Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Great River Road and Home

Though we've made many a trip longer than this one, we are absolutely exhausted. Normally, we will take a day in the middle of a trip, where we can spend two nights in the same hotel, and have an "easy" day just exploring locally. But, not this trip -- a different bunk every night, travel and multiple stops each day. But, we're on our way home today, working along the Great River Road in Iowa and Illinois, before crossing the Mississippi River, finding I-70, which I appreciate for a change, and getting back to our own bed.

The first stop is Fort Madison, Iowa, a very historic city located on the west bank of the Mississippi River. Before it became a town, the military post of Fort Madison was established in 1808, but, was destroyed during the War of 1812. It has been reconstructed today. Unfortunately, it is open seasonally, so we can only photograph it's exterior.

Some two decades later, the town of Fort Madison was settled in 1833. By that time, only the partly open cellars of some of the buildings marked the site of the original fort. The city soon became the site of the Iowa State Penitentiary in 1839, which served as a territorial prison before Iowa was a state. It is one of the oldest correctional facilities west of the Mississippi River and today houses about 1,000 inmates.

With its location right on the Mississippi River, the city also grew as a manufacturing c enter. Today, its downtown district displays a collection of well-preserved historic storefronts from the late 19th century.

We then cross the 1927 Santa Fe Bridge, the worlds largest double-decker, swing span bridge back into Illinois. Measuring 525 feet, the top level accommodates automobile traffic while the lower level provides two tracks for railroad traffic. The bridge rotates to allow river traffic to pass safely.

Continuing along the Great River Road, we stop at historic Navuoo, Illinois, which was established in 1832 and first called Venus. Two years later the name was changed to Commerce and in 1839, when the Mormons bought the entire town site, it was renamed Navuoo. Having been expelled from Missouri by the state govenor, they made the site their chief city and began to build a great temple in 1841. During their residence the town's population reached 15,000. But, after years of friction with those that opposed them, they were expelled in 1846 and made their way to Utah. You can bet you will be hearing more about this historic city soon.

Heading south, our next stop is Warsaw, Illinois, a very interesting little town situated right on the Mississippi River. We first stop at the old Warsaw Brewery, which today services as a bar, restaurant and convention center. Continuing on into town, we find an array of old and new, shabby and chic, and restored and crumbling buildings. Like other river cities, Warsaw appears to have suffered after the loss of its river trade.

The Hill-Dodge Bank, established in 1864, is still open for business, but down the street, the Farmers Bank is long closed. A few restaurants and bars continue to welcome visitors, as well as a few small businesses, but, overwhelmingly, the fading peeling doors of this once prosperous city have been shuttered for years. Though paint is falling to the ground, windows are broken, and a couple of the buildings have fallen in on themselves, the town is filled with beautiful homes that are well maintained. Warsaw is still populated by about 1,800 people and has several thriving churches; but it appears for shopping, they probably go elsewhere. We visit the site of old Fort Edwards overlooking the Mississippi River, before moving on down the road.

Crossing the river once again, our last stop of the day is Hannibal, Missouri, boyhood home of Mark Twain. Li ving here from the ages of 4 until he was 18, Hannibal served as the inspiration for the fictional town of St. Petersburg in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The "Unsinkable Molly Brown," of Titantic fame, was also from Hannibal.

Hannibal was founded in 1819 but grew slowly during its first several decades. However, when the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad was organized in 1846, it became Missouri's third largest city. Today, this historic town supports about 17,000 people and is filled with buildings listed on the National Historic Registers and touist destinations. Here, we see the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Properties, which feature the Twain Home, a museum, the Huckleberry Finn house, Becky Thatcher house, and more.

Here also, the tourist part of our trip official ends as it is early afternoon and we are homesick. Taking the fastest route, we travel the next 200 miles back 'lil ole Warsaw, Missouri.

Hope you enjoyed the ride and stay tuned as we write up these many places and people onLegends of America.

You can also see more pictures and information on the places we visited on our Facebook Fanpage HERE.

No comments: