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Did You Know? A New Book


A New Book:

Grand Excursions on the Upper Mississippi River: Places, Landscapes, and Regional Identity after 1854, edited by Curtis C. Roseman and Elizabeth M. Roseman. University of Iowa Press, 2004.


Summary Essays in the Book and Their Authors Ordering Information The Augustana Connection


The essays in this book each have in common the examination of Upper Mississippi River activities and environments that stem from the purpose and experience of the 1854 Grand Excursion. Each essay can be thought of as an excursion in itself. The first five explore topics directly related to the original Grand Excursion. The remaining essays explore major landscape elements and activities along the Upper Mississippi as they have evolved over the 150 years since that 1854 event. Stitching the volume together is a series of bridge illustrations that serve as “bridges” between chapters.

This unique bridge carried Milwaukee Road trains from
Prairie du Chien to Marquette, Iowa until 1961.


In the first essay the editors and Dick Stall describe the 1854 Grand Excursion and set the context within which it occurred. Drawing primarily on contemporary newspaper accounts, it details the precise route and timing of the excursion. It also describes the natural and cultural features of the Upper Mississippi valley through which the excursionists traveled. Drawing upon a register of guests, this chapter also features profiles of some of the prominent participants, including journalists, politicians, academics, artists, industrialists, and others.

In the second essay Roald Tweet presents an account of the building of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, a process that was relatively swift and efficient. Tweet shows how this rail route won over others in the race to connect the East with the Mississippi River. Next is a reprint of “Steamboat Bill” Petersen’s chapter on the Grand Excursion from his book Steamboating on the Upper Mississippi River, first published by the State Historical Society of Iowa in 1937 then reprinted in 1968. Up till now Petersen’s has been the most widely recognized work on the 1854 Grand Excursion.

Following Petersen are two additional essays that relate directly to the original excursion. Susan Brooker-Gross reviews Eastern newspaper accounts of the excursion. Although not all reports were positive, the major themes of these accounts include productivity of the land, beauty of the landscape, prosperity of the towns, and the marvels of rail transportation. Edwin Hill follows with a treatment of steamboating on the Upper Mississippi, both before and after the Grand Excursion. Steamboats were central to the life of river towns and commerce for most of the nineteenth century, until railroad competition and other factors severely limited their usefulness by early in the twentieth century.

In the remainder of the volume, several themes on place, landscape, and life along the Upper Mississippi River are developed. The first of these is visual: Patrick Nunnally reviews the evolution of the concept of the “picturesque” and applies it to the interpretation of the Upper Mississippi’s scenic physical landscape, especially by the nineteenth century traveler. John Jakle’s essay analyzes the genesis of nineteenth-century river towns, the principal characteristics of their buildings, other visible structures and settings, and how they were viewed and stereotyped by travel writers and excursionists. Jeff Crump’s discussion focuses on a powerful visual theme by exploring the evolution of the twentieth century Burlington Zephyr streamlined diesel trains that plied three hundred miles of the Upper Mississippi. Not only were the trains themselves visually striking, but so too was the scenery through which they and their passengers sped.

Another theme encompasses the control and management of the river and its environs. John Anfinson reviews the evolution and implications of the control of the river for navigation purposes. Beginning before the Grand Excursion, the federal government undertook a major series of projects that included dredging and the construction of wing dams and a lock and dam system. Next, Gary Meyer writes about the remarkable extent to which the Upper Mississippi has been preserved and managed since the early nineteenth century by all levels of government, through wildlife refuges, preserves, parks, and recreation areas. Both of these essays also provide perspectives on environmental issues that persist today along the river.

The next two essays focus on fundamental economic activities, both intimately associated with the river. Perhaps no other enterprise had as much economic and environmental impact on the region in the nineteenth century as the lumber industry. Gayle Rein tells the story of the people in the lumber industry and of the process through which logs from the pineries of Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota were floated downstream in massive log rafts. In many river towns they were milled into lumber, which in turn was shipped outward in all directions to build the West. In a striking contrast to lumbering, commercial fishing, Malcolm Comeaux’s subject, has been a much smaller scale and less visible activity. Nonetheless it has been practiced on the Upper Mississippi continuously since the time of the Grand Excursion, with the use of many remarkably similar methods.

The last of the excursions in this volume provides a twenty-first century perspective on Upper Mississippi River towns. Charles Mahaffey and Norman Moline visited all seventy-eight incorporated places on the river between Rock Island and St. Paul to gather information on how towns are embracing the river. Whereas some have always maintained something of a river orientation, especially the smallest towns, most have made a 360-degree turn (like the spiral bridge at Hastings). From an original river orientation, and then to development away from the river, many towns and cities have recently experienced a resurgence of river-oriented development. Mahaffey and Moline conclude by speculating on the extent to which this new interest in the river can provide for these communities a common bond. Will such a bond lead to the Upper Mississippi taking on a unified image that is nationally recognized?

“Bridges” between essays in the book are images of actual bridges on the Upper Mississippi River. The images are chosen to reflect a variety of themes imbedded in the book. These bridges serve as transitions from one essay to the next, from one excursion to the next.

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Essays in the Book and Their Authors:

The Upper Mississippi and the Grand Excursion

     Curtis C. Roseman, Professor of Geography, University of Southern California;

     Dick Stahl, retired English teacher, Davenport, Iowa, and first Poet Laureate of the Quad Cities;

     Elizabeth M. Roseman, independent scholar, Moline, Illinois

Building a Mighty Fine Line: The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad

     Roald D. Tweet, Professor Emeritus of English, Augustana College

The Grand Excursion of 1854

     William J. Petersen, former Curator, State Historical Society of Iowa

The East Looks at the West

     Susan R. Brooker-Gross, Director, Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Information Systems and Computing and  
           Associate Professor of Geography, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Steaming Up the River

     Edwin L. Hill, retired Special Collections Librarian, University of Wisconsin -La Crosse

The Picturesque Mississippi

     Patrick Nunnally, Executive Director of Mississippi River Trail, Inc

Towns to Visit: Sights (Sites) to See

     John A. Jakle, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Illinois

Where Nature Smiles for Three-Hundred Miles: Rail Travel along the River

     Jeff Crump, Associate Professor, Department of Design, Housing, and Apparel, University of Minnesota

Highway to Empire: Remaking the River

     John O. Anfinson, Historian, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Preservation and Management of the River’s Natural Resources

     Gary C. Meyer, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

A River of Logs

     Gayle Rein, retired English teacher, Geneseo, Illinois

Fishing the Father of Waters

     Malcolm L. Comeaux, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Arizona State University

Renewals and Reinventions: River Towns on the Upper Mississippi

     Charles Mahaffey, Professor of Geography, Augustana College;

     Norman Moline, Professor of Geography and holder of the Edward Hamming Chair, Augustana College

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Ordering Information:


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The Augustana Connection:

Augustana College has played a central role in the creation of this book. Curtis C. Roseman and Dick Stahl are both 1963 graduates. Norman Moline and Charles Mahaffey are Professors of Geography, and Roald D. Tweet is Professor Emeritus of English. The 2003 winter quarter Cartography class, under the tutelage of instructor Catherine Dowd, drew the maps for the book. Finally, Steph Gaspers, an Augustana Geography Major, designed this website.


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