As part of Moline’s weeklong celebration of its 150th anniversary, several well-known Quad Citizens will portray historic Moliners, in a series of free trolley tours.

The Moline 150th anniversary historic trolley tours will be held Tuesday and Wednesday between 9 a.m. and noon. (photo: Bryan Bobb)

The tours run every half-hour from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23 and Wednesday Aug. 24. They will begin and end at the John Deere Pavilion, River Drive and 15th Street, Moline.

Lora Adams, artistic director (and co-owner) of Moline’s Black Box Theatre (1623 5th Ave.) was asked by the city earlier this month for recommendations on actors who could be available during the day, and provide both period costumes and short monologues for the characters.

Lora Adams is co-owner and artistic director of Moline’s Black Box Theatre.

“Happily, people said ‘yes’ to me, because I was having a bit of a stroke,” she said Sunday. Adams had recently loaned several costumes to Moline’s Spotlight Theatre (for their upcoming “The Producers”), and was given a book on famous Moliners who are buried at Riverside Cemetery.

“Bottom line is, you will know who each of them are and what their contributions were to this area,” she said of the trolley tours.

One of the goals was to help diversify the historic figures featured – “not just men, not just white,” Adams said. The tours will start with John Deere at Deere Pavilion and each character will give a brief history of themselves, and get off the trolley for the next stop.

The public will meet pioneers and founders like John Deere and David Sears, who converted Moline’s natural waterpower into a mighty industrial enterprise on the Mississippi River. You will also meet a former slave who helped found a church, Moline’s first female doctor, a river-loving poet and a World War II hero from the Floreciente neighborhood.

AME church founder

The former slave – Anne Richie – never knew her original last name, because she shared the surname with the people who owned her, Adams said. She went on to be one of the founders of Moline’s African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1227 7th Ave.

“She lost her mother at an early age,” Cynthia Johnson, who will portray Anne, said. “She was a strong woman of faith. It was her faith that carried her through her struggles. That’s what her mother taught her, that she should be strong.”

Cynthia Johnson plays former slave Anne Richie, with Mischa Hooker (left) as John Deere and Doug Kutzli as David Sears, on Aug. 21, 2022 (photo by Jonathan Turner).

Anne was a slave in Kentucky, and met her husband Henry (also a slave in the same family), and had eight children. After the Civil War, they moved to Moline, Johnson said. “She remained a strong member of the community.”

The first female doctor in Moline, Jane Spencer Miller (1831-1912), was a homeopathic physician, focusing on natural (and non-medicinal) remedies. Susan Perrin-Sallak plays her.

The tour will finish with Abbie Gould, who wrote several books of poetry about the area.

Moline Mayor Sangeetha Rayapati was “very adamant about us being far more inclusive about our history, and so we are,” Adams said. “Everybody just always assumes it was just John Deere and that was the end of the story.”

All the reenactors will put their own spin on the history, she noted. “It literally came together in less than two weeks.”

Get more info on Moline’s 150th anniversary celebration at Moline150.com.

“I just really believe too that the Black Box needs to be a good neighbor,” said Adams, who also is on the Moline Centre committee. “I’ve been busy, but the bottom line is, I want to be a good neighbor. There’s going to be so much going on, on River Drive.”

Harnessing water power

David Sears came to Moline in 1836, and was inspired by the Mississippi River to use its power.

“If he could harness that power, he could grind grain, saw lumber and make many other things,” said Doug Kutzli, who plays him. “He wasn’t generating electricity. He was using water power to turn the mills.”

Doug Kutzli (right) as David Sears, Cynthia Johnson as Anne Richie, and Mischa Hooker as John Deere, Aug. 21, 2022 at Moline’s Black Box Theatre (photo by Jonathan Turner).

He built the first dam, from the Moline shore to Arsenal Island. The Sears mills (the first powered by the river) gave the city its name, based on the French word “moulin,” meaning city of mills. Moline was originally founded in 1848, and incorporated as a city in 1872 (Sears died in 1884 and Deere in 1886).

“It was the draw of the promise of water power that brought other people — including John Deere — to the area,” Kutzli said.

“The lumber he was able to produce from his mill built the first court house,” he said of Sears. “It also built the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi. When he arrived here, there were only three houses. He bought one of them, and a strip of land for $1,500. The land was from 1st Street to 15th Street in Moline.”

Sears was one of the largest employers in the area, and he was the first postmaster, Kutzli said.

It’s satisfying to embody such an important person, and something really different, he said.

The most famous Moliner

Mischa Hooker will play John Deere, perhaps the most famous Moliner ever.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “One of the interesting things, he married Demarius Lamb in Vermont, and she died years later and he then married her sister, who was like 60 years old at that point. It’s not like sort of a predatory younger sister.”

Moline artist Jon Burns created a number of portraits for Moline’s sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), including farm implement pioneer John Deere.

“I do think it shows a compassionate side, where he’s taking care of people, and not being just a businessman,” Hooker said.

“As an actor, too, no one thinks they’re the villain of their own story. There’s a sympathetic side,” he said. “On the one hand, he’s a hero in the community. On the other hand, what are his personal characteristics? You want to see him as a person, first and foremost. It’s fun. I didn’t come from this area, so I didn’t learn about John Deere in school.”

Deere actually provided the seed money for the AME church, Adams said. He served as the city’s second mayor, elected in 1873, serving two years. Moline-based Deere & Co. in 2021 had $44 billion in total revenues, and over 75,000 employees worldwide.

What’s it like playing a real person?

“I absolutely love it,” Johnson (who embodied the legendary singer Billie Holliday at Black Box) said of playing a real person. “It’s a great opportunity to challenge myself to do something. But also because slaves and descendants of slaves didn’t have a voice at all. They didn’t have any real records on the books.

“Anne Richie, who had an amazingly good attitude through the struggles of her life as a slave — and all the horrific losses she suffered, her attitude was good,” she said. “What she learned from her mother was strong, and seeded her into the foundations and roots of her belief and her faith, and that’s what carried her through. That’s typical through African-American history, about the strong faith that’s kept us through the struggles.

“It’s really good to play, because there hasn’t been a voice, but the commonalities between one slave and the next is pretty close,” Johnson said. “The fact that she broke out of that typical box and became a strong community leader is really fun to play — to give a perspective on that.”

Adams said Richie’s life mattered, not having it defined by slavery.

“I find that really interesting about her,” she said. “That she was as strong-willed as she was, and with all she lost family-wise, she was so famioly oriented.”

“And never ashamed,” Johnson said. “She took it as an opportunity to go beyond that. So that’s cool.”

How to reserve a seat

Free tickets for the trolley tours are first come, first served, and registration is required online HERE or by calling (309) 524-2007. For more information on Sesquicentennial events, visit the Moline 150 Facebook page.