Topography of Rock Island County
Rock Island County lies upon the western boundary of the great
agricultural prairie state of Illinois. This boundary, the majestic
Mississippi River, is bordered by bluffs that give a rugged and
diversified surface to this river county. Rock Island County is notably a
river county, for it stretches for almost sixty miles in an irregular
strip along the Father of Waters. It also has for its boundary line (for
the upper half of the county) upon the southeast another famous stream,
Rock River. The third natural boundary is Meredosia Slough or creek which
separates Rock Island from Whiteside County for some miles on the county's
northeastern portion. The county is separated into two somewhat compact
sections or portions by the Rock River which crosses the county on its way
to union with the Mississippi.
The northern section of the county has unusual topographical interest, being almost entirely upland of an elevation of fifty to one hundred feet above the general level of the rivers on either side. This wall of bluffs varies greatly in outline and picturesqueness. It is of gentle declivity at times and at others of rugged abruptness. The bluffs along the Mississippi follow the river in general and for the most part rise from the water's edge. A few miles above the present locations of Moline and Rock Island the bluff line recedes from the river, and an alluvial plain of richness and gentle slope is formed. The bluffs which form the other side of this plateau of the upper county section are manifest in rugged beauty- along the north bank of the Rock River near the location of Milan. The lines of bluff and stream diverge not far east of Milan, leaving a broad stretch of alluvial acres. The same relative location of bluff and stream and plain is maintained after the Meredosia Hough is reached. From this creek the bluffs turn west and reach the Mississippi near Cordova. Men of research say that it is altogether probable that in the early days of the great river its path lay. through the Meredosia Slough and the bed and valley of Rock River. If so, the portion of Rock Island County under consideration, at one time was upon the western or Iowa side of the Father of Waters. This elevated tract of the upper county was originally well covered with undergrowth and scattering timber. Its surface is fairly rough but is generally continuous except where a depression called Pleasant Valley cuts across the upland region from Hampton on the Mississippi to Carbon Cliff on Rock River. The farms in Pleasant Valley are considered among the best of the upper county. The elevated region has been farmed many years and has been made to yield productively, especially in cereals and fruits. The bottom lands are of surpassing fertility. Along the rivers there are some sandy tracts that are unfitted for tillage, but in the main the farmers of this portion of the county have greatly prospered.
The southern portion of Rock Island County is a fairly symmetrical rectangle thirty-three miles from east to west. It has for its northern boundary the Mississippi and Rock Rivers. Its western boundary is also the Mississippi which turns to the southward at Muscatine on the Iowa shore or just west of Drury's landing on the Illinois side. Mercer County lies to the south and Henry County to the east of this' portion of Rock Island County.
This section comprises the greater part of the excellent farming lands of the county. There are alluvial bottom lands, rolling up-land prairies and bluff lands of less agricultural value. The prairies responded most quickly to the efforts of the early settler and have for many years shown the most beautiful farms in the county. The alluvial lands were some what swampy or boggy in part and did not yield well until modern methods of drain-age were employed. Along the south side of the Rock River bottom bluffs appear, the range rising abruptly in places to an average height of more than one hundred feet. At Andalusia the bluffs approach the Mississippi River which washes their base almost, to the southern line of the county, except in a few places where an uncultivated low bottom intervenes, seamed with sloughs. This range of bluffs is cut up with hollows and ravines and is covered with a moderate growth of timber, principally oak. The rough land extending back into the highland for several miles is the least valuable portion of the county for agriculture.
Rock River is the principal stream within the borders of the county and furnishes a water power second only to the Mississippi. It rises in Wisconsin about midway between the Wisconsin River and Lake Michigan. Its course in Illinois is almost one hundred and eighty miles long. Its chief tributary, the Pecatonica, discharges its waters below the northern boundary of the state. The valley of the Rock River is one of the most healthful and wealthy sections of Illinois. After forming a portion of the boundary between Henry and Rock Island Counties it divides the latter into its northern and southern portions and empties into the Mississippi about three miles below the City of Rock Island. In the last few miles of the stream there is a sharp fall in level, and as a result a series of beautiful rapids.
Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908