Built on a high bank next to the Mississippi River, Bellevue enjoys great river views without the hassle of the occasional flood. Bellevue is also one of the few Mississippi River towns where the views are not disrupted by a flood wall or railroad tracks.
Get your questions answered at the Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce visitor center (210 N. Riverview St.; 563.872.5830), housed in the 1913 Cozy Theater building.
This territory was part of the 6,000,000-acre Black Hawk Purchase that opened to settlers after the end of the Black Hawk War. One of the earliest settlers was John Bell, who platted the town in 1835 and named it Bell View. The name of the town was later modified to Belle Vue, before taking its current form.
Bellevue was one of a handful of towns in the country that received its charter directly from the US Congress. In 1835, the 24th Congress authorized the Surveyor General of Public Lands to plat Bellevue and directed the townsfolk to elect trustees within six months. Residents were apparently not in much of hurry, however, as the first Trustees were not elected until 1841.
Part of the delay may have been due to the fact that town was mired in a struggle against a group of resident outlaws. William Brown arrived in town around 1836. He served as Justice of the Peace for a couple of years and built a hotel and grocery. Almost from the beginning, Brown was suspected of masterminding a local gang of thieves and outlaws. His main rival (and one-time friend), William Warren, settled in Bellevue around the same time; he became Jackson County Sheriff in 1838.
Warren signed a secret pledge with 24 other men in January 1840 that was meant to drive out Brown and his gang. A couple of months later, some petty crimes provided legal cover for the group to proceed. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Brown and his associates. Brown, however, got word of the warrant and the subsequent formation of a posse and retreated to his hotel where he and his associates holed up. On April 1, a posse/mob of 40 armed men surrounded the hotel. Negotiations to force a peaceful surrender failed, and the town emptied out. As the posse moved in, they were fired on. The men in the hotel retreated to a highly defendable position on the upper floors of the hotel, so the building was torched to force them out. The tactic worked and Brown’s group was defeated.
In the end, the posse counted four dead; Brown and two of his men were also killed. The raid also resulted in the arrest of 13 men, although a few of Brown’s associates escaped. After their capture, the prisoners were nearly hanged, but the crowd was convinced to wait a day to decide their fate. The following day, deliberations on the men’s fate were held; a majority of the assembly (mostly men who were in the posse) voted against hanging, instead recommending that the prisoners be whipped. They were then put on skiffs with three days of supplies, pointed downriver, and told to never return. They complied. One of the prisoners, William Fox, was later implicated in the murder of Col. George Davenport in Rock Island; he was arrested in Indiana for the crime but escaped and was never found again.
With calm restored, Bellevue residents could return to the business of building a town. The main economic boost happened in 1872 when the railroad arrived, turning Bellevue into a regional hub for grain shipping; a few warehouses from that era still stand. By the end of the 19th century, Bellevue had 1,800 residents, about two-thirds of whom were German immigrants.
In the 20th century, Bellevue’s economy remained connected to the river through industries like ice harvesting, clamming, and pearl button manufacturing, but with a gradual shift toward light industrial and manufacturing. Early 20th-century businesses included a clay pot factory, an iron foundry, flour mill, brewery, lime kiln, and cigar manufacturer. Perhaps the best-known local business was Iowa Marine Engine & Launch, which built racing boats in first half of the 20th century (the Red Tops brand). One of their boats, Red Top III, set an American speed record in the 1920s when it completed a course at an average speed of 35.56 MPH. Bellevue today has maintained a base of light manufacturing, but also relies heavily on tourist dollars to stay afloat.
Bellevue is included in these products:
Bellevue is another small river town that has invested in creating beautiful public spaces along the river. The result is Bellevue Riverfront Park, which has a paved walking path, benches, and plenty of grass to rest on. The park is also a good spot to watch boats passing through Lock and Dam #12 (563.872.3314). You can wander down the hill for a closer look at the lock; parking is at the foot of State Street.
No visit to Bellevue would be complete without a tour of the Young Historical Museum (406 N. Riverview; 563.872.3794), a unique small museum with an impressive assortment of antiques and collectibles. The Youngs made a small fortune in the hardware business and were avid collectors of antique furniture, China, figurines, teapots, and just about any damn thing they could get their hands on. Lacking heirs, they donated the house and its contents to the city to preserve as a museum. Say hi to Lucille while you’re there. The museum has survived through the years in spite of periodic attempts by city leaders to sell off the contents and wash their hands of the responsibilities of preservation. If you enjoy the museum, consider making a donation, so future visitors can continue to enjoy it. By the way, Joe Young was also an early advocate for establishing the Great River Road. (NOTE: This museum closed in 2014.)
The First Presbyterian Church (305 Market St.; 563.872.4853) is the oldest house of worship in Bellevue. The original structure, 62 feet deep by 40 feet wide, was completed in 1860 and still serves as the sanctuary, even after being enveloped by a sprawling addition in 1976. The triangular art glass window above the altar was reportedly ordered from a catalog by a local drug store; after the store determined that they were unable to use it, they sold it to the Presbyterian Church.
St. John’s Lutheran Church (302 S. 3rd St.; 563.872.5849) was founded by German Lutherans from Pennsylvania; the limestone church is almost as old as the Presbyterian Church, dating to 1868. The tower and steeple, built in 1911, overshadow the rest of the building and the exterior decorations give the whole thing a bit of a birthday cake feel. The interior is light, with pastel walls, a white altar, and subtle gold accents.
The Catholic congregation in Bellevue dates back to at least 1841, when the Dominican Missionary Father Samuel Mazzuchelli built a small wooden chapel in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and floated it down the Mississippi to Bellevue. The 20′ by 30′ church was called St. Andrew and served Bellevue Catholics until it burned down in 1853. The brick St. Joseph Catholic Church (405 Franklin; 563.872.5938) was completed in 1869; a tower was added in 1901. Shortly after the spire was completed in 1903, the old sanctuary was razed and the current church was built behind the tower; the new sanctuary was completed in 1910. The stone church is Gothic Revival in style and has a beautiful rib-vaulted ceiling.
Bellevue State Park has two units south of town. The Nelson Unit (24668 US Highway 52; 563.872.4019) has hiking trails, an overlook with good views of Bellevue, and a butterfly garden. The Dyas Unit (US Highway 52 at 429th Ave.; 563.872.4019) has three short hiking trails and another overlook with a view of the Mississippi River.
Entertainment and Events
The Bellevue Farmers Market is held on Saturday mornings in a Gazebo along the riverfront near the lock and dam (May–Oct).
The historic Potter’s Mill hosts live music these days instead of grinding stones; stop by for jazz, blues, and more from area musicians who perform in the atmospheric space at Flatted Fifth Blues and BBQ (300 Potter Dr.; 563.872.3838).
The Jackson County Pro Rodeo (563.872.3799) draws a large crowd to the grounds of the Bellevue Horsemen’s Club (25125 297th Ave) on the third weekend in June.
In 1992, the Schlecths celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the family farm by throwing a picnic. That event has grown into an annual community picnic that draws a sizable crowd to the event now known as the Hoot Owl Holler; the day-long festivities begin at noon with a flag raising ceremony and include Native American dancing, a gunfight reenactment, and music; bring a dish to pass (usually the 2nd Sunday in September; contact the Jackson County Welcome Center for info; 800.342.1837/563.687.2237).
Richman’s Café (602 S. Riverview St.; 563.872.3749) is a popular eatery whose food will remind you of good home cooking, with hearty breakfasts,sandwiches and burgers, and daily specials like meatloaf; save room for a slice of pie.
If you’re looking for some good barbecue, check out Flatted Fifth Blues & BBQ at the old Potter’s Mill (300 Potter Dr.; 563.872.3838), where the prices are reasonable and the meats are tasty; the menu also includes a number of Cajun dishes.
With a location right next to the river, the Off Shore Bar & Grill (4111 N. Riverview Dr.; 563.872.5800) is a relaxing and scenic place to enjoy a meal with river views, especially from the deck and screened-in patio; they have an extensive menu of bar favorites.
Just north of Bellevue, Spruce Creek Park (396th Ave.; 563.652.3783; WiFi) has 85 sites, some next to the river. Riverbottom Campground (102 E. Dorchester; 563.872.5201) is a small place next to the Mississippi at the south end of town and just north of Shady Haven; most of their sites are occupied by seasonal campers, but they keep one or two sites open for folks passing through.
The Dyas Unit of Bellevue State Park (US Highway 52 at 429th Ave.; 563.872.4019) has 47 campsites, 23 with electricity, in a secluded area that could use some shade.
Pleasant Creek Recreation Area has shaded, spacious primitive campsites along the river; no services.
The Riverview Hotel (100 S. Riverview; 563.872.4142) is one of the oldest buildings in town, dating to 1844. It was purchased in 1866 by J.W. Weck and managed as the Weck Hotel until 1960. You can still rent a room here for a reasonable price, just like Ulysses Grant once did (room #3); rooms are basic, rather musty, and rough around the edges, but they are cheap for the area. Some rooms have private baths.
Bed and Breakfasts
The Mont Rest Inn (300 Spring St.; 877.872.4220/563.872.4220; WiFi) is in the house built by Seth Baker in 1893, the founder of Glen Ellyn (Illinois) and Bakersfield (California) and a real-life rags-to-riches-to-rags story: a native of Bellevue, he got rich in the California Gold Rush, came home and built this eccentric home, then lost it—and most of his fortune—by gambling it away. The house has been through a remarkable three major fires (1895, 1916, and 1997) and rebuilt each time. The inn has 12 guest rooms, each with a private bath, and guests have access to a spectacular rooftop deck and hot tub; the tower room might not be the most spacious room, but it is the coolest one.
The Inn at Potter’s Mill (300 Potter Dr.; 563.872.3838; WiFi), built in 1843/4 by Elbridge Gerry Potter as Jaspar Mill, was a working flour mill for 125 years. It is now a unique bed-and-breakfast with three guest rooms; comes with a continental breakfast.
At Moon River Cabins (905 S. Riverview; 877.872.4220/563.872.5443) you can choose among four fully rehabbed cottages next to the Mississippi River; they were originally erected in the 1930s to house Works Progress Administration workers who were building the lock and dam. Each cabin has a private bath, kitchenette, and cable TV.
Spruce Haven Vacation Rental Cottage (39749 308th St.; 563.659.5631) is a well-kept two-bedroom rental home in a quiet setting near the river, with a screened porch, carport, and very unique bunk beds built into a closet. Another whole-house option is the Stone Street Cottage (901 Stone St.; 563.872.3610; WiFi), a restored 1840s-era home built by a French fur trader for his Native American bride; the two-bedroom, 1½-bath house has been beautifully restored.
o The local newspaper is the weekly Bellevue Herald-Leader (563.872.4159).
o Post Office: 401 N. 2nd St.; 563.872.3657.
o Bellevue Public Library: 106 N. 3rd St.; 563.872.4991.
Heading upriver? Check out St. Donatus.
Heading downriver? Check out Green Island.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009