Much has been reported in recent years about the first railroad bridge built across the Mississippi River — right here in Davenport — and how that engineering marvel opened western lands to settlement.

Also receiving a lot of recent attention has been the fight that ensued between the railroad and steamboat interests after a boat ran into the bridge, destroying it. Abraham Lincoln was involved in the lawsuit, a connection that may have helped propel him to the White House.

But what about Henry Farnam (1803-1883), the man who, with business partner Joseph Sheffield, actually built the railroad and the bridge?

For history buffs, there is more to learn, and some of that will come out on Thursday, March 28, when the 16th annual Quad-Cities Henry Farnam Dinner is held at the Radisson Hotel, Davenport.

Farnam was born in Connecticut and returned there in later life, but his crowning achievement was the work he did in what is now the Quad-Cities. A group of Quad-City historians — George Eaton, Gayle Rein and Curtis Roseman — will speak at the dinner about various aspects of Farnam's life and work.

In 1847, Farnam was recruited by a group of civic boosters, including Col. George Davenport and Charles Atkinson of Moline, to build a railroad from Rock Island to LaSalle, Illinois, where travelers could travel on a canal to other destinations, Rein said.

Farnam's previous credentials included work on the Erie Canal, the Michigan Central Railroad and the railroad leading to Chicago.

Once Farnam got to this area, though, he could see that extending the railroad to Chicago would be a better plan and, ultimately, that is what he did, Rein said.

To plot the route, Farnam surveyed the land himself from horseback. "He had an eye for terrain and geography," Eaton said.

The river-crossing bridge opened in 1856 and from then it was only a matter of months before the railroad was extended to Iowa City, Eaton said.

But what Farnam did after that isn't known for sure. In traveling to Omaha, Eaton has found streets named Davenport and Farnam, leading him to wonder if Farnam was involved in extending the railroad all the way to Nebraska. That research is ongoing, he said.

In keeping with Farnam dinner tradition, Dick Stahl the Quad-Cities first poet laureate, will present a poem.

Previous dinner topics have included the lock and dam system, 19th century logging and Fort Armstrong.

Subscribe to Daily Headlines

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.