Fort Madison has a different feel to it - Beside the Point


Taylor was in town for a couple days and she likes to walk through the leaves. She doesn't get to hear the crunch of crispy leaves under her boots, or pull in the smell of fall in Manhattan.

She said on our walk Wednesday that she rarely sees an expanse of the sky, but just peaks of blue and white as she walks through the megalopolis that is New York City.

I've been there. She's not wrong, but there are other things that are wonderful about New York City. I call it that, even though the residents there know that you're in Queens or the Bronx or Manhattan or Brooklyn - whichever. To me it's New York City.

I love the architecture of urban America. And I love how they try to hold onto their history with different kinds of architecture. Art is in full display there. Yeah, it smells like garbage a bit, but I can deal with that. I enjoy saying, "Hi" to people I pass on the sidewalk. It feels a bit out of place, and my daughter says as much.

I enjoy the parks and the independent grocers and restaurants. You get a full sense of the melting pot that is the eastern seaboard.

Even to a degree I like the subways and the people watching. You have to be a bit careful about that in New York City, but they're kinda used to it.

But I was walking downtown during the Wine Walk and again during the Lighted Christmas Parade and got a sense of something different.

I mentioned to Mayor Matt Mohrfeld that there's a different feel to downtown - especially when you can see the new stretch of highway and the new Amtrak depot platform.

It just has a whole different feel and that's the best way to describe it at this point, because it's not complete.

The stretch of lighting that runs along the new passenger platform at the new train depot is extremely welcoming and warm.

Now you add to it the lights that were newly installed along the new 3-lane stretch of Avenue H from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe bridge to 10th Street, and we're getting somewhere. Our daughter smiled when she saw it and then was blown away at the site of Riverview Park.

When I explained what all was happening this girl, who all but grew up in Fort Madison after the 3rd grade, simply said, "Good."

That's not such a simple sentiment, but encapsulates the mood around the work.


I think former Mayor Steve Ireland would be proud of what's happening, and to that end, former Mayor Brad Randolph who ran with the project to honor the late Ireland.

We're literally weeks away from the first passenger train stopping at the new depot in Riverview Park. The only thing holding it up is an Amtrak Platform sign that simply reads "Fort Madison". Until that sign is in place, Amtrak won't let the trains stop there.

I'm hoping to get on board with a VIP stretch on the train from Galesburg. I think it will be interesting to get a wide range of perspectives of those involved in the project as the train winds through the ag fields of Illinois before moving along Dallas City and Pontoosuc with the Fort Madison shore across the Mississippi River.

We're bringing the historical significance of the railroad and the value it carries back to Fort Madison's riverfront. It might be beneficial to see the history carried forward in our downtown businesses. Black and white's and color photography, both bringing history to life in our downtown district would be another way to capitalize on the depot relocation.

A lot of skeptics make the point that not enough Amtrak traffic and short stop times make the investment in the relocation a poor investment of taxpayer dollars.

But if the city and the district seize the opportunity and make it something that rail fans would appreciate, it could provide a bigger economic factor that we think.

If you don't agree, just look at the Kingsley Inn railcam. People are very interested in the rail activity in Fort Madison. I lived in Rochelle, Illinois where there was what was called a Diamond Crossing. This crossing was where Union Pacific and BNSF lines crossed, right there in town.

The city built a park around the crossing and landscaped it so it looked like the trains were coming up off a hill almost like they were coming up from the ground. A shelter house was also built at the crossing and there were speakers added so enthusiasts could hear the engineers communicating with each other at the crossing.

Then they created a "Hobo Days" and made a Saturday event around the facility.

I'm not advocating or saying that we need to be an old-fashioned rail stop, but how cool would that be. You already have a sodajerk at Shug's downtown. You've got coffee, art, history, shopping, even a movie theater.

And now the city council and the mayor want serious talks about the sidewalks and curbing that can go with new streets along Avenue G.

I don't know. It feels different. But it feels pretty good, too.

Thanksgiving's come and gone, but I got a gift from the city and I'm thankful for the removal of the "No Parking" signs and the stop signs in my neighborhood - But that's Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

beside the point, Chuck Vandenberg, Column, editorial, fort madison, opinion


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