Broadway has always been a diverse neighborhood, where immigrants, millionaires, gangsters and servants lived side by side and where hard work has always paid off. This page features stories of families and individuals who have helped to weave the larger narrative of Rock Island history. Many more stories of our residents can be found on the Walking Tours page.
The Southern Aristocrat
Charles Buford was a wealthy plantation owner from Kentucky. After relocating to Rock Island in 1854, he moved his wife and ten children into the Buford Mansion, a stunning Greek Revival home with unobstructed views of the Mississippi River. Charles was a Yale University graduate who raised thoroughbred horses in Kentucky; he came to Rock Island as a capitalist, founding the Buford Plow Company, which later became the Rock Island Plow Company, and he also invested in the Coal Valley Mining Company. Charles Buford passed away in 1866, but his widow Lucy lived in the mansion until her death in 1895. After the death of Lucy Buford, the Buford mansion passed through the possession of many important Rock Island residents, including Levi McCabe and Elmore Hurst. McCabe was a wealthy magnate who once owned much of Rock Island, while Hurst was a politically connected lawyer who was petitioned many times to run for both Governor of Illinois and Vice President of the United States. After serving as a private residence, the Buford mansion became a religious institution, serving as the Tri-City Jewish Center and currently as the Word of Life Church.
The Industrious Immigrants
Home of the Brennans
2229 10th Ave
Like many of his countrymen, John Brennan immigrated to America with his mother in 1853, at the close of the Great Hunger, otherwise known as the Irish Potato Famine. Brennan's father had come to America in 1849 to work on the railroads, and the family followed the railroad work across Ohio, Indiana, and Missouri. John Brennan moved to Rock Island at the age of 20 in 1863, served on the police force for 23 years, and was Rock Island's chief of police from 1887 until 1889. In 1890 Mayor McConochie of Rock Island, who reportedly "had it in" for Brennan for political reasons forced Brennan to retire, much to the shock of the citizens of Rock Island, who respected Brennan for having apprehended many dangerous criminals throughout his career. John Brennan, along with his wife Ellen and daughters Julia and Agnes, lived at 744 24th St until the family built an Arts and Crafts inspired home at 2229 10th Ave in 1915. Brennan died in his Broadway residence in 1926 and his wife Ellen followed him in death a year later. After John and Ellen's deaths, their daughters Julia and Agnes continued to live in the home their parents built on 10th Ave. At the turn of the century, Julia and Agnes both completed a year of college and worked as stenographers for local law firms. They rented their spare bedroom to another single, working woman for over 10 years.
The Enterprising Businesswoman
1906 7th Ave
1724 4th Ave
In 1907, Minnie Potter commissioned George Stauduhar to build a grand Colonial Revival home with Arts and Crafts influences at 1906 7th Ave in what is now the Broadway Historic District. Minnie Potter was a remarkable woman for her time, serving as the president of the J.W. Potter Company, which owned the Rock Island Argus newspaper. Minnie's husband John Potter bought the Argus in 1882 when it had only 500 subscribers. Tragically, John died in 1898 from complications during surgery, leaving his widow Minnie, then 32, to raise three young children on her own. After the death of John, Minnie formed the J.W. Potter Company and took over the newspaper as president, which prospered under her leadership. In 1920, the Argus bought its last competitor the Daily Union and became the sole legitimate newspaper in Rock Island since 1838. Five years later Minnie commissioned a new building for the Argus at 1724 4th Ave. Minnie Potter was a courageous woman who waged a crusade against the Prohibition-era gangster John Looney (basis of John Rooney in Road to Perdition), a bootlegger who terrorized Rock Island for decades; following the murder of William Gabel, the Argus stepped up its investigative journalism against Looney, which eventually led to his downfall along with several other city officials. Minnie's home, now called the Potter House, remained in the Potter family until 1983 when Minnie's daughter Marguerite passed away; today the home is once again a single family residence and a Local Landmark.