History of American Towns:Muscatine, Iowa, named for Mascouten American Indian Tribe, City known for pearl buttons

Source

Muscatine, Iowa was most likely named for the Mascouten American Indian tribe of Algonquian speaking Indians. Like many frontier towns Muscatine was started when a trading post was established. In this case representatives of Colonel George Davenport, whom the City of Davenport is named, in the year 1833 and incorporated as Bloomington in 1839, started the post. However, Bloomington was a pretty common name for cities and there were a number of them already in the Midwest. It was thought that there would be less confusion in delivering mail if the name were changed. Wikipedia cites “Casey’s Woodpile” as another name by which Muscatine had been known.

Other natives and the French according to belief drove the Mascoutin tribe from Michigan about 1642. In the 18th Century they may have been absorbed into the Fox and Sac tribes. Another possibility is that the name might have derived from a term in the Siouan language meaning “island of fire,” according to Wikipedia. It referred to an area south of town covered by a slough. When the sun set the slough reflected colors that made it look like fire.

Source

Muscatine is known for freshwater pearls, an experimental farm operated by Iowa State University, and for its vegetables and melons. So Muscatine is both the “Pearl Button Capital of the World” although China now dominates the market and the “Watermelon Capital of the world.”

The pearl button industry was a major industry in the early years. It was in the year 1884 that J. F. Boepple, who emigrated from Germany, founded the pearl button industry. The buttons were made from certain kinds of clam shells, from the Mississippi River.

When the pearl buttons were a significant factor in Muscatine's economy they adopted the slogan "Pearl of the Mississippi."

In 1915 Weber & Sons button Company, Inc. was the worlds largest producer of fancy freshwater pearl buttons. After that the city became known as "The Pearl Button Capital of the World."Weber is still manufacturing today but largely plastic buttons."The button industry started to decline in the mid-20th Century for a number of reasons, such as the popularity of other fasteners.


Muscatine is situated between Iowa City, Iowa and the Iowa-Illinois Quad Cities, which include Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River as well as Moline and Rock Island, Illinois on the other side of the river. Commuters living in Muscatine work in several other cities. It can be a fast commute on Interstate 80 or a pleasant leisurely drive on the river road. I lived in Moline and often went to Iowa City. Since I prefer the scenic roads to the Interstates I often went through Muscatine along the scenic river road on the Iowa side.

In 1855 Mark Twain lived in Muscatine for a short time and worked for the Muscatine Journal a paper his brother Orion owned a part of. There is now a “Mark Twain Scenic Overlook” in the town.

Muscatine is home to another writer, a mystery writer, by the name of Max Allan Collins. This interested me because he had a series of mystery novels set in the area of the Quad Cities and Iowa City. The river road that I often drove was the location where fictional gangsters buried fictional corpses. Does wonders for ones imagination.

A bridge connects Muscatine to the Illinois side of the river. It was a toll bridge for many years but some time ago they stopped collecting tolls. The city is on a series of bluffs and hills and according to Wikipedia it is at a major bend in the Mississippi River.Ten miles east along the river you will find Wildcat Den State Park.


It is interesting that Muscatine, between the 1840s and the Civil War, had the largest black community in Iowa. Fugitive slaves came from the south and there were free blacks from the East. Prominent community leader Alexander Clark Sr. was one of the founders of the locale AME Church, helped fugitive slaves and petitioned the state to overturn racist laws before the war,. He also helped organized a black regiment –the 60th United States Colored Infantry, according to Wikipedia


Sources are the City of Muscatine home page and Wikipedia articles on Muscatine and Freshwater Pearls.


A markerMuscatine, Iowa -
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© 2012 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 16 comments

Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Enjoyed this Hub immensely, Dahoglund as I'm familiar with the area having lived in Iowa as a child -- DesMoines. I did not, however, have any idea of the history of Muscatine until your Hub. Thanks muchly. Voted UP! Best, Sis


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Angel. Thanks for commenting. I was born in Des Moines but my family moved to Minneapolis when I was six.Iowa suffers from being between Minnesota and Illinois, both of which make fun of Iowa.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Don,

Very interesting history regarding Muscatine. Never knew about it being the pearl capitol of the world but had heard about its melons. By the way, your first 2 paragraphs are written twice. At least that is the way it is reading from here. Might want to check it on your end. Muscatine, Iowa is west of where some of my relatives live in Bettendorf. Enjoyed learning about it from you. Thanks!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Peggy,

I must have pasted in the same copy twice. Thanks for pointing it out. Muscatine is noted for freshwater pearls In mentioning pearls most people would think of those that come from salt water. Thanks for commenting.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Are people still employed today making buttons from those fresh water pearls in Muscatine?


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Peggy, I was under the impression the industry was still going to some extent. However it seems that foreign buttons and plastic ones have taken over the market.Apparently, plastic buttons are superior buttons.So far I have not found anything stating there is still manufacturing so there probably are no buttons being made there anymore.


Sophia Angelique 4 years ago

“Pearl Button Capital of the World." Now there's an interesting phrase, Daho. I would love to hear more about that aspect. I think you'd find that it might generate some traffic as well if you used the keyword 'pearl button.' I would be fascinated to hear more...


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

You are most likely right,Sophia. I'll see what I can do with it. Thanks for the comment and advice.


Sophia Angelique 4 years ago

Hi Daho. Great. Now add an Amazon link to pearl buttons!! :) I love pearl buttons. I'm sure others do to. :)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks Sophia. Like you say there are those who are fans of pearl buttons.


Dexter Yarbrough profile image

Dexter Yarbrough 4 years ago from United States

Hi Dahoglund! I have been away for awhile but I am back - and looking forward to reading your hubs again.

Being from the Midwest, I have had occasion to visit Muscatine. I believe it is in an idyllic location in that Illinois - Iowa area.

I knew about the pearl buttons but not about the black community there. Fascinating hub with a great deal of history! Voted up, up and away!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Hi Dexter,I'm glad you are back.Thanks for the comment and the votes. I found Muscatine to be a pleasant stop off place from Iowa city. I lived in Moline and went to Iowa City to go to the dental school for some discounted dental work.


B. Leekley profile image

B. Leekley 4 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

I enjoyed learning about Muscatine. One of the most interesting place names I've heard about is Pig's Eye, Minnesota, the original name of St. Paul.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I used to live in St. Paul and enjoyed it when I found it was originally named Pigs Eye.I wrote about it in a hub.I put a link to it below the map if you care to know more about it.Thanks for your comment.


Ms.Plyer 4 years ago

Very interesting read! My father grew up around there & some family owned & operated Mississippi Valley Shell Co for many years, I still have a ring that my parents had made for me of a teardrop pearl that they found while working for said company. Thanks for sharing the history (:


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 4 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

rs. Plyer, thanks for reading the article and leaving a comment.I'm glad you liked it.

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