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Road Trippin': LeClaire's historic Pilot Houses

LeClaire Pilot Houses.

Today LeClaire is a town closely tied to tourism but it was built on the business of the river.

Now some historic houses beckon back to when that business was booming.

Before the days of locks and dams LaClaire was known as the “Head of the Rapids” and it made for a turbulent trip.

“The rapids ran from Leclaire to Rock Island and Davenport and in order to get through those rapids you had to have a rapids pilot,” says Bob Schiffke, Executive director of the Buffalo Bill Regional History Museum.

Whether riding down river or steaming up stream everyone had to stop where the pilots called home.

“Some of the rapids pilots are nice houses let's put it that way,” says Schiffke.

Most of the homes were built between 1850 and 1870 and many still stand as a symbol of the past.

Mandy Harvey runs the Crane and Pelican Restaurant out of the Dawley house. “It was built in 1851 it's on the national historic Registry, it's in the Italianate style of architecture,” says Harvey.

Some are private homes to enjoy from a far while others hold businesses that give you a look inside.

“People come in just to see the house sometimes and that's OK with us,” says Kimberly Collier, owner of Grasshopper’s gifts inside the McCaffrey House.

One of the homes known as the Old Mill sits right on the river and even has room for guests to stay the night.

For many preserving these pieces of the past is important.

“We want to restore it historically, appropriately and make it a place where the whole community could come and enjoy this beautiful river pilot house,” says Harvey.

If you’re visiting LeClaire you can stroll by and stop in to the businesses that occupy the historic homes.

“We set up on the hill and people like to sit out on the porch and just watch the river to roll by,” says Collier.

The City has provided a walking guide to the remaining homes but please respect private property.

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