The Port of Burlington is the seat of Iowa's Des Moines County. On the western shores of the Mississippi River, the Port of Burlington is about 306 kilometers (190 miles) west-southwest of Chicago and 124 kilometers (76 miles) west-northwest of Peoria, Illinois. Located in southeastern Iowa, the Port of Burlington is the hub for the micropolitan area that includes West Burlington and Middleton, Iowa, and Gulf Port, Illinois. The 2000 US Census reported that almost 27 thousand people lived in the Port of Burlington, and more than 50 thousand called the micropolitan area home.
While the Port of Burlington's early economy depended largely on lumber and pork packing, it has grown as a center for manufacturing. Manufacturing plants employ a huge portion of the workforce with companies like General Electric, Case Corporation, Champion Spark Plugs, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and Lance Private Brands driving the local economy. In 1997, a riverboat gambling casino opened to add excitement for residents and visitors alike.
Before Europeans came to the area, the future Port of Burlington was a Mesquakie village that the indigenous people called Shoquoquok. Known by outsiders as the Sac and Fox tribes, the natives found an abundance of flint in the area from which they made tools and weapons.
The Port of Burlington area became part of the United States with the Louisiana Purchase. Thomas Jefferson created two groups of explorers to map the new territory. In 1803, Lewis and Clark were charged with exploring the Missouri River, and Zebulon Pike was to explore the Mississippi River.
Pike and his party landed and raised the US flag on the bluffs below the future Port of Burlington. Although he recommended a fort be built at the site, his recommendation was ignored.
In 1829, the American Fur Company opened a post near the future Port of Burlington, but noticeable settlement did not follow immediately. In 1833, the US Army defeated the Sac and Fox tribes that Black Hawk had led in hopes of regaining their lost territories. In 1834, an early settler named the city after his hometown (Burlington, Connecticut).
The only appropriate landing for steamboats of the time, the Port of Burlington was briefly the capital of the Wisconsin territory and the Iowa territory. By the mid-1800s, the growing city was home to over three thousand people. When the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad started operating in 1856, the Port of Burlington became a busy railroad center.
During the latter half of the 19th Century, the Port of Burlington was a busy river port, with steamboat traffic moving people and cargoes on the Mississippi. The old Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad, which operated from 1848 until 1970, merged into the Burlington Northern Railroad. The Burlington railway then merged into the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway in 1997. Today, one of BNSF most important east-west routes crosses the Mississippi River at the Port of Burlington.
Today, church steeples dominate the Port of Burlington's skyline. The tallest, St. John's Church, stands on a hill overlooking downtown. The only taller structure is the Great River Bridge that rises 113 meters (370 feet) above the Mississippi.
The modern Port of Burlington boasts the Heritage Hill National Historic District, an area with many 19th Century houses that have been restored. Snake Alley is an 1894 brick street that was constructed so that horse-drawn carriages could climb the steep hill to the riverbank.