River Towns in the Great West

The Structure of Provincial Urbanization in the American Midwest, 1820–1870

River Towns in the Great West

Between 1820 and the Civil War, the upper Mississippi valley was at the center of national and international attention. At the edge of the northern frontier, this area, known as "The Great West," was the destination of hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the East and from northern Europe. This book analyzes the development, maturation, growth, and sudden decline of the distinctive regional urban-economic system that developed in this area. Drawing from a variety of methods used in historical geography, economic history, systems analysis, and social and urban history, the author analyzes how early settlement patterns were affected by experience, climate, and geography, and, in turn, shaped the initial patterns of economic, urban, and transportation development. As the systems developed, towns became more functionally differentiated and several towns emerged as the more important competitors for regional hinterland control. The center of the analysis focuses on the efforts of these river towns to respond to a variety of settlement, economic, and transport network forces that worked in favor of the regional entrepots of Chicago and St. Louis.


"River Towns in the Great West is a most useful book, one that will have more appeal to historians and economic historians than to the more analytical economists and geographers." Journal of Regional Science

"Timothy R. Mahoney makes a significant contribution...with his interesting and assiduously researched study of town development in the upper Mississippi Valley. By focusing on a regional system, Mahoney extends his analysis beyond the limitations he associates with local history and with urban biography. The result is a sophisticated interpretation of how regional forces shaped the development of river towns....An innovative, perceptive, and persuasive analysis of the rise and fall of river towns in the West." The Journal of American History