.
The Lone Star (located at the Buffalo Bill museum).
LeClaire gives visitors a sense of community, with history (Lone Star, old buildings still in existence, Buffalo Bill homestead and museum.) family farms, small businesses and local government.
Cody Road looking south (1912)
All photos and details can be found at the Buffalo Bill Museum in LeClaire.
"LeClaire, Iowa A Mississippi River Town" by Dorothy Lage copyright 1976
"Historic LeClaire...Where the River Pilots Lived" by LeClaire Lioness (Carol Farwell editor)
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