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Photo: Mike Itchue|
Winning eight of the 11 tugs in this year's 20th annual Tug Fest between LeClaire and Port Byron, the Illinois side evened the overall team score at 10 wins apiece.
A Velie truck used to haul supplies to Port Byron by the People's Power Co. broke through the Barber Creek bridge December 1912. The driver and truck were both practically unscathed by the accident.
Before the Great River Tug Fest, the hot summer rivalry between Port Byron and LeClaire, there was a gathering of another sort drawing the two towns to the Mississippi River.
"The river would freeze over, creating an ice bridge," said Port Byron resident Carl Palmer, president of the Port Byon Historical Society. "That's when the people in Port Byron and LeClaire got together."
During those cold winter months, Mr. Palmer said people walked, skated and rode horse-pulled wagons back and forth across the thick river ice.
His wife, Bette, said the frozen river made winter a perfect time for residents from both banks to socialize. "People came back and forth with sleigh-like things."
Although swirling skaters meeting on the frozen river as snow fell paints an idyllic and charming picture, Mr. Palmer said it could be treacherous.
He said at least one person died every year after falling through melting ice. "Every year, somebody would try to get across that (ice) bridge even though it was spring."
That long-standing tradition ended several decades ago, Mr. Palmer said, because warm water discharged by the Exelon nuclear power station near Cordova makes it impossible for the stretch of river between LeClaire and Port Byron to freeze.
As the years passed, the towns established a new tradition, coming up on its 21st year. Port Byron resident Roy Kouski said The Great River Tug Fest started small and now attracts more than 40,000 people, and has been featured in travel and vacation magazines.
While today's tradition may sound like it's all about small-town rivalry, he said it's a reunion of sorts for current and past residents of the area. "It's kind of a homecoming thing."
While thousands are drawn to the Port Byron's riverfront for the weekend festival, the Mississippi River always has been a great attraction on its own.
According to the historical society, Archibald Allen, one of the first settlers of Port Byron in 1882, originally named the area Canaan for its proximity to the river, rich soil and plentiful game.
Later, when the town was platted in 1836 it was renamed Port Byron for the poet Byron.
Early industry included farming and logging, but Mr. Kouski said the discovery of lime in 1836 really put the town on the map. "Limestone was the biggest thing Port Byron was known for."
Today, he said, the town is more of a bedroom community for people who work, and shop, in town.
Spurred by the bedroom-community atmosphere, Mr. Palmer said several new housing subdivisions have been developed. A large, new library opened in 2004.