Grand Excursions on the Upper Mississippi River
Places, Landscapes, and Regional Identity after 1854
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Iowa Press
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In the mid 1990s Mark VanderSchaaf of St. Paul, Minnesota, envisioned a reenactment of the Grand Excursion in its 150th anniversary year, 2004. By the turn of the twenty-first century, a contagious fascination with the original excursion was spreading rapidly. The 1854 excursion, which celebrated in grand style the completion of the Chicago and Rock Island...
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This book is the product of a truly cooperative effort. Throughout its writing, authors and editors shared information and advice. In perhaps the highlight of the process, we all gathered for a conference at Guttenberg, Iowa, on the banks of the Mississippi River, in May 2002. In that scenic...
The Upper Mississippi and the Grand Excursion
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In June of 1854 a festive affair, the Grand Excursion, carried hundreds of dignitaries on a combination rail and steamboat ride from Chicago to Rock Island, Illinois, then on to St. Paul in Minnesota Territory. Just five months earlier, the railroad had connected Chicago and the East to the Mississippi River at Rock Island. During the 1850s, steamboating was...
Building a Mighty Fine Line: The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad
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On the morning of October 1, 1851, in a vacant Chicago lot just west of Clark Street and south of Jackson, a “help-wanted” sign arose: “Good railroad work for the winter. Apply to Sheffield and Farnam, contractors, Chicago and Rock Island Railroad at 12th Street.”...
The Grand Excursion of 1854
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The first railroad to unite the Atlantic with the Mississippi River reached Rock Island on February 22, 1854. To celebrate this event leading citizens of the country were invited by the firm of Sheffield and Farnam, contractors for the construction of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, to participate in a joint railroad and steamboat excursion to the Falls of...
The East Looks at the West
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Among the prominent people invited on the Grand Excursion were eastern newspaper writers, who documented the excursion for their readers back home. Most were from near the northeastern home base of Farnam and Sheffield, the Connecticut contractors of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad. By inviting news editors and publishers, the contractors...
Steaming up the River
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By the time of the 1854 Grand Excursion, the role of steamboats on the Upper Mississippi River was so clear and well established that the excursion’s success necessitated cooperation between rail and steamboat interests. However, the event that the collaboration celebrated, the arrival of the railroad at the river, ironically marked the beginning of the railroad...
The Picturesque Mississippi
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In 1854, when the Grand Excursionists went upriver, the Mississippi was hardly unknown territory, nor was it wilderness. Native people had lived along the river for centuries and European American villages, farms, and trading posts had been established for a hundred years or more. The Upper Mississippi marked the leading edge of white settlement,...
Towns to Visit: Sights (Sites) to See
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“What is to become of this great valley of the Mississippi, which already possesses the last physical achievements and results of civilization, railroads, telegraphs, aqueducts, and gaslights?” So asked Catherine M. Sedgwick in an article entitled “The Great Excursion to the Falls of St. Anthony” published in September 1854 in Putnam’s Monthly.1 That, of...
Where Nature Smiles Three Hundred Miles: Rail Travel along he River
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At the time of the Grand Excursion in 1854, the scenery of the Upper Mississippi River presented the excursionists with a landscape that was seen as both picturesque and primitive. Yet even as they admired the untamed landscape of the Upper Mississippi, many of the travelers speculated on the future of the country and of the potential profits to be...
Highway to Empire: Remaking the River
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It seems appropriate that former president Millard Fillmore led the 1854 Grand Excursion. The excursionists paddled up a mostly natural river. To the extent it was not natural, Fillmore had played a role. Fillmore and his Whig Party supported federally funded navigation improvements for the Mississippi and other rivers. And, ironically, Fillmore and the...
Preservation and Management of the River’s Natural Resources
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The Upper Mississippi River’s natural resources are vast, varied, and unique. These resources provide benefits — ecologic, economic, recreational, educational, inspirational — enjoyed by many millions of people annually. These benefits have contributed to the perception in the United States that the Mississippi is a national treasure, and to its recognition...
A River of Logs
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“Tim-ber-r-r-r!” This cry reverberated through the last half of the nineteenth century, both in northern forests and in company boardrooms along the Upper Mississippi River and its Wisconsin and Minnesota tributaries. Pine lumber and log rafts — some four acres in size — floated to lumberyards and sawmills along these rivers. During the years from 1850 to 1869, the populations of Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota...
Fishing the Father of Waters
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Surprisingly, a person on the Mississippi River today would see commercial fishing almost exactly as it was done during the era of the Grand Excursion. Few truly new techniques have been introduced. Traditions and fishing knowledge continue to be handed down from one generation...
Renewals and Reinventions: River Towns on the Upper Mississippi
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In the nineteenth century Mark Twain wrote of the Mississippi River: “The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book. . . . And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.”1 He was describing the river itself, but the same notions of change and pleasant landscapes currently apply to the cities and towns...
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Page Count: 270
Publication Year: 2004
Series Title: Bur Oak Book