Which U.S. president participated in the 1854 Grand Excursion?
In June 1854, more than 1,000 dignitaries from the East, including politicians, journalists, and business leaders, gathered at this very spot. The entourage included the 13th president of the United States, Millard Fillmore.
The group was on the historic “Grand Excursion,” celebrating the arrival of the Rock Island Railroad, which was the first to reach the Mississippi River from the East.
Participants had taken trains to Chicago where they boarded Rock Island Railroad cars for a trip on the new line to Rock Island. Here the group transferred to five steamboats for the cruise up the Mississippi River to Minnesota Territory. There they visited Saint Paul and the falls of Saint Anthony. The publicity that followed the Grand Excursion attracted millions of investment dollars and thousands of new residents to the Upper Mississippi Valley.
The Grand Excursion was repeated 150 years later in 2004. More than 50 communities between the Quad Cities and St. Paul put celebrated the event with river recreation and tourism activities. A steam train again traveled from Chicago to this location. Here, train passengers weere met by the largest steamboat flotilla assembled in more than a century to travel up the Mississippi in grand style. Seven steamboats, including the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, gathered in the Quad Cities for the Grand Flotilla.
Well before steamboats and railroads, this area was home to the Sauk and Mesquakie Native American tribes. Their village, Saukenuk, located just two miles south of here, was one of the largest Indian settlements in North America. The Black Hawk mural on the building across First Avenue honors the importance of this tribe to the history of our area. The mural was completed by artist Richard Haas and a small team of painters in 1993. Haas is considered by art critics to be a master of a painting technique called trompe l'oeil or "fool the eye."
The warrior Black Hawk and his Sauk tribe had allied with the British during the War of 1812. He led some 200 other Sauk fighters into battle against Americans. Eventually the Sauk were pushed out of Saukenuk and into Iowa by misleading treaties and encroaching white settlers. Twenty years later Black Hawk broke the treaty and led his people back across the Mississippi into Rock Island. The ensuing panic resulted in the 1832 Black Hawk War. The warrior and his people were chased northward from here by a combined army of volunteers and regulars, including future presidents Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln. Black Hawk was defeated at the Battle of Bad Axe, on the Mississippi in Wisconsin. Of the 1,000 Sauk who were retreating across river, fewer than 150, including Black Hawk, survived the battle.
The new Mark Schweibert Park just upstream from Modern Woodmen of America's headquarters welcomes visitors to the riverfront with dramatic views of the Mississippi River, a beautiful promenade, and a playground with spray park for kids.