Not far over the border from Illinois into Iowa, you’ll find LeClaire, a little community a bit north of Davenport, Iowa, that sits along the Mississippi River. It oozes with charm from every little boutique and specialty shop, each antique market and beverage spot.
Inhabited by Sauk and Fox tribes before being settled by white families around 1830, it was named for Antoine LeClaire, who owned and operated a sandstone quarry. But an even more recognizable name that is linked to this river town is William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody. The American Army Scout, Civil War veteran and showman was born in LeClaire in 1846. He traveled the U.S. and Europe with his famous Wild West show and there’s now a museum in his honor in his hometown.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Lone Star Steamer Display covers the life of Cody and Civil War and Mississippi River history, including housing the last wood-hulled boat used on the Mississippi River. It also features exhibits on other notables — James Buchanan Eads, who engineered the Eads Bridge in St. Louis, and James Ryan, who invented the black box used in aircraft.
The stretch of Cody Road that runs alongside the river is full of opportunities for dining, including the popular Blue Iguana, which specializes in authentic Mexican Cuisine and has outdoor dining with lovely river views. Some other dining highlights in LeClaire are Crane & Pelican, a cafe with classic comfort food in a building that served as an 1851 river pilot home, and Bier Stube, offering homemade sausages and German dishes along with a full bar with many imported brews.
Also along Cody Road, you can sip on beer, wine and spirits. The Green Tree Brewing Co. overlooks the river and has an outdoor deck where you can sample one of several on-tap craft brews. Sports fans can watch the game on a the screen while you munch on complimentary popcorn. Next door you’ll find the The Mississippi River Distilling Co. with handcrafted premium spirits. Tours are available and with a recent change in laws, they now can serve full cocktails in addition to small tastes. The new cocktail room opened in early July. Besides bourbon, rye, gin, whiskey and vodka, they make several seasonal flavored liquors, including Big Peach and Apple Pie.
Just down the road and on the other side of the street, you’ll find Wide River Winery. One of three of the company’s locations, the LeClaire tasting room has an outdoor courtyard where live music can be heard on Friday nights. The courtyard has a partially covered deck with views of the Mississippi River at its widest point.
Above the winery is one of eight guest houses in LeClaire.
“The guest houses are full apartments or houses with functioning kitchens, laundry facilities, dishes and appliance you can use. Some have a large porch, deck or patio with a fire pit and some are modern with old features. They’re ideal for groups,” said Cindy Bruhn, LeClaire tourism manager. In addition to guest houses, LeClaire also has a bed and breakfast and three chain hotels.
LeClaire also is known these days as the home of the television show "American Pickers." While the show's hosts travel the Midwest in search of treasures, the store, Antique Archeology, that started it all is located in LeClaire and open daily. The two-story brick store was a former fabrication shop and is the base for the show that airs on the History Channel. There's also a gift shop that sells "American Pickers" merchandise and a few antiques, some of which have been featured on the TV show.
“We have Antique Archeology, from the "American Pickers" TV show, that draws a lot of people to LeClaire. They come for that and then discover there’s a lot more to see and do in LeClaire,” Bruhn said.
She said visitors often want to know how they can get on the Mississippi River.
“The Twilight River Boat goes from LeClaire to Dubuque, Iowa. It’s upriver and you go through two locks to get there,” she said.
The overnight excursion includes lodging in Dubuque at the Grand Harbor Resort and admission to the Mississippi River Museum. You’ll also hear bits of river history on the tour and may encounter bald eagles, pelicans, egrets and blue herons. A 90-minute sightseeing cruise is also held once a month.