Davenport's "Bucktown": A One-Time Den of Iniquity, Now Transformed

Mar 9, 2017

In 1908, the Rev. William Lloyd Clark of Davenport wrote: "If I owned Hell and Davenport, I would sell Davenport and keep Hell."  Iowa's largest metropolis along the Mississippi River was called "the worst city in the country" and "the wickedest city in the west" by many people and it was the Bucktown neighborhood on the east edge of downtown that earned Davenport that reputation. 

This hour, we learn about this early history of Davenport with Jonathan Turner, author of the new History Press book, "A Brief History of Bucktown; Davenport's Infamous District Transformed."  Turner is an arts and entertainment reporter for the "Dispatch" and the Rock Island "Argus" in Moline. 

Turner told Charity that the Bucktown district flourished in the late 19th century.  He says Davenport was primarily settled by German immigrants who came from the Schleswig-Holstein  region in the late 1840s, now known as the "48ers."  "The Germans in Iowa had a love and affection of alcohol, beer-gardens, music and theater," he told us.  "Davenport was settled by very prominent German-Americans and they brought their love for both high-brow and low-brow culture---and that defined the area."  He says that  in the mid-19th century Davenport was "the west."

And how did Bucktown become such a mecca for large crowds of people who wanted to be entertained and take part in various forms of revelry, some of which the Rev. Clark compared to Hell?  Turner told Charity that Davenport had the advantage of both being on the river and being on the nation's major rail line.  He said "It was a real meeting place, that brought immigrants and other people who traveled the Mississippi and stopped by to partake in things that you probably wouldn't do in your home town--some naughty-bawdy things!"