New Boston Illinois
Above is a panoramic view of New Boston as seen from across the river. The image is a link; click on it to load a much larger copy that you can scroll through.
Just the Facts
NOTE: The data that follows derives primarily from the 2000 U.S. census. Comparative data for the U.S. at large and for the St. Louis metro area are presented to establish perspective. St. Louis was chosen because it is the largest city on the river as well as smack dab in the middle.
Some people like fish and some people don't. The people I know who don't like fish say they don't like the smell. I like fish; that is I really like to eat fish. I even like to catch fish sometimes, especially if I know I'm going to be eating fresh fish at the end of the day. Fishing can be fun. It's exciting. It's relaxing. It's a great way to experience the natural environment. But for some men (this seems to be a male specific problem) fishing can also be an addiction. It's just like gambling. Click on the panorama above and look closely at the enlarged photo. On the left side you'll see a sheltered picnic table; to the left of that is a parked truck with an empty trailer. Now look to the right of the table right down by the water. There's two more trucks with empty trailers. Continue to look right and, there in front of a tree, is a red truck with an empty trailer. Just above that truck is a blue truck with an empty trailer, and then still further to the right on the other side of the boat ramps is yet another truck with an empty trailer. That's six empty trailers. That means there were six boats out on the river at the time I took this photo. Each boat was most likely carrying two or three fishermen. That means there were probably about fifteen men out on the river that afternoon. Why is this unusual you ask? It was January! There was ice on the river! The temperature was below freezing! These are your real hardcore addicts, and New Boston Illinois is where they go to get their fix.
New Boston is located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Iowa Rivers, and Eliza Creek. (The panorama above was taken from the mouth of the Iowa River). Eliza Creek comes in from the northeast behind and above the town and creates Boston and Sturgeon Bays as it finally meets the Mississippi. In the panorama above all the RVs and trailers you see on the left are camped in Sturgeon Bay Park. They belong to the addicts. As you can see, the park is full year-round -- even in January. So, if you think about it, you can say that the little town of New Boston with a population of just 632 has a bunch of addicts living in the city park. What's more, the town encourages them; to the left is a photo of the banners the town hung from the city lamp posts. Towns along the Mississippi with populations ten times that of New Boston are likely to have a public boat ramp. They might even have two ramps. New Boston has four boat ramps. Sounds like New Boston is a pretty fishy place; there's more.
Most folks who like to eat fish consider smoked fish a delicacy -- this is possibly another fishy addiction. There are few businesses left along the Mississippi that still smoke fish and know how to do it right. From St. Louis going north I count five. On the upper river there are two specific fish, sturgeon and spoonbill, that are highly prized as pure smoked heaven. J & H Fish and Specialities Inc. in New Boston is one of the last sources of superb smoked fish on the Upper Mississippi, and the primary reason I think of New Boston as a fishy destination. A visit to New Boston for me always includes a visit to J&H. If spoonbill is out-of-season and they're out of sturgeon, you can still go away happy with some smoked catfish. St. Louis to New Boston is just short of 200 miles; yes indeed, worth the trip.
Ok, I've gotten carried away with the fish theme, let me move on. Andrew Jackson is well remembered as a populist president, war hero and financial reformer. He is not so well remembered as a virulent racist. Jackson set as a goal for his presidency the relocation or extermination of all Native Americans east of the Mississippi. In his first year as president he signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. At this time the area in northern Illinois surrounding New Boston was originally Fox territory supposedly ceded via questionable treaties thirty years earlier. Federal land grants, pioneering settlers and President Jackson brought war to the region in 1832. Now known as the Black Hawk war for its leader. Black Hawk's defeat in the Massacre at Bad Axe cleared the way for settlement in earnest and New Boston was founded in 1834. The young lawyer Abe Lincoln (who also fought as a militiaman in the Black Hawk war) did the original survey of the town; a fact the present residents proudly point out on the road sign welcoming visitors.
New Boston is well off the beaten track. Most cities and towns along the river are located on a road that follows the river. The Great River Road passes through most of them -- in one side and out the other. New Boston however is at the terminus of a spur that enters town from the east perpendicular to the river. You have to be going there to get there and you have to leave the way you came. This means New Boston doesn't get much in the way of transient traffic; nobody ever passes through town. As a result New Boston doesn't have a McDonald's or other similar form of urban blight. If you make it to New Boston and you're hungry you'll have to eat good food in a real restaurant and you'll have to take your time. New Boston doesn't seem to be in a hurry.
New Boston is a classic "Main Street" town. The road into town (state highway 17) becomes the town's one business street with residential side streets splitting off on either side. Main street has a few abandoned store fronts, but otherwise appears healthy with a gas station, grocery store, post office, church and a couple restaurants. Dominating the town at the waterfront is a grain elevator owned and operated by Cargil. Fishing may be New Boston's passion, but farming and farm related industry pays the bills. In the panorama above you can see the Cargil elevator and the dolphins at the river's edge where barges tie up to take on a load of grain. In the early winter you can see the trucks lined up along the road waiting their turn to unload. There's always a bit of grain spilled in the process. Above the water birds come to glean the spills while under the surface the catfish cue up just below the elevator to collect their share of the bounty that drifts down with the current. A good place to try your luck fishing -- a few hundred yards down river from a grain elevator.
The river at New Boston is wide and blue, full of islands and side sloughs and large back waters that extend through lowlands on either side of the river. It's a beautiful natural area where the river flows free. New Boston is five miles down river from lock and dam 17 and above the dam pool at lock 18 in Burlington. Much of the surrounding wetlands near the confluence of the Iowa and Mississippi rivers is part of the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge. Port Louisa is part of the larger Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge Complex which has as its goals: "...to conserve and enhance the quality and diversity of fish and wildlife and their habitats, to restore floodplain functions in the river corridor, and to provide wildlife-related recreational experiences for the public." The Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge is dear to my heart. It extends in patches along the Mississippi valley from just above Cape Girardeau Missouri in the south to just above New Boston in the north. In St. Louis we live near the Two Rivers section of the Refuge. The Refuge is most beautiful and bountiful in the Port Louisa section near New Boston.