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Hidden treasures: 'Archives Crawl' reveals secrets about the Quad-Cities

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On any given day, you'll find someone from the public in the downtown Davenport Library's special collections room, looking up family history, or trying to figure out when his or her house was built and by whom.

Tucked beneath the main floor of the downtown library, this large, windowless room contains shelf after shelf of materials relating to the Quad-Cities' history, everything from architectural drawings to the last will and testament of Count Nicholas Fejervary, an immigrant-aristocrat whose former estate is now a Davenport park.

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Kathryn Kuntz, supervisor of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center at the downtown Davenport Library, talks about how an 1882 map of Scott County was cut into pages and bound into a book. On Saturday, the center, along with the archives at St. Ambrose University, Davenport, and the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College, Rock Island, are inviting the public to see what is available in their collections during a special, first-of-a-kind Archives Crawl.

You'll also find old police blotters, digitized newspapers going back to 1841, access to databases, maps and tens of thousands of glass negatives of Quad-City scenes taken by an early photographer.

Most Quad-City residents, though, don't know this center exists.

And, they don't know that there are similar centers all around the Quad-Cities, carefully storing and indexing the area's past. Deere & Co., the Sawmill Museum in Clinton, various historical societies and county museums — all these entities maintain archives that protect and catalog irreplaceable bits of our past.

To showcase the area's rich cultural history and spread the word that these hidden gems exist, the Davenport library, St. Ambrose University in Davenport and Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College (you never heard of it, right?) in Rock Island are teaming up to offer a first "Archives Crawl" from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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Kathryn Kuntz holds together the pages of a book, revealing a picture of a bridge on their edges. The book is in the Special Collections Center at the downtown Davenport Library.

You're invited to visit each location where archivists from the locations as well as other places — the Deere-Wiman House in Moline and the Bix Beiderbecke Museum in Davenport — will give talks about their specialties. Tours will be offered and there will be exhibit tables representing 15 other spots such as Palmer College, the Putnam Museum and the Rock Island County Historical Society.

Kathryn Kuntz, supervisor of the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center at the Davenport library, calls it a "mini-exploration of the Quad- Cities region through the unique collections and materials found in libraries, archives, and museums." She hopes it becomes an annual event.

"I'm so fascinated that there's such a great wealth of knowledge here," Kuntz said. Taken together, the materials "catch that glimpse of life in the Quad-Cities."

At a time in history when much research is done by Googling and not all results complete the story, archives of original, primary source documents preserve the unique perspectives of lives and experiences at times in history, Kuntz said.

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LeClaire, Iowa, native Buffalo Bill was regarded something like today's rock stars when he toured his wild west show around the United States and Europe. This book, written in German, is a testament to his world-wide popularity. It is in the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center at the downtown Davenport Library.

While the amount of information available online is staggering, additional historical and cultural collections are still hiding out in these archives, she said. As time and funding allows, archivists continue to make these materials accessible online and in person.

Thousands of glass negatives from the Hostetler photography studio in Davenport, for example, have been rehoused in archival storage and digitized by library staff, Kuntz said.

By providing access to these materials on the Upper Mississippi Valley Digital Image Archive, the library supports access to, and understanding of, these glass negatives by including descriptions and research. These digitized items are accessible at umvphotoarchive.org.

Of course, all of these places are still collecting. Items being created today are the building blocks of tomorrow's archives.

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