Just south of Muscatine, a wide, flat plain opens up that is known as Muscatine Island. The first Europeans set up homes in 1836, but the area didn’t always enjoy a stellar reputation. Before Civil War, there was a local saying: “When a man moves to the island, he takes a short cut to the poor house.” Back then, the island’s 27,000 acres were known as “Starvation Flats” because they flooded often and the sandy soil wasn’t suitable for most crops. By the 1880s, though, folks figured out that melons grew very well in that sandy soil. In 1921, some 2,000 acres of Muscatine Island were planted with watermelons and another 500 acres grew muskmelons and cantaloupes. Even though just 100 acres are devoted to melon growing today, you can still find plenty of the fresh fruit at roadside stands in season.
A small community in the center of the island takes its name from the crop. No, not Melonville but Fruitland (2010 population = 977). The village of Fruitland Station was platted in 1880 when the Rock Island Railroad agreed to put a station there. It was a convenient spot to pick up local produce. The new location was first called Island but the post office soon changed the name to the more creative Fruitland. The village today remains small, just a few houses and a cemetery.
Exploring the Area
Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge (319.523.6982) spreads out over 1,700 acres south of Muscatine in several divisions. Much of the refuge is only accessible by boat, but there are many access points to put in. There are good opportunities for paddling around the backwaters. Stop at the visitor center (10728 County Road X61) and take in the views of the backwaters from the overlook.
Kilpeck Landing Recreation Area has a few picnic tables, a boat ramp, and good shoreline for fishing, but that’s about it.
Heading upriver? Check out Muscatine.
Heading downriver? Check out Toolesboro.
© Dean Klinkenberg, 2014
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