At the end of the Winnebago rally, we decided to head south to Keokuk, Iowa for a bit of time along the Mississippi River. From Keokuk you can take a 50 mile Great River Historic Loop that crosses the Mississippi twice and covers several interesting towns and many great river views. The second bridge crossing is on the Santa Fe Bridge, which is one of the last remaining toll bridges on the Mississippi. It is also the longest and largest double-decker, swing span bridge in the world!
Keokuk sits on the southeast corner of Iowa, across the river from Illinois and just north of Missouri. This geography has played an important role in the life of this city for most of its existence. Named after a Native American Chief, it was heavily involved in the Civil War. It was a center for treating both Union and Confederate wounded soldiers that were brought to here for treatment. Many of those soldiers died there and are buried in Iowa’s only National Cemetery.
In the early years river commerce was the driving force and as the city grew, the important people of the area lived on Grand Ave, which still reflects the lifestyle of that bygone era. There are a few people that lived here that would be known to the average person still today. Mark Twain lived here for two years after he came to visit his two brothers. He had his first literary works published here, reportedly to mixed reviews. Howard Hughes grandfather served as Mayor, a state Supreme Court Judge and President of a railroad.
The other reason we stopped in here was the look at the ACOE lock and Dam #19. This is located downtown and can be viewed from a walkway that used to be part of a train and vehicle bridge across the river.
Today the city seems to have fallen on hard times with many stores closed and lots of the downtown buildings in disrepair.
The river loop has many pull outs on the Illinois side, many noted as bird watching areas.
Near the north end of the loop is the town of Nauvoo, IL. This is a historic village largely known for its Mormon history. The Mormons moved to this area after experiencing problems in different locations with other local residents. They remained here for several years building a temple and the village. Their leader Joseph Smith and others were involved in several businesses including a bank that had difficulties resulting in the bank failing. This caused the already strained relationship with the other residents to become a crisis. Joseph Smith and his brother were arrested and killed while they were in jail in Carthage, IL. The Mormons were essentially forced to leave the area. This began the Mormon Trail which ended in Utah.
The village has restored buildings available for touring and there is entertainment, carriage rides and a visitor information center. There is also a rebuilt Temple on the site of the original temple which was completed in 2002. This can only be entered if you are a member. Others may walk around the site.
There were a few other places that could be visited in the loop tour including a reconstructed fort in Fort Madison but it was just too hot for anymore sightseeing!