Exhibit shows the nautical side of Deere and Butterworth families

Published online: Jul 20, 2009 News John Willard
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Members of the Deere and Butterworth families were just as home on the water as they were supplying machines to help farmers work the land.

The leisurely life they enjoyed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries aboard their steamboat-towed houseboats on the Mississippi River is vividly illustrated at the inaugural exhibit of the new education center of Butterworth Center. The two-acre estate at 1105 8th St., Moline, is the former home of William Butterworth, the third president of Deere & Co., and his wife, Katherine Deere Butterworth.

Titled "Houseboats on the Mississippi," the display features 30 photographs of the boats, their owners, their guests and crew. Other documents as well as a monogrammed silver tea service, monogrammed hand towels and china from the boats also are on view.

Gretchen Small, program director for Butterworth Center since 1986, found most of the photos and artifacts tucked away in closets and storage boxes. She contacted steamboat authorities from Missouri to Minnesota as well as former Deere family staff members to get more history and additional photos.

The exhibit not only is a history of the Deere and Butterworth family houseboats but also offers a glimpse into the lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthy living along the Mississippi River at the turn of the 20th century.

The families' interest in boating ran deep. Charles Deere - the youngest son of John Deere, the inventor of the first successful self-scouring steel plow and the first president of Deere & Co. - acquired his first steamboat, the Mascot, between 1896 and 1898. He used it to push his houseboat, the Time and Tide.

After a fire in April 1900 destroyed the Mascot and Time and Tide, Charles Deere wasted little time in replacing them.

Sometime between 1900 and his death in 1907, he had the houseboat Markatana built. It was towed by the steamer Kalitan, which was built in Rock Island from the hull of an earlier steamboat.

The unusual names Markatana and Kalitan were derived from letters in the names of Charles Deere's wife, Mary, their two daughters, Katherine and Anna, and a family name, Little.

The Markatana and Kalitan probably were docked at Campbell's Island off the East Moline shore. On display is a grocery bill from C.J. Baxter Confectionery and Fruits on Campbell's Island. Dated Aug, 14, 1907, it lists such provisions as two quarts of milk costing 14 cents, two dozen eggs at 40 cents and a quart of ice cream at 30 cents.

With the death of Mary Deere in 1913, the Markatana and Kalitan went to William Butterworth and his wife, Katherine Deere Butterworth. The Butterworths and their guests cruised the Mississippi as far north as Stillwater, Minn., and as far south as Memphis and New Orleans. The steamer Kalitan could hold two automobiles for shore excursions.

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