Rock Island County, Illinois Genealogy Trails

Rock Island Township

Early Villages Saukenuk, home of Black Hawk and the Sauk Tribe

Oshkosh, home of the Mesquakie

Farnhamsburg, an early white settlement on the east side of present day Rock Island

Stephenson, located near downtown Rock Island.

Searstown, located on the Rock River


City of Rock Island

The county of Rock Island began on July 10, 1835 when early settlers purchased 61.95 acres from the government to establish a permanent seat of justice. A town was platted between 10th and 17th Streets and one third of the lots were offered for sale. (Today it's part of the Old Chicago addition.) This town was originally called "Davenport" after George Davenport who ran a contract commissary store for the military and a trading post for furs with the Indians from his home at Fort Armstrong (now Arsenal Island).

One lawmaker, Col. James M. Stroude, objected to the name "Davenport" and the name was changed to Stephenson, in honor of Benjamin Stephenson, an early pioneer.

Two years after Stephenson was platted, a "paper city" called Rock Island City was laid out. This city which existed only on paper, was 608 acres of land located north and east of the Rock and Mississippi Rivers from approximately 24th Street to 31st Avenue. This was the area previously inhabited by Blackhawk's people, known as Saukenuk, home of the Sauk and Mesquakie Indians.

As settlers began to move into the area they speculated on how the area would grow. They bought and sold land to local residents and friends back east. Daniel Webster was one speculator who hoped to turn a profit by purchasing sections of Rock Island City. Levi Turner, a New York lawyer, fascilitated many of these sales. Many people thought the area would be populated from people from the east rather than the south, making land on either side of the Rock River, the perfect location for a city.

The plan to develop the Rock River area was fascilitated by the Illinois legislature which had embarked on an ambitious plan to improve the state's transportation by building canals. The canal near VanDruff's Island would bypass the lower Rock River Rapids enabling steamboats to navigate the Rock. In 1839 the state declared bankruptcy and the canal improvement plan was dropped with only 1/4 mile completed. Many investors lost a lot of money.

In 1841, Dr. Silas Reed objected to the name "Stephenson," and persuaded lawmakers to rename Stephenson "Rock Island" and include Farnhamsburg and three other additions. This new city did not include the area that had been called Rock Island City.

Rock Island City
Transcribed by © K. Torp, 2006

Was located opposite the western end of Vandruff's island, on the north shore of the Rock River, taking in the site of the old Sac Indian village. It was eighteen blocks long, running north from the river, and east and west nine blocks. It was platted and accepted by the County commissioners July 20, 1836, and recorded July 22, 1836. A beautiful paper city.

Source: "Historic Rock Island County : history of the settlement of Rock Island County from the earliest known period to the present time : embracing references of importance, and including a biography of Rock Island County's well-known citizens." Rock Island, Ill.: Kramer & Co., 1908


The Deed-Slingers of Rock Island County
by Alexandra Benedict, Geneseo, IL

The story of Rock Island City was presented by Alexandra Benedict at the Illinois History Symposium in December, 2001, and published in the Rock Island County Historical Society Newsletter, October, 2002 Used with permission of Alexandra Benedict and the Rock Island County Historical Society (off-site link)

Three chopping, cabin building pioneers are staple images of Illinois history, but Rock Island City was planned by deed-slinging lawyers. What's more, the original Rock Island faced the Rock River, not the Mississippi. A Pittsburgh was to rise just west of Black Hawk State Park.

In 1836, a young lawyer trotted intot he country on his horse Sweepstakes. Levi C. Turner was determined to make his fortune and had alrady married the boss' daughter. Despite months of planning, the trip started badly. He bacame ill in the muddy vilage of Toledo and had to be dragged back to the home of a friend near Detroit on a lumber sled. His man Collins stayed with him; his brothers-in-law, George and William Campbell, forged ahead on family business. Recovered by April, 1836, Turner packed his India rubber rainsuit, bedroll, and gun and left Oakland County, Michigan, on horseback for Chicago.

The thirty-year-old Dartmouth graduate slept out his last of several nights on an Indiana beach, brushed off, and trotted into Chicago to meet Gurdon S. Hubbard, fur trader and a founding father of the Midwest's premier city-to-be. Turner had money; he bought $89,000 worth of Chicago lots for himself and leading men of Otsego County, New York, from Hubbard. Hubbard would later claim he also loaned Turner $20,000 to buy Rock Island City.

The law had prepared Turner for dealing with businessmen, but his contracts with Hubbard dragged him into a financial wrestling match. Turner's backers in Cooperstown, New York, were corporate lawyers, but Hubbard had started work for Astor at sixteen and could be as tough.

In 1836, Hubbard was interested in the value that the infant Illinois-Michigan Canal was adding to city lots in Chicago. The Rock Island idea of digging a canal from the Rock River to the Mississippi River appealed to him. Why not advance the young Easterner a few dollars and see if the townsite he proposed to buy from George Davenport on the Rock River would take shape? After all, Illinois land prices were rising "like magick."

If all the pieces of the plan fell into place, a city would rise on the banks of the Rock. Boats would steam up from St. Louis, swing east up the Rock River, lock throught the government canal proposed for Vandruffs Island, and do business at Rock Island City. Then it was up river past now Colona through the never dug Mississippi-Rock River Canal to Campbell's Island.

It was a plan for bringing the coal of Rock Island County and the lead of Jo Daviess County together while avoiding the treacherous fourteen mile stretch of rapids from the island of Rock Island to LeClaire.

By June, Levi C. Turner was back in Chicago, this time with wife, Julia, probate judge William Campbell, prosecutor Eben Morehouse, and Richard Fenimore Cooper, lawyer and nephew of the world-famous novelist. They attended the great Chicago land auctions and jounced off to Galena in a covered wagon where Campbell-Morehouse interests owned a store and worked lead.

After the steamboat trip from Galena, George and Margaret Davenport's newly built two story house on Rock Island was a haven to Julia and Mrs. Morehouse. William Dickson, too, must have enjoyed the well-appointed comfort of the Davenport home where they blended the two deals for Sauk-E-Nauk. Davenport had promised half of the former Indian village's land to Dickson for $15,000 earlier that spring. However, in Chicago a mutual friend, Hiram Norcross of Monmouth, had introduced Turner to Dickson during the land auctions. Since Dickson and Julia Turner were also second cousins, they decided to combine forces and approach Davenport as a team for the full 3/4 of the site he was willing and able to sell.

The deal was struck on July 1, 1836, and William Dickson, later founder of Milan, Levi Crosby Turner, and Richard Fenimore Cooper became owners of Black Hawk's famous town of Sauk-E-Nauk along with George Davenport. The thrill oozed away in the land market meltdown of 1837.

Between July, 1836, and February, 1837, Turner sold shares in the concept of the town to eight men, one of them the famous Daniel Webster. All of Turner's and Webster's money people were buying heavily throughout the Old Northwest. The crash halted the 'go ahead' that kept the money in motion, and Rock Island City and both Rock River canals were dropped like hot potatoes.

Hubbard and Turner, Dickson and Turner, and many others were about to spend twenty years in court while the disputed land covered its warrior graves with grass. Meanwhile Stephenson on the Mississippi slipped in and renamed itself Rock Island.


VILLAGE OF SEARS is located in the Town of South Rock Island. 43 legal voters of South Rock Island petitioned the County Court to have the privilege of voting on the incorporation of the Village of Sears, under the general law; petitioners describing bounds and affirming the district contained a population of 350.

May 3, 1894, an election was held for or against incorporation, resulting in 53 votes for organization and six votes against. May 26, 1894, the following six trustees were elected:  C.H. Dibbern, John E. Breen, B.Patterson, J. McCarty, J.F. Mead and E.D. Fisher.

Source: "Historic Rock Island County : history of the settlement of Rock Island County from the earliest known period to the present time : embracing references of importance, and including a biography of Rock Island County's well-known citizens." Rock Island, Ill.: Kramer & Co., 1908. Transcribed by K. Torp


by Diana Alm

The land, once known as Rock Island City, continued to be sold. Jonathan Huntoon, Thomas J. Rodman, Philemon L. Mitchell, and Cornelius Lynde all owned portions of this land now legally named "Sears" and often called "Searstown."

On March 6, 1883, David B. Sears issued a Quit Claim Deed to the Rock Island & Milan Street Railway Co., a corporation. This strip of land, 20 feet wide plus 10 feet on each side of the tract for slopes, was later to become the avenue for the streetcar leading to the Amusement Park located at the Watch Tower in what is now Black Hawk Historic Site. It is now that section of Blackhawk Road between 11th Street and Watch Tower Lodge.

Searstown was incorporated May 4, 1894. It was filed January 3, 1895. The map shows the area of Sears where people were living.

Searstown plat map

Another large area to the east was uninhabited.

A parcel of land was transferred to Harriet D. Sears in 1896 with an exemption of the land being used by the Tri-City Railway Company, formerly the Davenport and Rock Island Railway Company. This railroad, owned by Bailey Davenport, carried coal from the mine located in Black Hawk Park into the city of Rock Island.

An Ordinance, filed on October 8, 1898, by the majority of land owners within the Village of Sears, petitioned for the disconnection of 543.44 acres from the village. All taxes had been paid on the land. and all requirements of the law had been complied with.

This disconnection was the land that is now Black Hawk State Historic Site. Land owned by the Sears family, which included two homes where they lived was part of this deal, but was added back to the Village of Sears as a Second Addition on September 17, 1907. In 1915 Sears was annexed to the city of Rock Island.


Searstown in 1898

Searstown in 1898
From the Library of Congress.
Drawing also available at Rock Island Library
and Rock Island County Historical Society

Sears Second Addition continued to grow as lots were subdivided and houses were built. During the 1920s a number of summer homes were built by residents of Rock Island who felt it was cooler in the summer near the Rock River.

During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) maintained a camp at Black Hawk State Park where they built shelters and paths throughout the park. One house in Sears Second Addition probably housed the leaders of that group. The men stayed in barracks similar to Singing Bird Lodge located approximately where Singing Bird is today.

William Stuhr, well-known Rock Island architect, built several homes in Sears Second Addition during the 1930s. He was avant-garde in his field, building some of the first ranch style houses in Rock Island.

Theodore Schafer owned a truck farm and had a store where the City Limits Saloon is today.

Sears Second Addition
Searstown in 1907
Showing 1st and 2nd Additions
Area along Rock River not included.


Searstown Today

Originally part of the hillside dirt used to build Rock River levee

Sears Dam on the Rock River
Sears Dam on the Rock River

The Rock Island - Milan Bridge
The Rock Island - Milan Bridge

The Sam Davis Power Plant
The Sam Davis Power Plant

Site of TriCity Railway along Blackhawk Road
Site of TriCity Railway along Blackhawk Road

Road leading from Sears's home to Mill
Road leading from Sears's home to Mill

Sears family home;
Sears family home;
now home of Blackhawk Park caretaker

Intersection of Walnut St.,
Intersection of Walnut St.,
Wood Ave., and Hawk St.
in Searstown.


Rock Island County, Illinois
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