The Burlington/West Burlington area had a natural progression from open land to becoming the area’s hub of business and industry.
Explored in 1673 by Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, the land that is now Des Moines County changed hands from France to Spain to France, and then to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase. After Lt. Zebulon Pike’s expedition landed at what is now Crapo Park in 1805, it was part of several territories—Louisiana, Indiana, Missouri and Michigan. But it remained off-limits to permanent settlement until 1833, when the Black Hawk War ended.
Between the Flint and Skunk rivers, a cluster of rough cabins and shanties arose in a riverside hollow. In 1834, residents named the hamlet “Burlington” after trader John Gray’s Vermont hometown. Congress chartered this new city in 1836 as the seat of one of two counties in the Iowa District of the newly created Wisconsin Territory.
The Iowa Territory was created July 4, 1838, and retained Burlington as its capital. The population was about 1,200, with more brick homes, a dozen shops, and two weekly newspapers. The legislature first rented the Methodist Meeting House (later nicknamed “Old Zion”) on November 12, 1838, eventually moving to Iowa City in December 1841.
Burlington remained a small trading hub and stopover for westbound pioneers, growing slowly until 1868, when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad completed the bridge that is still in use across the Mississippi River. Within two decades, nine railroads served the city. By 1879, policemen were often assigned to help throngs of travelers at Union Depot. Each westbound train bore Germans, Irish, Swedes, Norwegians and other new immigrants to settle in the area.
The 20th century brought more civilized living. Streets were paved and a bridge across the Mississippi River was finished in 1917. A public water system and sanitary sewers were installed. The city employed professional firefighters and police, and developed better-regulated land use. Manufacturers—still the mainstay of the local economy—and other businesses changed and grew with the times.
Burlington now enjoys new recreational facilities in our Flint Ridge Business Park and a renovated stadium was recently completed for our minor league baseball team, the Burlington Bees. West Burlington has enjoyed a building boom of new shopping complexes, a regional medical center, and a community college.
Through the years, we have been home to several famous people—from distinguished pre-Civil War congressmen to astronauts, and railroad barons to renowned writers. We proudly remember each as part of the rich heritage we so enthusiastically embrace. Burlington/West Burlington is looking forward to a future as promising and dynamic as its past!