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Downtown construction unearths Davenport's past

Downtown construction unearths Davenport's past

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Pieces of Davenport's old river town history continue to be unearthed as construction crews hammer away at more than $30 million worth of road and sewer repairs and water plant upgrades.

An underground vault leading to the Union Arcade building at the corner of E. 3rd and Brady streets interrupted a streetscape project from Brady Street east to the River Center parking ramp.

Unexpected structural issues with the basement ceiling of the Union Arcade building stopped work on the south side of E. 3rd Street between Brady Street and the River Center parking ramp's entrance as portions of the building's basement extends beneath the sidewalk, city construction project manager Jen Walker said.

Davenport City Council members last week approved plans and estimated $100,870 cost to partially fill in the vault, while one area where the building's active mechanicals are located will get structural supports.

That work, for which the city is soliciting bids, will enable streetscaping work and sidewalk replacement to safely continue, Walker said.

Basement vaults extending under sidewalks were commonly used in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century for things like coal deliveries, and were even used as "backdoor" access and concealed storage during prohibition, according to the city of Davenport.

"The only visual indication may be a manhole cover in the sidewalk that was removed so coal delivery companies could deliver coal under the manhole," as was the case with the Union Arcade building, Walker said. "I’ve even seen conveyor belts for inventory."

Clay Merritt, Davenport's capital manager, said such underground vaults were somewhat uncommon, but it was not surprising to find them along the city's historic riverfront.

"It differs according to block or section you’re (in downtown)," Merritt said. "You could be working downtown and not hit one. Then, you could turn around and hit one consecutively just one block over."

Locating them requires city engineering officials to flip through a 96-page, leather-bound book mapping all street and alley encroachments that existed in the city as of 1919.

In the past, crews have unearthed trolley rails and brick tunnels during sewer work and street construction.

"The more work that we’re doing in the historic parts of town, the more of this is being unearthed," Merritt said. "And we're going deep in terms of exaction for street reconstruction or sewer repair work, and so we're more likely to find something left behind from decades ago. As we do more in these areas, we’re certainly prone to find more things."

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