Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 5 - Page 12, Submitted by Mary B. Elizabeth, August 1, 2012

Many a Gala Party Was Held at Geneva Island Cottages

Many Muscatine residents recall with a tinge of regret the passing of the summer cottage community that flourished on Geneva Island during the years that preceded the completion of the government’s nine-foot channel program.

The island, five miles in length and extending downstream to within four miles of Muscatine’s business district, was for many years the summer playground of this section of the country. Thousands visited the island during the course of a summer, either to fish or swim or to be entertained at any of the numerous cottages that were clustered on this generous patch of land in the Mississippi.

With city parks still lacking many of the refinements that they have today, the island was one of the favorite picnic spots for churches and other organizations.

The island was known for miles around as an outdoor recreation center and many well-known persons visited it while in Muscatine. One of the most famous of these personages was Ellis Parker Butler, the writer. In fact, Mr. Butler, together with his wife and twin daughters, spent an entire summer on the island, Mr. Butler finding it an ideal environment for the pursuit of his literary work.

The island could be reached in a number of ways but early in the century the usual method was to take one of the boats that make regular trips between Muscatine and the Island. Frank Boke operated a motor boat to the island for a number of years, charging 25 cents for the round trip, and Capt. E.A. Batchelor, who still lives in Muscatine was another boat operator who received liberal patronage. With the development of the outboard motor, more and more pleasure seekers were able to provide their own transportation to and from the island.

The island as a summer resort attained its greatest popularity late in the “horse and buggy days.” With the pulse of life not quickened by 60-mile-an-hour travel, you and old found a full measure of enjoyment in spending their Sundays and holidays participating in the simple amusements to be found “up the river.”

One Muscatine woman who remembers vividly despite her 81 years the good times that groups of young people as well as adults used to have on the island is Mrs. Jacob Asthalter, 508 Sycamore street.

The Asthalter cottage, known as Chalet, designed like a Swiss castle, was the headquarters for many an outing from the time it was established in July, 1904, on through a number of succeeding years. Mrs. Asthalter welcomed members of her Sunday school class, which she taught at the First Methodist church, to the cottage on numerous occasions and was hostess to many other visitors. To this day Mrs. Asthalter has ledgers at her home containing the signatures of the hundreds of persons who were guests at the cottage through the years.

One of the most memorable events associated by Mrs. Asthalter with the life on the island was a severe storm that interrupted the regular schedule of boat trips between Muscatine and the summer colony. Strong gusts of wind lashed the river into white caps with such severity that the boatman feared to risk the trip upstream and those on the island who were depending on him for transportation back to the city found shelter in the cottages for the night. It was not until 1 o’clock in the morning that the wind slackened sufficiently to enable a boat to make the trip upstream.

Along about 1905 there were 28 cottages on the island, in addition to a number that were erected upstream and on the Illinois shore. Among those who had cottages in these early years of the present century were Fred Giesler, Ed Zeidler, Sam Borger, George Wittich, Vetter and Hagermann, Hanley, Dugan, Leffingwell, Anson, and Linder.

Leffingwell’s cottage, known as “Deutschland” was purchased by Harry Kern and floated downstream to be erected on the Illinois shore just across from Muscatine about two years ago, but fire destroyed it. The Borger cottage in later years was purchased by Louis Kautz.

Many of the cottage owners spent nearly all of the summer on the island, making only such trips back and forth as were necessitated by business or church obligations. The cottage dwellers found life inexpensive for there was an abundance of wood for fuel and gardens rich in leaf mold provided many delicacies for the table.

    “That little island was known far and near. People came to it from everywhere,” Mus. Asthalter recalls. “People seemed so much happier then. Nobody put on any airs or seemed to have any selfishness. I think the days I spent on the island were some of the happiest of my life.”

Erection of dam No. 16 raising the level of the river in the vicinity of the island dealt a death blow to the place as a summer resort. The government condemned the cottages and slashed away the trees that had sheltered the cottages and given the island much of its beauty.

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Photos of Geneva Island ~ Memories Recalled Memories of many happy summers spent on Geneva Island before the popular recreation spot was doomed by the nine-foot channel program with be recalled by these pictures. Motor boats would travel the Mississippi on regular schedule, particularly on week-ends, when the popular picnic spot was at the height of its popularity.

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Muscatine Outing Club Enjoys Boat Trip to LaCrosse

The Muscatine Outing club spent the Fourth of July at LaCrosse. Such is the heading the LaCrosse Republican of July 3, 1890, gives to an item of interest to the Muscatine friends of the parties’ names. It says:

    The Muscatine Outing club arrived here last evening at 5 o’clock and will remain until the Fourth. The club consists of S.R. Fox, R.M. Fox, Z.H. Hutchinson, H.H. Hutchinson, Robert Stith, R. Cook, W. Martin. They left Muscatine, Ia., about three weeks ago in their barge Waunegan, and towed up the river to Stillwater by the rafter Musser. They went to St. Paul with another boat and then started down stream with only the wind and current to assist them.

    The cabin in their boat is 22 feet long by 11 wide. The boat was built three years ago by Captain VanSant and is still owned by him. The club has a captain, clerk, and steward, and had a pleasant time. Two coons have been added to their list of trophies, and one of the boys purchased an Indian canoe to take home.

    The club will remain out three weeks longer, making their vacation six weeks. While at Winona one of their small boats broke away from the league in the night and drifted away. They thought it was gone for good, but on the way down yesterday found it stranded on the shore.

    The barge floats with the current by day guarded with a long sweep and at night is tied up on the shore.

    The members of the club all express themselves well pleased with the trip and are in no hurry to end it.

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On this date Muscatine received the first train load of logs every transported by rail from the north woods. The train was 30 cars in length, “piled as high as an ordinary freight car with logs securely fastened by huge chains.” It came from Glenporra, Wis. The entire consignment was for the South Muscatine Lumber and Box co., and was sawed by the Kaiser mill. The innovation of transporting logs by rail instead of rafting them down the Mississippi river foretold the end of the gigantic rafting industry, which at its height had seen 18 long rafts pass the Davenport bridge in a single day. – June 3, 1905.

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The city council considered a petition from a number of citizens praying for a grant of $30 for purposes of erecting a bridge across Fourth street at Cedar street. The council named Musgrave J. Freeman a committee to investigate the matter. He reported the bridge was needed and the citizen got their crossing. – June 2, 1846.

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According to U.S. census figures released on this date the population of the City of Muscatine was 2, 520 and had a total of 453 dwelling houses. The county population was listed as 5,733. – June 1, 1850.

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