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The city, named after Burlington, Vermont, since its earliest settlers came from there, was laid out along the Mississippi in 1834 5on a site selected by Zebulon Pike nearly thirty years earlier. Its grid, placed at the junction of the river and Hawkeye Creek, essentially parallels the riverfront. As often commented on, its site was indeed picturesque due to the steep rise of two hills directly adjacent to the river, followed by a series of hills rising to the west. During its first years the city's economy was primarily derived from shipping on the river and on merchandising for the developing farms to the west. In 1855 the railroad reached the Mississippi on the Illinois side, opposite Burlington. A year later, work commenced on a railroad running west from Burlington. However, it was not until 1868 that a “splendid iron bridge” was built across the Mississippi. The iron and stone-piered bridge was of nine spans, and in length it was 2,000 feet. In the late 1880s Glazier observed that “the smoke stacks of manufactories are seen in all parts of the city.” 6Among these industries were the Murray Iron Works, the Burlington Plow Company, Wolfe's Furniture Factory, and the Burlington Wheel Works. Trade carried out via the railroads and the river and manufacturing continued to fuel the city's economy through the 1920s.

One of the assets of the community is Crapo Park, situated among the hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi. This 100-acre park was established in 1895–1896 and was designed in that year by Ernshaw and Punshaw. The park was a gift of a local philanthropist, Philip M. Crapo. It contains a selection of trees indigenous to this region and features winding roads and paths, formal gardens, and pools. Another important open space within the city is Dankwardt Park, just north of Crapo Park (both are off South Main Street). As so often occurs, a highway (US 34), which extends west from MacArthur Bridge, has plowed its way through the town, not only dividing it in two but destroying a good number of historic buildings. Fortunately, most of the highway is set down into the ground between the hills, so that it is not seen, nor does it impinge excessively on the adjacent buildings. As with other river towns, civic leaders of the city make a continual effort to develop much of the waterfront into a parklike setting.


Steven Brower, “The Durable Buildings of Burlington.”

Willard Glazier, Down the Great River, 280.

Writing Credits

David Gebhard and Gerald Mansheim

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