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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a two‑story rectangular wooden clapboard house, with a gabled roof pitched at about 20° and a chimney at either end. The front door is shaded by a pedimented portico supported on two tapering pillars. It is the Davenport House in Rock Island, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

George Davenport House, Rock Island, Built 1833.

 p126  On an Island in the Mississippi

Somewhat lost sight of among the numerous stone buildings of the United States Army arsenal which surround it, the old Colonel George Davenport house on Rock Island, in the Mississippi River, is one of the oldest residential landmarks of northern Illinois.​a Located at the west end of the tree-shaded and landscaped arsenal grounds, this ancient frame dwelling stands as a reminder of the man who, after playing an important role in the development of this region, came to a tragic end in his island abode.

Colonel Davenport built his residence in 1833, following the close of the Black Hawk War. He had served in that war as assistant quartermaster general, an appointment he received from Governor John Reynolds. Comfortably settled in his Rock Island home, Colonel Davenport continued his public career and helped to develop this part of the Mississippi Valley. Two years after his house was completed he and a group of associates bought land across the river in Iowa and laid out a town, which was named in honor of the colonel. This is the present-day city of Davenport, Iowa.

The frame house in which Colonel Davenport was living at this time was not, however, his first dwelling on Rock Island. He had originally  p127 lived in a double log cabin he built soon after arriving here in 1816. This was the first home in what was to become Rock Island County. Around this cabin a little settlement grew and it became known as Rock Island Village. A few years later the government established a post office here and Davenport was appointed the first postmaster.

A native of England, where he was born in 1783, Davenport followed the sea in his youth, arrived in New York in 1804, enlisted in the Army, served in the War of 1812, and came west at the close of that war. A few years later he was appointed head of the commissary for a new fort the government had built on Rock Island. It was called Fort Armstrong. He held this position only a year, however, giving it up to become an Indian trader both in the Illinois and Iowa country.

It was as a trader that Davenport built his log house outside the fort. Here, in 1819, the first religious service of the region was held. Here, too, George Davenport welcomed Russell Farnham, explorer, world traveler, and fur trader. The two formed a partner­ship and built a house on the mainland opposite Rock Island. Around it a village grew called Farnhamsburg. It was from this village that the present city of Rock Island sprang. About this time Davenport and Farnham became members of the American Fur Company, headed by John Jacob Astor, and from then on the two prospered.

There followed the construction of Davenport's frame house on the island. "Early photographs of the house," writes Architect Earl H. Reed for the Historic American Buildings Survey, "show it to have been of a highly developed type for the Midwest, with well proportioned side and rear wings, one of the former having perhaps served as an office.

"Davenport, who was a man of broad culture, traveled widely throughout the East and South and his familiarity with the finest Colonial and post-Colonial traditions shows in the architectural lines of his house. Its good proportions, skillful assemblage of tasteful detail and the exterior chimneys, make the Davenport house uniquely interesting."

In 1845, on the Fourth of July, Colonel Davenport's family went to the mainland for an Independence Day celebration. The master of the house remained home alone. Later in the day a band of river ruffians forced their way into the house with the intention of robbing Colonel Davenport. The colonel was brutally murdered and thus was brought to a tragic end the career of a man who helped to found that great metropolitan area on the upper Mississippi known as the "Quad Cities."​b

Thayer's Notes:

a The Davenport House, "the cradle of the Quad Cities", has been preserved and is open to the public.

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b Fuller accounts of Davenport's death, partly conflicting, are given in N. H. Parker, Iowa As It Is in 1856, p169 and I. B. Richman, Ioway to Iowa, pp309‑310; a contemporary report of Fox Indian ceremonies at his grave is given in The Palimpsest, 2:379‑381.

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Page updated: 15 Nov 13