Back to When the River Made Pearls, not Stenches

To: The Geneva City Council,

Soon, maybe not tomorrow, the Geneva dam on the Fox River will be removed. The long-term health of the river and human safety concerns demand removal. The water skiers will be gone but the kayaks and canoes will abound. If the money can be found, the removal might be done in an orderly planned way. Or the fickle river itself may remove the dam just as the river removed Geneva’s wooden bridge in 1857, and dams before that.

In the above file, you will see two map images that both show the river now and in 1872 but with different transparencies of the overlay. Both maps were created after the Galena & Chicago Railroad assault of 1854 that cut the river in half. Through the link in the file, you can see what 150 years have wrought. If you are really interested, the 1841 surveyors’ map shows that the east channel was wider than the west and the island was a much longer narrower snake that extended only a bit further north but a lot south of its current state. The City of Geneva water treatment plant is on the tail of that snake. Geneva is dotted with old dump sites from Wheeler Park in the north to the man-made bayou south of the tracks that had been the east channel. Mercury-rich coal fly ash is a major component of landfills all over the old town. Then we created a police practice range so that lead can contribute to human misery and wildlife extinction.

You are about to “de-landmark” The Mill Race Inn site, one of the last remaining open parcels of land on downtown Geneva’s riverbank. Your arbitrary historical “period of interest” of 1846-1946 is absurdly legalistic. Usually, rules mean nothing to you except on those occasions when you use them to justify your short-sighted poor decisions. Do not make this one of those occasions.

A public park is obviously the best choice for this 1.4-acre parcel on the river ford of an ancient buffalo trace. The Viking ship and Bristol Farmhouse are obvious candidates to join the industrial shop of Alexander and Rystrom to commemorate one fleeting century of one species’ history. The new park should also celebrate Geneva’s natural history, which is centered on the Fox River.

But until the clammers can again find pearls in the river, our debt to the river will remain due but unpaid.


Rod Nelson

3 thoughts on “Back to When the River Made Pearls, not Stenches

  1. Is it too obvious that the best and highest usage of Harrington’s island is as a park? a place of calm surrounded by the mighty Fox River, and one of the very few “open lands” near the business district? It is not big enough to be comparable to Paris on the Seine River, but ….


  2. Hi Tom
    Geneva uses part of Herrington’s Island for a sewage treatment plant and filled a large part of the Fox River’s east channel with a garbage dump, as the maps demonstrate. The “east side RR dump” was not even fenced until 1956. See:
    The fence was placed after 14 out-of-town garbage trucks “snuck in” during a single day! How many tons of coal fly ash lie in that old riverbed and how much mercury has leached into the river? How many times has the City of Geneva checked this? If you answered “zero” you win the prize!
    I have proof that landfill lead toxicity has occurred in Geneva.
    Wheeler Park was once a dump. A favorite sport of the lads was to use the dump for a shooting gallery. I once chastised one of my patients for failing to inform me that he had been shot in the head as a toddler. He was being pushed in a stroller along route 31 near his home on the river across route 31 from the Wheeler site by a Geneva girl of about fourteen. I only learned of the shooting when he met his stroller pusher in the reception room of my office about 10 years ago. Fortunately, the bullet was near spent and it bounced off the stroller before it raised a welt on his head. The toddler was the grandson of a famous Chicago Mayor who had a summer home in St. Charles. You know who I mean.
    Hope you are well!


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