Phillipe Ronde's 1858 illustration of Muscatine depicts a thriving community oriented to the river and railroad. 32The buildings in his view seemingly meander along the river and then are scattered upon the surrounding hills. Several decades later, in the mid-1870s, views of the city convey a much more orderly scene tightly held in place by the city's grid system of streets. The situation of Muscatine was an advantageous one. It was located on a deep westward bend of the Mississippi River, which meant that it brought the potential of river transportation far into Iowa. To the northwest of the city, adjacent to the west bank of the Mississippi, was Muscatine Island with its very rich alluvial soil. As Glazier remarked in 1892, the city was built “on a rocky bluff, the scenery from which in all directions is very charming to the lover of nature.” 33
The grid of the city, which runs parallel and perpendicular to the river (along northeast-southwest and southeast-northwest axes) was laid out in 1836. The community was first named Bloomington; in 1849 it assumed its present name (after the Mascoutin Indians). The year following its founding, Muscatine became the seat for the county of the same name. In 1854 the Muscatine and Oscaloosa Railroad was organized, later to be joined by other lines. The economic base of the community was derived from river and rail transportation. The lumber industry was strong in Muscatine, and by the 1890s the production of pearl buttons (manufactured from the river's mussel shells) commenced. In the twentieth century, light manufacturing and food processing were the city's principal industries. The Lock and Dam 16, constructed in the thirties, is one of a series built on the Mississippi by the Army Corps of Engineers.
The riverfront of Muscatine developed in a classic fashion. It was first devoted exclusively to dockage for the riverboats; then the railroad ran parallel to much of the riverfront, and the accompanying commercial and warehouse buildings sprang up. Eventually parks were added, Riverview Park (c. 1925, at the foot of Oak Street) and Mussen Park (off Peal Avenue and Oregon Street). Kent-Stein Park was developed (west of League Street) along the former Muscatine slough; and in the northern part of Muscatine, Weed Park was deeded to the city by one of Iowa's foremost horticulturists, James Weed. Even before the High Bridge over the Mississippi was built in 1891, the city had become a center from which radiated wagon and later automobile roads. Today, the principal river highway (Iowa 61), the Inland Route (22), and the bridge route east converge on and utilize the city streets. Only when one gets out into the northwest section of the city—into the world of post-World War II suburbia and the mall shopping center—does one encounter a freeway system.
The community possesses a remarkable number of nineteenth-century commercial and domestic buildings. The city has been carefully surveyed as to its historic places and structures, and many of the buildings have been impressively restored. 34
Loren Horton, “Iowa Planning, Growth and Architecture,” in Selected Mississippi Rivertowns of Iowa, 1833–1860, 139.
Glazier, Down the Great River, 273.
Lori Erickson, Historic Architecture of Muscatine, Iowa (1977).
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.