Midwest Musings: Return to the Scene of the Crime
This coming Saturday, August 24, I will be signing copies of both of my books at Burlington By the Book in my hometown of Burlington, Iowa. Burlington just happens to be the setting for my first published romance novel, The Sleepover Clause. The town will also be featured in Books 2 and 3 of the three-part series about McKenna Custom Coaches.
What eventually became the state of Iowa was part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, although mainly trappers, explorers and priests saw much of this rich land for the first few decades. In 1805, Lt. Zebulon Pike, for whom Pike’s Peak in Colorado is named, explored the area and hoisted the first U.S flag in what would become Iowa. Settlement really started in the 1830s. John Gray, who purchased the first lot in 1834, earned the distinction of naming the town. Though the area had formerly been known as Shoquoquon by the Sac and Fox Indian tribes living there and “Catfish Bend” by early inhabitants, Gray chose the name of his former home in Burlington, Vermont. The town became capital of what was then Wisconsin Territory in 1837 and then the first territorial capital of Iowa in 1838. (Iowa would become a state in 1846.)
The town has experienced three different boom times; the steamboat era in the 1850s, the growth of railroads in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, and during World War II, the ordnance plant just west of town employed many local residents. The bridge built to accommodate the Burlington Northern railroad was the first in the state, and in the 1870s, it opened up a new way for immigrants from the East to move in.
That’s a little bit of the town’s history, but it is the town itself that has always seemed so unique and welcoming. Have you ever crossed the Mississippi? Or even better, driven along either the eastern or western side? From St. Louis north (can’t speak for the area south of that point), most of the eastern side, especially Illinois, is relatively flat and lower. The western side, though, is a series of bluffs and hills. Picture a bend in the river cupped by three hills with a small valley in the center. That describes North Hill, the oldest part of town, West Hill, and South Hill with the downtown filling the valley.
The railroad cuts through town, entering from the south and working its way west through the edge of downtown and out through the division between North Hill and West Hill. If you live near downtown or the near west, you knew the train schedule so you could avoid a traffic tie-up while a passenger or freight train zipped through town, because there was only overpass in the area that would allow traffic to keep moving.
The town’s oldest and most powerful resident is the Mighty Mississippi. During most winter months it freezes, but the rest of the year you can see barges hauling their cargo up and down the river. Water sports like boating and water skiing plus fishing for the famous catfish abound, although at times the river can cause havoc when it rises out of its banks and floods the lower lying areas. That happened just this spring. When I was in high school, I remember how some of the kids got out of school early that spring to go sandbag and hopefully hold back the water.
While I’m visiting town this weekend, I plan to reacquaint myself with some of the places named above so I can do them justice when using them as a backdrop in Books 2 and 3.
The Sleepover Clause
And He Cooks Too