THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER
AT
Fulton & Albany

By Wayne Bastian
Daily Gazette July 1, 1976


The Mississippi had a star part in the development of Fulton. John Baker came up the Great River, looking for a suitable place to establish a community. Some of the settlers used the steam as a route when they were in search of a settling place.

The first steamboat, Virginia, passed through this section of the river in 1828 when there was not a single white resident in the county. By the 1850's they were an accepted part of the everyday life of the settlement. Steamboats never lost their glamour. The amazing crafts, which seemed to travel on the river rather than in it, made regular stops at Fulton City and later Fulton.

Ferriage was available from the beginning. The place was called Baker's Ferry and Misissipp for a short time. Canoes were used first; they were replaced by skiffs and flatboats. A ferry operated by horse power was the next improvement. In 1854 William H. Knight bought a small steamboat at Albany, Ind. He brought it to Fulton and named it after his wife, Sarah. It was replaced several times by larger boats and prospered until 1891 when the Fulton-Lyons High bridge was constructed at a cost of about $100,000. A price was ensued and foot passengers were carried free for a short time.

Prior to the building of the bridge, the ferries were of considerable size. During the 1870s and 1880s, hundreds of white topped wagons filld with settlers crossed Mississippi via the Fulton ferry. After the bridge wsa opened, a small steamboat was used until areound 1918.

Fulton became an important river port. The railroad arrived in 1855. It brought great amounts of freight, which were transferred to boats and sent upstream. By 1866, the new farms north and northwest of Illinois began to send wheat to market.

Joseph Reynolds, who was usually called "Diamond Jo" made Fulton the southern end of his run. He transported incredible amounts of grain here where it was moved to the tall elevator that the Northwestern line built at the end of what is now Eleventh Avenue. It was Broadway in those day. During the 1873 season about 2,000,000 bushels of wheat were moved from barges to bins and dropped by shutes into Northwestern cars. In 1873, C.A. Winslow, superintendent of the elevator, established a superior grade of wheat called Northwestern. It was recognized for its fine quality and sold profitably.

The boats which brought the shipments of grain went up-river with large amounts of freight. Regular schedules to carry passengers and freight were established by highly-competing lines and service was regular both from above and below Fulton. When railroads were built to ports farther north, river business dwindled at this top. The tall elevator (about 90 feet) was razed in 1897. After 1900 and especially after the wind dams were laid, sandbars were dropped at Fulton and ruined the harbor which had a natural levee.

During the last half of the nineteenth century, large rafts of logs wer sent down Mississippi. They were moved first by the current and steered by a crew of raftsmen who guidedthe unwieldy mass by the use of giant-sized oars that were called sweeps. The first raft was pushed down Big River by a steamboard about 1864. About 1875 a second boat was moored sideways at the fron end of the raft. It moved backwards and forwards to help stter the big field of logs.

There were several sawmills established in Fulton. The first was a water-powered mill built in 1845. The larges was a steam sawmill located west of the Market Place and on the riverbank. It was operated first by the Langford and Hall company. It was transferred to Clinton lumbermen and was closed about 1904. It was razed a few years later.

Mississippi was a source ot varied enjoyments from the beginning of the settlement. People hunted and fished upon it. They took honeymoon, vacation and excrusion trips on it for the boats seemd luxurious and sophisticated to residents that lived in a territory that had been won from the wilderness not too many years earlier. Showboats which carried their theatres along with them drew large audiences.

Presently the city is shut away from the Mississippi. The temporary dyke which was raised during and after the disastrous flood of 1965 hides the river completely, It will be shut away even more when the permanent dyke is built.

Lock and Dam No. 13 were completed in 1936 and 1939. About 1958, a public use area was provided. Later a boat ramp was installed on the east side of the breakwater. In 1976, restrooms were built near the lock-chamber. The roof of it was made into a look-down so that spectators can understand better the operation of the lock.

The area is a popular place and draws thousands of spectators and users annually. In the winter, people fish through the ice; when the ice floes break up, they angle in the conventional manner. For about six weeks each summer, they enjoy the sight and fragrance of acres of water lotuses. Spring and fall bring the excitement of migratory water fowls. And always there is Mississippi to gaze upon - a tranquilizer greater than any obtainable from medicine.

The river was equally important to Albany. The first sawmill established there in 1837, used, probably, only native timber. The second and third mills were run for brief periods. In 1861 a mill was reected in Upper Albany. It sawed lumber from northern logs. There were several changes of ownership. The buildings stood until 1889, although they may not have been used for several years.

Finally, all that was left was the tall chimney of bricks. The stack became a landmark as it was pictured onpost cards with the legent, "The Lone Chimney on the Mississippi". It was dropped finally by a charge of dynamite.

The village enjoyed ferry-service for many years. the first ferry, operated by horsepower was started in 1840. About 1850 a steamboat replaced it. When the tornado struck Albany on June 5, 1860, the big wind lifted it out and dropped it on the river bank. There was no large boat used for a number of years. In 1888 businessmen from Albany and Camanche sponsored one. The death of one of the sponsors may have prevented its start.

But Albany was not isolated. It was a regular stop for both long- latter served the area for many years. They usually offered daily service. The last one stopped running in 1906. Sometime in the early 1900s a small sternwheeler, Mary Bell, was used. It wsa replaced about 1915 by a launch, Irma Ruth. Later, the Swanannoa carried passengers between Clinton and Albany.

Mississippi affected the economy of teh village greatly during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It was reported in 1881 that 18 steamboat pilots made their homes there in 1883, seven captains, ten pilots, four clerks, four mates, two engineers, four cooks and two nigger-engineers lived there. They were probably also some slush-cooks and deckhands. The nigger-engineers operated the Clinton Niggers, invented by a Clinton lumberman. They were long cables wrapped around spools and connected to the rear corners of rafts. When one of the ends was shortened, the other was lengthened.

One Old Timmer commented on the life o rivermen. He declared that, at the beginning of winter, they dined well on Porthouse steak, ham and eggs and pumpkin pie. Toward the end of the hiemal season, they ate liver and potatoes.

The Garden Plain Ferry ran from the mouth of Cedar Creek in that township to Clinton. It may have started as early as 1855. It was called the Aiken Ferry for many years. During the 1880's Augusta, a steamboat made the run.

The Fulton-Lyons High Bridge, built in 1891, was an important link in national highways. For many years, it wsa the official cross-over for the Lincoln Highway. In 1945, the City of Clinton Bridge Commission was organized for the purpose of building a modern bridge to carry over U.S. Highway 30. It was named the Gateway Bridge and was opened June 30, 1956.

The commission planned a second bridge which could connect Fourteenth Avenue in Fulton and Nineteenth Avenue North in Clinton. Interest restrictions proved troublesome. The commission built the understructure but could not raise the money for the remainder. Evenutally the highway department of Iowa took over the bridges. The superstructure was completed and the bridge was opened in early 1975. The commission named the bridge Mark Morris Memorial Bridge.

Mention must be made of the record-breaking flood of 1965. It was a once in 200 years inudation. in Whiteside County, the city of Fulton and surrounding lowlands suffered greatly. Great River lived up to its name and reached a crest of 24.85 feet at Fulton. Approximately 440 residences were damaged and about 40 industrial and commercial establishments were flooded. Thousands of acres of farmland were covered. The federal government estimated damage at $1,000,000.

Whiteside County residents helped generously. Food and clothing were sent in. The city of Sterling sent down its rescue truck and men to operate it. Radio station WSDR raised $51,000 and there were other donations.

During the flood, national guardsmen were ordered in to assist and prevent looting of the abandoned homes. Damage was not as great at ALbany. Most of the village is on high ground. Below there, State Highway 84 became the main line of defense. By piling 170,000 sandbags and hauling 8,000 cubic yards of earth for fill, thousands of acres were protected.

A permanent dyke to protect FUlton and adjacent country was planned by the Army Corps of ENgineers. A flood-protection district was established. The dyke will be built when the federal government appropriates the necessary millions. The temporary dyke, now in use, will be incorporated in part into the permanent one.

The Daily Gazette July 1, 1976

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