Henry McNeal left his home in Canada at a very young age and went west. He worked on the Great Lakes and in the lead mines around Galena for a while. In 1828, at the ripe old age of seventeen, he moved further south and built a log cabin next to the Mississippi River. A small community grew up around him that became known, appropriately enough, as McNeal’s Landing.
The villages of Milan (not the current one but the one that was first called Well’s Ferry) and Hampton, which included the older settlement of McNeal’s Landing, were platted in 1837 and 1838 and both villages grew quickly. Hampton was a steamboat stop and had two hotels by the late 1830s and a horse-powered Mississippi River ferry. The town seemed destined for prosperity, perhaps even greatness. Alas, nineteenth century political chicanery put a halt to its rapid growth.
In 1833, Hampton and rival Farnhamsburg (now Rock Island) competed for the coveted county seat. The men of Farnhamsburg had already decided that their town would get the courthouse, they just needed to find a way to ensure that the vote confirmed their decision. They enlisted the help of Colonel Davenport to signal island voters, should their votes be needed to swing the election. When Davenport waved his handkerchief in signal, the Hampton men saw the move and were ready. Knowing the outcome had been fixed, they seized the poll book and raced away. This would ordinarily prevent any further votes from being cast. Ah, but the men of Hampton had been outwitted again. The Farnhamsburg voters had anticipated Hampton’s move and replaced the real poll book with one that was blank. When the Hamptoners were safely out of sight, they retrieved the real book and continued voting. Farnhamsburg won the county seat and Hampton was consigned to the life of a quiet river town.
Located in Hampton River Park adjacent to Empire Park, the Hampton Heritage Center (309.755.8398) is primarily an event center, but if you are in the neighborhood when it is open, stop in to see the gigantic sculpted Gingko tree. When it became obvious that the large beloved tree was dying, artist Thom Gleich was commissioned to turn it into art, which he did by sculpting multiple images that explore the history of the region. If you stopped at Credit Island, you saw another sample of his work—the life-size sculptures from Seurat’s painting, A Sunday on La Grande Jette.
The Brettun & Black Mercantile and Historical Museum (601 First Ave.; 309.755.6265) is housed in a former store, built in 1849, that served as a critical source of supplies for residents of the northwest Illinois frontier. The museum has displays about local history and a faithfully restored version of the store proper, where you can still spend your dollars on items such as bread and butter pickles, homemade apple butter, or a bonnet.
The Illiniwek Forest Preserve (309.496.2620) has several unmarked hiking trails and an overlook, which is a five to ten minute hike up a steep slope. If you want a little longer hike, turn right at the fork in the trail at the top of the hill, then take every left turn until you get to the overlook, a total of about twenty minutes of hiking up and down several hills. Bring bug spray. I didn’t. I got chewed up.
GRR, Vol. 1
**Hampton is covered in Road Tripping Along the Great River Road, Vol. 1. Click the link above for more. Disclosure: This website may be compensated for linking to other sites or for sales of products we link to.
Ther are two campgrounds near Hampton: Fisherman’s Corner Recreation Area (16123 State Highway 84 North; 877.444.6777/309.496.2720) has fifty-one sites with electricity and five primitive sites; Illiniwek Forest Preserve (Illinois Highway 84; 309.496.2620) has sixty sites with electricity and twenty-five basic sites.
- Post Office: 625 8th St.; 309.496.3300.
Heading upriver? Check out Rapids City.
Heading downriver? Check out East Moline.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2009,2018
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