The Mississippi River makes a sharp turn to the west at Rapids City, a direction it will follow for the next 40 miles. The town gets its name from the rapids that predominated here until the Army Corps of Engineers constructed the current lock and dam system and buried them under deeper water.
Information is available at the Mississippi Rapids Tourist Information Center (309.496.2124) on Interstate 80 eastbound, which is a good spot to enjoy another nice view of the river or to grab some brochures. You can also contact City Hall during normal business hours for information (1204 4th Ave.; 309.496.2321).
The Wells Brothers arrived here around 1833 and built a grist mill, then later added a sawmill. The village was surveyed and platted in 1838 and incorporated in 1875 (464 “yes” votes against just a single “no” vote). Rapids City’s boom years were in the 1870s and 1880s, mostly because of nearby coal mines; workers were in short supply, so the mining companies imported black workers (who lived in shacks next to the mines). After the last coal mine shut down in 1888, the town lost population, the black miners went elsewhere, and Rapids City became the kind of place where the following story from 1930 was big news: “An alligator, stiff with cold and only two feet and four inches long … was captured by Roy Williams of Rapids City in a shallow waterhole in Sulphur Creek.” Speculation was rampant that the renegade gator was the same one that had been brought to Rapids City from Florida by Mr. Ralph Filbert and released into the Mississippi River some 13 years earlier. If so, that was one tough gator, surviving 13 Upper Miss winters.
Rapids City, like other small river towns in the area, experienced a modest population increase in the latter part of the 20th century as suburban growth from the Quad Cities pushed outward. Even so, Rapids City has remained a quiet village with great Mississippi River views, but no more alligators.
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Shuler’s Shady Grove (1st Ave. & 11th St.; 309.496.2321) is a good spot to view the sharp bend in the river. As long as you’re here, you may as well hang out in the gazebo, throw a line in the water, or hop on the Great River Trail (309.793.6300), a paved walking and biking path that begins in Rock Island and extends 62 miles to Savanna.
The Brothers Family Restaurant (1718 2nd Ave.; 309.496.2965) has an extensive menu of familiar home-cooked foods; they serve breakfast all day. If you can’t find it on the menu, they can probably fix it for you, anyway. Just ask.
Post Office: 135 13th St.; 309.496.2593.
Heading upriver? Check out Port Byron.
Heading downriver? Check out Hampton.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009