Moline City

Rock Island County, Illinois

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Moline City Hall is located at 619 16th Street, Moline, IL 61265.
Phone: 309‑524‑2000.

Beginnings [1]

In 1841, David B. Sears built a crude brush and stone dam on the Mississippi River from the Illinois shore to a point near the eastern end of Arsenal Island. This dam provided waterpower to sawmills and gristmills at each end of the dam. The first settlement consisted of about 65 people and thirteen buildings and was called Rock Island Mills; it was centered on the dam and the waterpower site was the deciding factor in its location.


In 1843 the village was officially platted and named Moline; however, the records were destroyed by fire, and Moline was incorporated again as a village in 1848. Moline was incorporated as a city in 1872 when its population was about 4,700 persons.

Moline's situation with respect to river traffic was less favorable than that of either Rock Island or Davenport. It was located some distance to the side of the main channel, and lay opposite one of the rock ledges which formed the rapids. However, it possessed advantages for the development of power from the rapid advantages which neither Rock Island nor Davenport could equal. The narrow channel between the Illinois shore and Arsenal Island provided an excellent site for a simple dam. Moline grew because of industries dependent on the development of the power site, and it thus owes its existence in large measure to the river and the rapids.

A number of notable events characterized industrial growth in Moline up to 1900. One of these was the building of the railroads. The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was built in 1856, and by 1879 three railroads passed through Moline, Rock Island, and Davenport. The construction of the railroads greatly stimulated the settlement of many thousands of acres of agricultural land to the west, which were not readily accessible otherwise. New farms needed lumber for houses, barns, and fences, and agricultural implements, furniture, and other household equipment. This emerging market contributed to the development of two industries important to the early growth of Moline.

The outstanding industrial development during the period was the growth of lumbering. In 1853 there were five sawmill and woodworking industries in Moline, three in Davenport, and two in Rock Island. Employing about 200 workers in 1854, this lumber industry grew to employ more than 2,000 people by 1888. Logs were floated down the Mississippi River from the forests of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the lumber products of the mills moved by rail to inland markets in the treeless areas of the Great Plains.

Perhaps the most notable event during this period, from the standpoint of manufacturing, occurred in 1847, when John Deere moved his plow manufacturing works to Moline from Grand Detour, Illinois. Attracted by the waterpower available at Moline, the transportation facilities afforded by the Mississippi River, and the large market area tributary to the river, Deere opened a small factory below the Moline dam. The development of the agricultural implement industry in the late 1800's was almost as spectacular as that of the lumber industry. Of the five implement factories operating in the three cities in 1887, Deere and Company was the leading manufacturer. From one small forge building the plant expanded until its buildings covered more than eight acres in 1882; mechanical improvements and inventions increased the scope of its production from plows to a variety of agricultural implements. In 1892 the company employed 1,000 workers and produced 150,000 implements.

A further event occurring in this period greatly affected the form of development in Moline. In 1862 Congress created a national arsenal on Rock Island to manufacture ordnance equipment. The Government forced removal of the mills at the eastern end of the island and constructed a new dam near the middle of the south side (at what is now Sylvan Island). The power sites opposite it along the mainland caused a rapid westward expansion of the industrial area in Moline.

Residential expansion in Moline was very unsymmetrical and development occurred almost entirely west and south of the commercial core. This peculiar growth reflected an adjustment to the expansion of the industrial area westward opposite the mill sites by the Government power dam. However, it was also due to the retention of a large part of the lowland east of the city by Bailey Davenport, and the establishment of the large Riverside Cemetery in 1851. Because the lowland was narrow, residential areas were forced to expand on the upland where they met the expanding residential areas of Rock Island. The eastward expansion of Moline did not occur until the development of Bailey Davenport's land sometime after his death in 1890.

Two events in the 1890's acted to slow the rate of growth in all of the cities. One was the financial panic of 1893; the other was the depletion of the pine forests of Minnesota, which caused the rapid decline of the lumber industry. The peak of the lumber industry occurred sometime in the early 1890's, but the decline began in 1895 and by 1910 the industry was extinct. As a result of these two events, manufacturing was paralyzed and unemployment was widespread for several years.

After a short period of stagnation, the rapid growth and development which characterized the previous period resumed, caused mainly by expansion of the agricultural implement industry and Rock Island Arsenal.

Due to the trend towards large-scale production and the concentration of industry in large establishments, Deere and Company grew into a mammoth corporation. The economy of large-scale production with large factory and sales organizations became necessary, and the increased use of mechanical power on farms created a larger demand for tractors and farm implements.

The Spanish-American War showed that the Arsenal lacked adequate facilities; consequently, waterpower facilities were improved and additional manufacturing equipment was installed. Further improvements were made during World War I, when the manufacturing and storage area increased fourfold and new power facilities were installed; a peak employment of 18,000 was reached in 1918. The manufacture of automobiles began shortly after 1900 and boosted the Moline economy somewhat. Production continued until the last of the automobile factories, the Velie Motor Company, was closed in 1928.

Moline's area quadrupled between 1900 and 1930. Its growth was characterized first by expansion south of the business and industrial core on the upland and later by the addition of an eastern wing on the lowland more than twenty blocks long (which gave Moline a common boundary with East Moline). Residential expansion generally followed the directions of the electric street railway lines which served 16 Avenue, 27 Street, 15 Street south to Prospect Park, and the Mississippi River lowland from Rock Island to East Moline. The late twenties were known as the "boom years" of residential construction.

  1. City of Moline, Illinois, Comprehensive Plan 2001,, accessed October, 2012.

Nearby Towns: Bettendorf City • Davenport City • East Moline City • Rock Island City •

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