The history of Davenport, its people, and its schools is one of hard work, determination, and educational excellence. Antoine LeClaire, founder of our city, played a key role in the exploration of the Mississippi River region in the early 1800s. From 1874 to 1878, Phebe W. Sudlow served Davenport as the first female public school superintendent in the United States. During the Great Depression, our community did not sit idly by to passively weather the economic woes; we instead rallied around our public schools and built six beautiful new facilities for our students.
This industrious spirit is still found in our students, educators, and community at present day. Nearly 16,000 students attend the Davenport Community Schools, one of the largest school districts in Iowa ‒ a state that is well-known for its excellent educational programming. Among these students, nearly 1,000 receive their high school diplomas every year. Each of our graduates is fully prepared to become our future engineers, teachers, and artists. They, together with our teachers, involved parents, agency and business partners, volunteers, and caring citizens, make Davenport Community Schools a district of distinction.
Davenport Community Schools Museum
The mission of the Davenport Community Schools Museum is the collection and acquisition of records, books, mementos and memorabilia of historical, educational and cultural significance to the Davenport School District and the use and enjoyment of the community.
1606 Brady Street (lower level of the Administrative Services Center)
Davenport, IA 52803
Mondays 9:00 a.m. to noon
Fridays 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. or by appointment.
Research, tours and lectures can be arranged.
History of Davenport Community Schools
Community & School District Progress Go Hand-in-Hand
By Bob McCue, Davenport Schools Museum Committee Member and Former District Teacher, Principal, & School Board President
Before Davenport became a city, the area in which it is located had a history of change. Claims were made by Spanish and French explorers, and the territory changed ownership several times. The French received title in 1800, and three years later the region became a part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase.
Following the War of 1812, when disputed claims to western lands were settled, the federal government established forts and outposts in the western regions of the country, including the newly acquired lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Surveyors mapped the region and provided guidelines for the establishment of settlements. Provision was made for support of education through the gift of lands from the federal government. However, because of the conditions of settlements, the use of this assistance was not fully utilized. Still, it did indicate the importance the federal government placed on schools and education.
The Black Hawk Wars of 1831-32 resulted in a treaty giving title of the area where Davenport was founded to the U. S. government. A stipulation of the treaty was a gift to Antoine LeClaire of two square miles of land where the city of Davenport started. This was in appreciation for LeClaire’s kindness and friendship to the Indians as he served as interpreter.
During much of this time, the region was a part of the Michigan Territory, the Wisconsin Territory and the Iowa Territory. The laws, rules and regulations of the territories and the federal government were to be followed as settlements were made.
In 1837, Scott County was formed as a part of the Iowa Territory. In 1839 a resolution was sent to the Iowa Territorial government requesting a charter, which was granted for the city of Davenport. Antoine LeClaire insisted the new town be named for his good friend and business partner, Colonel George Davenport. In 1841 a strongly contested battle over the location of the county seat, the Court House, was waged between Davenport and Rockingham. Davenport finally prevailed. In 1846 Iowa was admitted to the Union as the twenty-ninth state of the United States. In 1851 the Village of East Davenport was established, not as a separate city, and became the center of a thriving lumber milling industry. The city of Davenport was growing in population and importance because of its location and the economic opportunities that existed.
As newcomers arrived in Davenport and Scott County to settle, work, and raise their families, they began to seek ways to provide some education for their children. Scattered settlers made it difficult for residents to avail themselves of the authorized tax and financing system. Many methods were used to provide instruction. Parents paid a part of a teacher’s salary. Subscription schools were organized and were held in a variety of locations, including crude cabins with dirt floors and rooms in a home, a church, or most any available space. Some churches operated schools, open to members only or to all. Private schools were also operated, some for profit, others for good will, wanting the young educated.
In just a little over a decade, several schools were operating serving geographic-political areas. Davenport Township District No. 10 served East Davenport. A frame building at the corner of Mound and Eddy Streets housed the school. When more space was required, they rented rooms in homes, churches, and various buildings. The area near downtown, Township District No. 2, operated in a variety of temporary rooms and buildings. In 1853-54, a stone building was erected at Seventh and Perry Streets and operated as a tuition school. Living quarters for the principal were provided in the basement. A frame building just west of downtown at Fifth and Scott Streets was serving children in the area in 1853. It was District No. 3. The school moved to a larger building in another location, and in 1856 it moved into a new six-room building at Sixth and Warren Streets. Officials in School District No. 17, serving children in north Davenport, submitted a petition to Hiram Price, Scott County School Commissioner, asking permission to build a new school building. Permission was granted, and a small brick structure was erected on a donated lot bounded by Main, Harrison, Seventeenth and Eighteenth Streets. A small stone building located at Second and Pine Streets served students in West Davenport. This was District No. 5. School District No. 11 in northwest Davenport had a one-room frame building near where the Rock Island crosses Locust Street. Increased numbers resulted in a new two-room frame building being located on a lot on Union Street between Washington and Mitchell Streets (now 18th & Fillmore).
Thus, within the city of Davenport, six separate school districts were operating under the jurisdiction of six separate school boards, each basically setting its own curriculum and school calendar and hiring its own teachers with as many different credential requirements as there were districts.
In 1856, the state legislature passed a law making the civil township the unit of organization for schools. The office of County Superintendent was created. Provisions were made for the examination of teachers before teaching certificates would be issued.
A year or two later, a law was passed allowing areas with certain populations to combine the smaller sub-districts into one larger independent district. It was on the basis of this law that on May 5, 1858, a previous notice of a public meeting having been given, that a meeting of directors from the six districts met and the Davenport Independent School District came into being.
The school directors elected Dr. A. S. Maxwell as the president. Dr. Maxwell was a physician with an extensive practice. During the Civil War, Governor Kirkwood sent him to give medical assistance to Iowa soldiers in the war. Later, he served as United States Surgeon Inspector General on General Grant’s staff. Mr. T. D. Eagal, Justice of the Peace and a newspaper man, was elected vice-president. A Mr. J. R. Johnson was elected secretary. George H. French, a banker, was elected treasurer.
The new board re-numbered the former school districts for the new Davenport Independent District and chose representatives from the former districts to serve on the new School Board. No. 10 District, East Davenport, became District No. 1, with J. M. Grizzell, a harness maker, as the board member. The downtown District No. 2 remained No. 2 in the new Davenport Independent District, represented by a lawyer, William 0. Clark. Former District No. 7 became District No. 3, represented by Henry Lambrack, a watchmaker. District No. 17 in north Davenport became District No. 4, represented by Mr. T. H. Codding who was principal of a ladies’ college. District No. 5 retained its No. 5 and was represented by W. L Cook. Mr. Cook was prominent in Scott County affairs, having held many different offices and served as a judge. School District No. 11, in northwest Davenport, Hamburg, became Davenport District No. 6. The representative was a farmer, Mr. S. G. Mitchell.
The newly organized board members started with many challenges. They needed money. They needed someone to assume the leadership responsibilities for the district. The schools also needed to be organized into some plan to carry out their function. In addition, the School Board needed to approve the subjects that would be taught in the schools. The finance question was temporarily resolved by borrowing $500 from community leader, Antoine LeClaire, at a rate of 10% for a period of one year. The leadership question was solved by employing A. S. Kissell as superintendent.
Superintendent Kissell began work in earnest. He worked out a plan for grading the schools, by divisions and by classes. He also began to develop a standard curriculum for the schools to be certain the skills thought most needed by students were being taught. He also laid out a plan for ascertaining if students were meeting the standards that were set.
The new School Board could levy taxes to support the schools. The board and the leadership also could hire staff to run the schools and establish their rules and regulations for operation.
Curriculum subsequently was developed for a high school. To ensure good instruction for the students, permission also was given to set up a training school for teachers. New buildings replaced the old and, through the years, more new buildings were constructed as needed. The district, with community support, made great progress.
The 20th century started with the purchase of a closed college campus for a new high school, the current Central High School. The cornerstone was laid in 1905. Eighteen months later, the students moved from the old building to what was hailed as the finest high school in the Midwest, both in its functionality and appropriate educational programs.
At the end of the Depression, federal funds were matched with locally approved funds to build six new elementary schools in the Davenport district. Four of the newer of the existing buildings also were renovated and enlarged. Old schools were closed, and Davenport had 10 elementary schools, providing unprecedented facilities with programs to match.
Mid-century saw an extreme increase in student enrollments in all schools. The size of the Davenport Community School District additionally was enlarged with the merger of Buffalo, Blue Grass, Walcott, and Linwood schools plus schools in Rockingham and Davenport Townships. The last half of the 20th century saw additions to and renovations at nearly every school in the district, plus new elementary, junior high, and senior high schools.
At the start of the 21st century, the Davenport district had more than 30 sites serving roughly 16,500 youth, making it the third largest school district in Iowa.
Since the inception of the Davenport Community School District, its growth and progress have paralleled that of the communities it serves. The continued unselfish dedication of school and community leaders, and the clientele they serve, has provided the youth of the community opportunities for preparing themselves for the future. This should continue into the 21st century.
1904 – Central High was built, and the hamburger, ice cream cone, and ice tea were introduced at the St. Louis Exposition.
1917 – Smart, Sudlow, and J.B. Young Intermediates were built, and 4 million copies of “I Want You” posters with Uncle Sam were distributed by U.S. Army recruitment officers.
1923 – Garfield and Hayes Elementaries were built, and the New York Yankees won their first World Series by defeating the New York Giants in four games to two.
1924 – Roosevelt Elementary was built, and Iowa-born cornetist Leon Bix Biederbeche began his jazz career.
1939 – Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, McKinley, Monroe, and Washington Elementaries were built, World War II began, and 17 percent of the American work force remained unemployed.
1950 – Adams Elementary was built, and Senator Joseph McCarthy began his Communist “witch-hunt.”
1953 – Harrison Elementary was built, and the first IBM computer was produced.
1954 –Williams Intermediate was built, and the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.
1955 – Fillmore and Wilson Elementaries were built, and the V8 engine was introduced for automobiles.
1956 – The Children’s Village at Hoover (Formerly Hoover Elementary) and Walcott Elementary-Intermediate were built, and the first successful videotape recorder was demonstrated.
1957 – Blue Grass Elementary was built, and Sputnik I was launched by the Soviet Union.
1960 – West High was built, and John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States.
1961 – Kimberly Center for Alternative Education was built, and the Berlin Wall was constructed.
1969 – Eisenhower Elementary was built, and Neil A. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon.
1971 – Buchanan Elementary and Jackson Elementary were built, and the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
1972 – North High was built, and the Watergate break-in, which later led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation, took place
1977 – Truman Elementary was built, and the world’s last known natural case of smallpox was reported.
1984 – Wood Intermediate was built, and AT&T broke from its 22 Bell operating companies across the United States to pave the way for telecommunications competition.
2002 – A new Buffalo Elementary was built with proceeds from a one-cent sales tax, which also is providing funds to renovate most of the district’s buildings.
Historical events referenced here are cited in The People’s Chronology by James Trager, published by Henry Holt and Company, New York, New York, in 1992.