Oquawka revisited

I was roaming around the Midwest recently and decided to stop at a small, Mississippi River town in Illinois called Oquawka, a place I had been once before.

Its name makes it memorable enough, but for me it was a return to a spot that will always stick in my mind because of what happened there before daybreak on September 20, 2003.

I had arrived the previous day by canoe, on my way from Minnesota to New Orleans.  I paddled into the town’s small marina.  It was very welcoming, several public docks and a boat ramp protected from the wind and waves by small breakwaters.  The perfect spot to leave the canoe for the night.  And I was happy to find a small grassy area nearby to set up my tent.

It was my 54th day on the river and I was in that really sweet stretch through the Midwest where there’s another nice friendly river town around nearly every bend.  After tying up at the dock, I quickly and easily settled into what had become a comfortable routine for me:  Set up the tent and scout out the town for a nice place, or places, to stop for a few beers and new friends and a huge dinner.  And keep an eye out for someplace to have breakfast in the morning.  In Oquawka everything I needed was within easy walking distance of the river.

My first stop was at The Fisherman’s Bar and Grill, a nice unpretentious place on Schuyler Street a couple blocks from my tent.  It was a Friday night so the place was busy. The owner let me use his electricity to charge up my cell phone and he gave me a beer cosy with the bar’s name on it as a souvenir of my visit.

After that I walked a block or so for dinner at what is today called Ye Old Fish House, at the foot of Schuyler right by the river.  When I stopped there in 2003 it was called the Oquawka Diner.

Full and content I ambled back to the tent for a good night’s sleep.

A few hours later the memorable happened.  In the pre-dawn darkness I woke up to a huge racket.  It sounded like every guy for miles around with a pickup truck and a boat and a dog had descended on the town boat ramp, a mere couple hundred feet from me, intent upon making as much noise as possible.  I peered out of the tent.  The place was mobbed with folks launching their boats.  Boat engines raced, dogs barked, and doors slammed.

In a half hour or so the hubbub ended.  Everyone had sped off by boat and I got back to sleep.  Then, at the crack of six am all hell broke loose again.  This time in the form of continuous loud gun volleys out on the river.  I finally gave up on sleep and dragged myself out of the tent.  I packed everything back into the canoe and headed down the street to the diner for breakfast.

And I asked the waiter what all the early morning activity was.  First day of duck hunting season, he replied, started at six.  And it was the opening of the season over in Iowa, way across the river, not on the Illinois side, where I was.  I was glad I hadn’t camped in Iowa for the night!

I’m happy to report that Oquawka, at least the small bit that I am familiar with,  is much the same as it was when I first visited it 14 years ago.  The restaurant is still there, the bar and grill is still there, and the waterfront remains the same quiet laid back place I found it to be years ago.

Here’s the view from my tent of the town marina back in 2003:103_0362

And the same view in 2017:IMG_4549c

And below are 2017 shots of The Fisherman’s Bar and Grill and Ye Old Fish House:IMG_4555cIMG_4553c


About Ron Haines

Find me at https://ronhaines.wordpress.com/
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12 Responses to Oquawka revisited

  1. Denise Hurt says:

    Well, nice to see some things stay the same. Time for a road trip to check out everywhere else you stopped on that trip!


  2. DJ says:

    Having fun yet????? Enjoy Ron !


  3. Jay Lox says:

    Oquawka a great example of Mississippi river Americana…..sit on the banks of the Mississippi in a lawn chair and watch the river and it’s travelers float by.One can feel life’s trials and tribulations take a second seat to relaxation…


  4. Sharon Banta says:

    Glad you got to stop and had a good experience in our little town. We live North of town. SBanta


  5. Peggy Peterson says:

    I, too, like to say the name, Oquawka, and I enjoyed this report of your recent visit! Makes me want to go back to the book to reread that part of your trip. Remembering Dad was there once, too, makes it a warm place.


  6. Christine says:

    I have family in Oquawka! My husband, grandson and I were there in June visiting. Beautiful town and people.


  7. Oquawka was a lousy place to grow up.


  8. Wayne VanAuken says:

    We have a cabin there and it’s our home away from home, love it!!


  9. Jamie Buckley says:

    I ❤ Oquawka.


  10. Bobbye says:

    We picked Oquawka as our place to retire. Good friends and easy living. We now winter in Arizona but good ole’ Oquawka will always be home. I actually remember you camping, as we are “River Rats. Thanks for visiting us, come again soon and remember serenity always lies here!


    • Ron Haines says:

      Amazing! You actually saw me there way back then and here we are crossing each others’ paths again today! All the best to you. I’m finally fully retired too (was between jobs when I did that trip) and loving it.


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