On the Mississippi riverbank in Western Illinois, Moline is part of the Quad Cities urban area that straddles the Illinois-Iowa state line.
Moline is renowned for its manufacturing heritage, which can be traced back to 1848, when the inventor and entrepreneur John Deere (1804-1886) relocated his steam plow company here.
John Deere is still headquartered in Moline and remains the largest employer in the area, with a planter factory on the riverfront, while there’s a harvester facility a few minutes away in East Moline.
Deere and his descendants have left a lasting legacy, which can be discovered at historic houses and on a walking tour of the preserved downtown.
Naturally the Mississippi is a big attraction in its own right, while the fabled Rock Island Arsenal is linked to the city by a bridge.
1. John Deere Factory Tour
Two John Deere manufacturing facilities are open to the public for tours in the Quad Cities.
These are among the most modern and efficient factory environments in the world, and both tours guide you through every stage of the manufacturing process for John Deere’s harvesters and planters.
East Moline is home to the John Deere Harvester Works, where you can take a free 1.5 hour guided tour to see combines and front end equipment being assembled.
Almost like a small town, this factory has a workforce of 3,000 people. Just west of downtown Moline, at 501 River Drive is where you’ll find the company’s Seeding Group.
On a free tour here you’ll witness MaxEmerge 5 and ExactEmerge planters being made. All tours are booked on a first-come, first-served basis, and reservations need to be made at least 48 hours in advance.
2. John Deere Pavilion
For a crowd-pleasing introduction to the past, present and future of John Deere and agriculture in general, make for this attraction where downtown Moline meets the waterfront.
The John Deere Pavilion explains how Deere used his blacksmith skills to revolutionize the farming industry in the 19th century.
A whole fleet of John Deere biggest machines is on show, including tractors, dozers and combines, and you’ll get to sit in the cab, find out how they’re manufactured and learn their many different roles around the world.
Touchscreen displays show these machines in action, and you can even take one for a test drive, using the same simulators used by John Deere’s prospective customers.
3. Celebration Belle
No doubt that the essential way to travel the Mississippi is on a paddlewheeler, and you’ll find one docked right on Moline’s riverfront.
Now approaching its fifth decade, the Celebration Belle is the largest excursion boat on the Upper Mississippi, able to hold 750 passengers.
You can pick from a whole menu of cruises, from narrated sightseeing trips and themed lunch cruises, to romantic dinners, overnight packages and all-day voyages.
There’s entertainment on board for the dinner cruises, while the views from the top deck are nothing short of spectacular.
4. Butterworth Center and Deere-Wiman House
Four generations of John Deere’s descendants resided at this pair of refined mansions in Moline’s leafy Overlook District.
Built in 1872 and 1892 respectively, the Deere-Wiman House and Butterworth Center are open for tours and rest in several acres of formal gardens and walkways.
The Deere-Wiman House was built by John’s son, Charles for his wife Mary, and children. Inside are some wonderful historic details, like an elevator from the 1890s, a Kimball pipe organ (1910s) and a spa-style multi-nozzle shower.
A block away, Charles ordered Butterworth Center as a wedding gift for his youngest daughter Katherine and her husband William Butterworth.
Important features include a wonderful pipe organ in the living room, as well as the library from 1917 which has an 18th-century Venetian ceiling fresco, one of just a handful in the United States.
5. Rock Island Arsenal Museum
The river island between Moline and Davenport is a real source of fascination, with a military history that goes back to 1816.
Arsenal Island has manufactured ordnance and military equipment since the 1880s and is still the largest government-owned manufacturing arsenal in the country.
The base here is also the headquarters of the First Army, as well as the US Army’s Center of Excellence for Additive Manufacturing.
Even the museum is historic, having been founded as long ago as 1905. This is a must visit, not least because of a vast collection of small firearms.
You’ll learn all about Arsenal Island’s long history, discover its changing manufacturing processes and see a huge cache of weapons, several of which were used at the Battle of Little Bighorn (1876).
6. Downtown Moline Heritage Walking Tour
No surprise given its rich industrial history, but for architecture enthusiasts downtown Moline deserves as much time as you can afford.
Also known as Moline Centre, this area, bounded roughly by 12th and 18th streets, and 6th Avenue and the Mississippi, has witnessed a great deal of development since the 2000s.
But despite these changes there’s an amazing wealth of history, with numerous buildings reaching back deep into the 19th century.
You’ll find imposing brick industrial buildings, ornate commercial complexes, preserved warehouses, Italianate housing blocks, a Carnegie library and plenty more architecture in a spectrum of styles, from Queen Anne to Colonial Revival, Prairie School and Art Deco.
You can download a labeled map on the Moline city website, with detailed descriptions of 78 different sites around the downtown, many with interesting ties to the Deere family or Deere & Company.
7. Channel Cat Water Taxi
Also docking on the riverfront in Moline is a seasonal water taxi service operated by MetroLINK as a public transit option.
Running Memorial Day through Labor Day, the service was first launched in 1995 and uses three 47-foot military transport barges driven by 250-horsepower John Deere engines.
The Channel Cat has four stops, two on each side of the Mississippi, and is a fine way to make the crossing for a day out in Davenport and Bettendorf.
The service departs from Riverbend Commons in Moline, stopping at the Isle Hotel in Bettendorf, then Lindsay Park in East Davenport, before returning to Moline’s John Deere Commons.
8. TaxSlayer Center
Going by several sponsorship names since it opened in 1993, this indoor arena opposite the John Deere Pavilion in Moline is a key location for sports and entertainment in the Quad Cities.
On the agenda at the TaxSlayer Center is a wild assortment of Broadway musicals, family shows (Disney in Ice), concerts, festivals, WWE wrestling events and ceremonies for local institutions.
Elton John, Paul McCartney, Kiss and Cher are just a handful of artists who have performed here in recent years.
Since it opened, the TaxSlayer Center has also been the home of several sports franchises. When we wrote this article the tenants were Quad City Storm of the SPHL and the Indoor Football League’s Quad City Steamwheelers, while the Missouri Valley Conference Women’s Basketball Tournament was an annual fixture in March.
9. Sylvan Island
Joined to Moline by a span from a once larger steel bridge cast in 1868, this little forested island in the Mississippi has an interesting industrial past.
For one thing, Sylvan Island was a peninsula until the channel was excavated, first as a source of water power for the Rock Island Arsenal, and then to turn the hydroelectric turbines that powered Davenport’s first electric lights in 1888.
From the 19th century until 1956 Sylvan Island was home to a Republic Steel mill, and on the trails you can still see vestiges of buildings torn down more than 60 years ago.
There’s a six-mile trail network to discover, on foot or by bike, with plenty of places to stop for a rest or picnic, as well as fishing spots and nature-viewing areas.
10. Lagomarcino’s Confectionery
This chocolate shop and ice cream parlor in downtown Moline has been a local institution since 1908.
The founder, Angelo Lagomarcino arrived in the United States from Italy in 1896 and set up the business after starting a family with his wife Luigia.
Lagomarcino’s Confectionery is now in its fourth generation and harks back to a time when Moline had a big city bustle, with no fewer than seven theaters within walking distance of the shop.
The menu hasn’t changed too much, with a range of tempting chocolates, as well as homemade ice cream, malts, egg creams, ice cream sodas and of course the famed hot fudge sundae with its bittersweet fudge sauce.
There’s also a choice of savory food like soups, salads and sandwiches, two favorites being baked ham and swiss and egg salad, both on Swedish rye.
11. Great River Trail
If you can’t get enough of the Mississippi you can set off along this 60-mile trail from Sunset Park in Rock Island as far upriver as Savanna.
As well as tracing the Moline riverfront, the Great River Trail follows the Mississippi through peaceful waterfront communities and blissful open country, giving you dreamy views of the great river all the way.
Laid with asphalt, the trail is suitable for bikers and hikers and the level terrain makes it a leisurely walk or ride.
At the city of Fulton there’s a six-mile sightseeing loop through the city streets, taking in the famous windmill.
12. Bass Street Landing Plaza
This piece of previously industrial riverfront on the north side of downtown Moline has been completely revitalized in the last couple of decades.
With riverfront hotels and a cluster of restaurants, Bass Street Landing is now a place to stay overnight, dine and be entertained.
At the heart of all this is a bustling urban plaza, established as a venue for outdoor events throughout the summer.
There’s a raised stage with a canopy on the west side, while the plaza’s eastern approach has a zero-grade entry fountain.
This is adorned with sculptures of children fishing, evoking the Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn days and serves as a popular splash pad for kids on hot summer days.
13. Rock Island County Historical Society
For another glimpse of the area’s fascinating history, the Rock Island County Historical Society maintains two beautiful old buildings, as well as a library in Moline.
The centerpiece is the Atkinson-Peek House, built in 1877-78 by Edmund B. Atkinson, a shipper at Deere & Co.. The house is in the Italianate style with later Colonial Revival modifications from 1910.
There are original features throughout the interior, including woodwork, fireplaces, stairs and tilework, as well as many pieces of period furniture from the turn of the 20th century.
Just across the road is the Carriage House Museum, in a structure built by the Burton F. Peek family in 1910.
Inside is a fine display of historic horse-drawn vehicles, as well as harnesses, collars and yokes. These can be viewed by appointment or during the open houses held once a month from May to December.
14. Stephens Park
You wouldn’t know it from the street, but hiding in this urban park on the west side of the Butterworth Center is a steep and wooded ravine.
You can explore this feature on a mountain bike or on foot via a tight and twisting 1.7-mile loop. For people on two wheels this is a little trickier than a beginner’s trail thanks to its stiff climbs and sudden switchbacks.
Elsewhere Stephens Park is a classic neighborhood park, endowed with playgrounds, sand volleyball courts, baseball fields and basketball courts.
On summer evenings you can also throw a picnic blanket down to enjoy a program of free concerts here.
15. Riverside Park
Despite the name, this 50-acre park is set slightly in from the Mississippi riverbank. This space used to be part of the historic cemetery on the south side, before being sold to the city by the cemetery board from 1909.
Opened in 1851 the Riverside Cemetery is the resting place of John Deere, as well as the son of Charles Dickens, Francis Dickens (1844-1886).
As for Riverside Park, this is packed with amenities. A popular one in summer is the Riverside Family Aquatic Center, while there’s also a beautiful set of formal gardens with a greenhouse raised in 2007, as well as a skating rink in winter, two playgrounds, a fishing area and facilities for tennis, horseshoes and sand volleyball.