LeClaire is located on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River and is part of the Quad Cities, which also includes Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, and Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois. LeClaire has a population of approximately 4,229.
In earlier days this was known as the Upper Rock Island Rapids. It was dangerous to navigate because of high rocks and a narrow twisting channel. There were rapids pilots whose job it was to help boats and barges navigate through the treacherous waters.
Like many Midwestern towns, LeClaire has an interesting history, and is shown in the monuments and museums that make the town special.
According to www.leclaireiowa.gov, members of the Sauk and Fox tribes lived in the area that is now LeClaire. There was a fierce Indian battle in 1804 between the Sauk & Fox and Sioux tribes, in the area between LeClaire and Princeton, Iowa (where the Olathea Golf Course is located today). Approximately 1,000 Indians were killed in the fight.
In 1829 three white families moved into the LeClaire area, and through the Peace Treaty of 1832, the Indians gave a section of land at the head of the Upper Rapids to founder Antoine LeClaire. This tract is where the City of LeClaire is now located.
The town began to grow, and soon it had one hotel, a town pump, boat supply store, and several homes. The Stone School was built in 1866 and a cemetery was soon established.
Iowa became the 29th state in 1846, and in April of that same year, "Buffalo Bill" William F. Cody was born in a log cabin two miles northwest of LeClaire.
By 1850 LeClaire’s development was so rapid that it had promise of becoming a large city. By 1856 there were eighteen new stores, and employment available for carpenters, caulkers and mechanics on the boatyards. There were sawmills, flour mills, a plow factory and brick making among the early industry.
The famous Green Tree Elm was located along the banks of the Mississippi River in LeClaire. The famous Green Tree was also known as “Green Tree Hotel”. Those who worked the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Paul knew it as the “Green Tree Hotel.” The giant elm had a height of more than 50 feet and a canopy 100 feet long. The big tree was a gathering place for river boat pilots and provided shade and refuge for men coming to Le Claire in search of jobs on the river boats.
During its 225 year lifetime, the tree survived shore erosion, construction of railroad tracks and storms. Among the countless children who played under its spreading branches was Le Claire native Col. William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the famous frontiersman and showman.
In 1924, Le Claire resident Joe Barnes installed a granite marker near the tree as a means of commemorating the good times he and his childhood playmate, Buffalo Bill, had at the tree. The marker remains at the foot of Wisconsin Street, the site of the tree, along with a plaque identifying the site. The plaque was installed in 1966 by members of Boy Scout Troop 9 of Davenport’s First Christian Church.
It was the largest Rock Elm on record. In 1912 it was entered in the “Hall of Fame for Trees” (when it was approximately 175 years old) because of its unique role in local history. It succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease and was cut down July 20, 1964. The Buffalo Bill Museum has an exhibit that includes a cross section of this large elm, including its unusual hollow core.
LeClaire is also home of the original shop on the reality television show “American Pickers.”
Most of the quaint shops are located on Great River Road, which, if you travel north, will take you to Dubuque. The drive along the Mississippi River is a beautiful one, and if you have the time to explore, will provide memories for years to come.