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Floodgap Roadgap's Summer of 6 -- U.S. Highway 6, Part 25: US 6 in Iowa (Iowa City to Illinois State Line; Muscatine, Cedar and Scott Counties)

Go to: Part 24 | Main US 6 page

And now our final Part through eastern Iowa and the conclusion of the River-to-River Road, ending in our crossing of the Mississippi River into Illinois.

Muscatine County, Iowa

Muscatine county was formed originally in 1836 as part of the Wisconsin Territory from a partition of Des Moines County (which actually contains Burlington, not Des Moines). The name probably comes from the 50-square-mile flatland flood plain of Muscatine Island (not an island, but borders the Mississippi River), itself named as a corruption of the now extinct Mascouten tribe who were winnowed by clashes with the French and Potawatomi and disappeared as a distinct nation by the middle of the 19th century; their descendents integrated into the present-day Kickapoo tribe. The county has 42,929 residents [2018] with its county seat at Muscatine.

Turnoff to West Branch and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site.
The Herbert Hoover Nat'l Historic Site is a unit of the National Park System established in 1965. It encompasses the 31st President's 1874 birthplace cottage (reacquired by the family during the Depression) along with a demonstration blacksmith shop similar to his father's, the first West Branch schoolhouse and the Quaker meetinghouse the family attended. The official presidential library opened in 1962 and the entire property became a National Historic Landmark in 1965 shortly before its incorporation into the Park System. The present facility occupies 186.8 acres, with an 81-acre tallgrass prairie preserve, and both the President and former First Lady Lou Henry Hoover are buried on the grounds.
Entering West Liberty.
West Liberty's name came from Liberty, OH, from which many early regional settlers hailed. Incorporated in 1868, it stood at the junction of the Chicago-Rock Island-Pacific and Burlington-Cedar Rapids-and-Northern railroads, where it was moved to better take advantage of the facilities. Originally referred to as Wapsinonoc Township, an Algonquin(?) term for a smooth-surfaced meandering creek, the new name was applied by the wife of the town's first postmaster with West added for disambiguation. The modern city has 3,766 residents [2019].
Through town.
Junction IA 70, with another sign for the Hiawatha Pioneer Trail along US 6.
Map of the former Hiawatha Pioneer Trail. The 2,400-mile Hiawatha Pioneer Trail was a tourist-promotion route established in 1964 by agreement between Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The meandering routing did not correlate exactly with any one historic trail and was openly designed to string together as many attractions as possible; each state was to identify twenty such attractions and a routing to connect them, which invariably used existing highway alignments. Iowa's included the Herbert Hoover Nat'l Historic Site, the Amana Colonies, the former State Capitol Building in Iowa City, various Mississippi River and Native American tribal sites and many others, meaning US 6 was only part of the routing, and only part of the routing was US 6. The tourism increase promised by its boosters failed to materialize in quantity and Illinois was the first one to remove the signage in 1972. As the route was now superfluous, Wisconsin started taking down their own signs shortly afterward and Minnesota and Iowa followed suit in 2008, meaning the signage in this Part and the one we saw between Ladora and Marengo (Part 24) are likely no longer in the field.

IA 70 is a small local connector between US 6 here and IA 92 in Columbus Junction. It runs 24 miles.

US 6 proceeds on as a quiet, tree-lined street.
Distance signage leaving town.
Entering Atalissa.
First platted in 1859, Atalissa was named for a now-lost Californian mining town by founder William Lundy, itself ostensibly from a Native American princess of the same name from an unknown tribe. It was later incorporated in 1900 and today has a population of 308 [2019]. The city was the site of the documentary The Men of Atalissa about 32 intellectually disabled local residents kept in harsh conditions in effective involuntary servitude to a turkey plant for over three decades. Paid less than $65 a month after "deductions," their discovery in 2009 was a major black eye to the social services system in Iowa and they received a $240 million verdict in damages, though the recompense was later limited to just $50,000 per person.
Through Atalissa.
EB US 6.
Crossing the Cedar River.
The Cedar River is the Iowa River (Part 24)'s main tributary. It flows from southern Minnesota in three forks to Columbus Junction, IA and joins the Iowa on its way to the Mississippi. Although larger than the Iowa at their confluence, it nevertheless has a smaller discharge of 5,800 cubic feet per second and runs 338 miles. The Meskwaki/Fox named it the Red Cedar River from the red cedar that grows along its banks, though the "red" appellation was later dropped, and the river itself lends its name to the eponymous county which we will reach presently.
Turnoff to Moscow.
Junction IA 38, with another Hiawatha Pioneer marker and US 6 marked "TO US 80."

US 6/IA 38

IA 38 always ran in this corner of the state, though its ends lengthened and shortened intermittently as late as 1986. Today it runs roughly from Edgewood to IA 92 in Muscatine for not quite 100 miles. US 6 and IA 38 multiplex over about 5 miles from this point.

EB US 6/NB IA 38.
Entering Wilton.
Wilton, part of which extends slightly into Cedar county to the north, is the terminus of a chain of Wiltons: it was named for Wilton, ME by an early settler named Butterfield for his hometown, which was named for Wilton, NH, which was named either for the sculptor Sir Joseph Wilton or the town in England's Wiltshire, which comes from the Old English wilig (willow) and tun (town). It was settled as early as 1846 but the modern city was incorporated in 1855 and features the oldest still-operating ice cream parlour in the world, the 1867 Wilton Candy Kitchen. It has 2,824 residents [2019].
Junction MusCo F58 at Mile 282.
MusCo F58 (and ScottCo F58) is the old alignment of US 6, also moved to I-80 in 1980. It extends through Wilton, Durant and Walcott to US 6 on the outskirts of Davenport, where we will mark the other end. This then became IA 927, and later decommissioned entirely in the 2003 mass removal.
Cedar county line.
Cedar County, Iowa

Cedar county is named for the Cedar River that we crossed earlier. We will see very little of it here and US 6 did not enter it until it was realigned in 1980. It has a population of 18,627 [2018] with its seat in Tipton.

Junction I-80 at exit 271. We leave IA 38 here and join the Interstate again heading east; IA 38 proceeds with WB I-80.

I-80/US 6

Not only do we get same-pole love, but even a decently-sized shield!
Scott county line.
Scott County, Iowa

Our final county in Iowa and its third-most populous, the county is named for General Winifred Scott, the presiding officer at the signing of the peace treaty ending the Black Hawk War (Part 23). Founded in 1837 and the site of the earliest American settlement in the region at what is now Buffalo, IA, the county has a population of 172,943 [2019] and its seat and largest city at Davenport.

Distance signage on I-80.
Advance signage for I-280, onto which US 6 will diverge towards Davenport.
Exiting to I-280.

I-280/US 6

Interstate 280 is the southwestern portion of the Quad Cities beltway around Davenport on the Iowa side and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline on the Illinois side (and, later, Bettendorf on the Iowa side, but by then the name had stuck); the northeastern leg is formed by I-80, with I-74 in the middle. Just under 27 miles in length, roughly 9.6 miles of it are in Iowa and the remainder on the other side of the river. Originally I-80 went down where I-74 does now with the initial Interstate plan in 1958; the northeastern loop was designated I-274 and I-74 went between what was then I-80 and I-274 and south out of town, but AASHTO revised it to the current designation later in the year. The northern stub between I-80 and US 6 opened in 1960 and the remainder in 1973. Although Illinois proposed changing I-280 to I-80, putting I-74 on the vacated I-80 alignment and creating a new I-174 over the vacated I-74 alignment in 1991, Iowa did not submit a concurring application and the FHWA ruled in 1993 to retain the current routings.

More same-pole, same-size-shield love! Such love!
Entering Davenport.
Davenport is the largest city in the Quad Cities area at 101,590 residents [2019]; combined, the five component cities have over a population of over 380,000. It was first founded in 1836 by businessman and landowner Antoine Le Claire who named it for his friend George Davenport. Born 1783, Davenport was a sailor until 1803 when he was imprisoned by the Russian Tsar in observance of Napoleon's embargo on British vessels and released back to his home in the United Kingdom in 1804. He arrived in New York the following summer but was effectively stuck in the city due to a leg injury, and decided to settle in the United States. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1806, served in the War of 1812, and escorted the Potawatomi delegation to the signage of the Treaty of St. Louis ending the Peoria War in 1813 (the same disputed treaty that Black Hawk would later attempt to circumvent in 1832). He was discharged in 1816 and accompanied an Army delegation as a civilian supplier to Rock Island on the other side of the River, where he became a successful merchant and built the first permanent residence in the region in 1819. Later serving as an agent for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and as a quartermaster with the rank of Colonel during the Black Hawk War, in 1835 he and six others (including Le Claire) purchased land opposite Rock Island and founded the city. Continuing to serve as a local tribal agent, he retired to private life in 1842 until he was murdered by bandits in 1845; two men were eventually sentenced to prison and three were arrested and executed. Davenport's home still exists today on Rock Island, where it was renovated and reconstructed in the 1980s after years of disrepair and is now a museum. Although economic difficulties in the 1980s and the constant flood risk from the Mississippi River have occasionally impaired the city's growth, it has repeatedly won awards for livability and affordability, and the Quad Cities region was ranked among the fastest growing regions for the tech sector in the 2010s. Its biggest economic sector is manufacturing, however, with John Deere being the second largest employer in the area and having its world headquarters in Moline.
The first exit immediately throws off US 6, along with the other end of ScottCo F58 we left earlier.

US 6

We turn right.
Apparently this alignment is "IA 6," according to Iowa DOT. (Not really.)
Entering town.
Mile 303.
Shortly after this point the old alignment of US 6 diverges off as Hickory Grove Rd. It then entered downtown Davenport, proceeded east on Locust St, south on Main St, east on 2nd St, south on Perry St (now obliterated) and east on 4th St to cross into Illinois and Rock Island along the 1896 iteration of the Mississippi River Government Bridge, a 1,608' double-deck truss system with a swing-span section for river traffic. It is immediately adjacent to Lock and Dam No. 15, which allows the water level to be dropped under the bridge channel for added clearance. As originally built in 1856 it was the first railroad bridge across the River.

In 1935 the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge opened between Bettendorf, IA and Moline, IL. This then became the northbound lanes of I-74 and US 6, which we will traverse at the end. The original routing of US 6 became CITY US 6 until around 1965, and US 6 was moved to continue on Locust east to Bridge Avenue, then south on Bridge to 12th, east on 12th to Mound, and then south on Mound to River Dr east with US 67, which had been relocated there earlier that year. US 6 then crossed the River; US 67 continued east into Riverdale, IA.

In 1937, US 6 was relocated again, this time to the alignment it occupies here, then to the Kimberly Rd bypass and then across the River. US 6 was moved to I-74 in Iowa when the last segment was completed in (coincidentally) 1974 and in Illinois in 1975.

Continuing on the US 6 1937 bypass alignment.
Through north Davenport.
EB US 6.
Junction US 61.
US 61 has always started in New Orleans and ended in Minnesota, paralleling the Mississippi River for much of its routing and earning the name "The Great River Road" over those sections. Until 1991 it reached the Canadian border; it was then retracted to I-35 and the remnant became MN 61. Its long history with blues history has led to its other moniker as the "Blues Highway" and its southern terminus has appropriately always been in the New Orleans downtown; Robert Leroy Johnson supposedly made a deal with the Devil along the highway for his success, and Bob Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited deals with his relationship to the road specifically. It runs 1,407 miles.
Continuing through north Davenport.
Turnoff for Kimberly Rd, the old bypass. This parallels I-74, so we won't do it here.
Instead, we get on the highway. This is the end of US 6's independent routing in Iowa.

I-74/US 6

This is just three miles shy of its northern terminus at I-80. From here, I-74 is a major backbone route through Illinois, Indiana and a small stub in Cincinnati, OH, where it terminates currently at I-75. Several disconnected segments are in North Carolina, where it has a concurrency with US 74 and was the first time a U.S. highway and Interstate highway with the same number ran on the same routing (I-41 and US 41 now share a roadbed in Wisconsin as well). It is unclear when, if ever, all the pieces will link. The current highway is 429 miles long but we won't travel much of it here.

Entering the highway at Mile 3.2.
More same-pole, big-shield love.
Junction US 67.
US 67 has a curious arc routing from the Mexican border at Presidio, TX and MX 16 to US 52 in Sabula, IA. Because of its diagonal swoop through the middle and lower Midwest it is also unusually long for a non-trunk route, today running 1560 miles. Its extension to the Mexican border from Dallas was in 1930; its extension north from Missouri was in 1934 (and retracted to the present terminus in 1967). Although US 6 was briefly co-routed with it historically, it is no longer so today.
The southbound lanes of I-74 (and EB US 6) crossing the Mississippi River were first opened in 1959.
The northbound lanes (WB US 6) as we cross back into Iowa are the originals.
Crossing into Illinois on the 2006 iteration of the Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge.
The Bridge crosses, of course, the Mississippi River, America's most famous river body and the second-longest river and drainage system in North America second only to the Hudson Bay network, as well as the fourth-longest in the world. From Lake Itasca in Minnesota, traditionally considered its headwaters, it travels 2,320 miles to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico carrying over three million cubic feet of water per second at maximum discharge from its mouth in Baton Rouge, LA. Less than one percent of its drainage basin is in Canada and the entirety of the main stem is within the United States, and it has been a hub of human habitation and activity since antiquity. Native Americans lived along the banks of the river and its tributaries for millenia; white settlers first found the river a formidable obstacle to westward progress, but later learned to take advantage of its deep waters and fertile silted plains for navigation, agriculture and industry. Life among the river was and is a major source of culture and heritage for the ten states the river touches directly, and while it has had more than its share of environmental concerns, the substantial engineering works dedicated to its upkeep have also maintained the river's vital navigability and reduced its natural tendency to flood and migrate. Even today it is a natural dividing line for the continent, even including broadcast callsigns which usually use W to the east and K to the west of it. The name is Anishinaabe in origin (misiziibi) and appropriately enough means the great river.

The Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge, when first constructed for US 6 in 1935, was a Depression-era WPA project built for $1.45 million ($27.5 million as of 2021) as a toll facility. It was designed by Ralph Modjeski, a Polish immigrant, who also designed the Government Bridge US 6 formerly used; Modjeski also designed the second set of lanes that opened in 1959, which turned out to be his last commission before his death. On New Year's Eve 1969, the last day it was tolled, the charge was 15 cents for cars, 5 cents for pedestrians, and a variable toll for trucks based on weight and size.

After it was officially subsumed into I-74 in 1975, its capacity (which was never superlative even new) became an even greater liability which these pictures demonstrate: just two lanes per direction, a 50mph speed limit, and no safety shoulder for breakdowns or accidents. The I-74 project also had to remove the sidewalks and halt pedestrian traffic, remove the tollbooths, build new ramps and adjust the approaches. Near the end of its life it was carrying almost double its rated capacity of 48,000 daily vehicles. A new Iowa-Illinois Memorial Bridge crossing was planned in 2012, built starting in 2017 and completed in 2020, meaning the suspension spans you see here are today no more.

Coming soon: US 6 in Illinois!
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