Antoine LeClaire was a giant in the settlement of what is now the Quad-City area, a founder of the city of Davenport, and a man of vast influence.
He helped bring in the first railroad across the Mississippi River, donated park land that is still enjoyed today and helped establish churches and businesses.
In 1855-56, he built a grand, Italianate-style home on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River near today's 6th and Farnam streets.
Although the home had a checkered history after LeClaire's death, it has been restored and is one of the most significant homes in the Quad-Cities, possibly the state. You can tour the house for yourself when it will be open for tours from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, June 11, as part of the Garden Party sponsored by Grace Lutheran Church.
The tie-in is that members of Grace Lutheran tend a community garden on the LeClaire House grounds.
House deteriorates, is restored
In 1861, LeClaire died in his home, and his widow lived there until her death. The home was donated to the Davenport Diocese for use as the bishop's home, but when the bishop moved to new quarters years later, the house and grounds were sold.
During World War I, the property was carved up into apartments, beginning a long slide into deterioration, Karen Anderson, who will give tours of the home, said.
The place looked pretty bleak when it was purchased by the city of Davenport in 1976 as a bicentennial project. The inside had false walls for seven apartments, the porches were gone, the brick was peeling yellow paint, windows were missing, and it was a target for vandals.
About $1 million in work completed over seven phases of construction has included reconstruction of the roof, chimneys, belvedere, cornices, gutters and downspouts, doors, windows, shutters, masonry walls, foundations, the extensive, two-story front porch and two side porches, and a new heating/air conditioning and ventilation system, Anderson said.
A caretaker's apartment was created in back; having a caretaker provides security for the home as well as income that covers utilities and other expenses so the building is not a burden to the city.
Inside, the rooms are painted in period colors, the floors are refinished, period reproduction light fixtures hang from the ceilings, and there are fireplace mantels and some furnishings, including LeClaire's walnut bed, purchased in 2002 from a relative in Baltimore.
The city's goal was to preserve one of the most significant historic homes in Iowa, help stabilize the neighborhood and create a place where history can be told, Anderson said.
LeClaire's wide-ranging influence
As the son of a French-Canadian fur trader and a Pottawattamie Indian, LeClaire grew up conversant in three languages (French, Spanish and English) and 11-15 regional Indian dialects, Anderson said.
This unique talent brought LeClaire to the attention of William Clark, of Lewis and Clark fame, who realized the young man would be just the person to negotiate the treaties needed to open the vast reaches of the Louisiana Purchase to settlement, Anderson said.
As a U.S. government treaty negotiator, LeClaire hammered out 22 treaties, and during the 1832 Black Hawk Treaty signing, the Indians gifted a one-mile-square plat of land to him and his wife, Marguarite, in honor of his fair treatment of them, Anderson said.
In his lifetime, Antoine LeClaire helped found Davenport and was a generous benefactor, donating what is now the city's riverfront levee park land as well as three town-square parks.
He bankrolled many churches, including St. Anthony's and the predecessor of Sacred Heart Cathedral, as well as the city's first ferry, steam-powered mill and foundry.
During the financial panic of 1857, he underwrote worthless paper currency to save the deposits of people who had grown to depend upon him, Anderson said.
He also was instrumental in establishing the first railroad across the Mississippi River.