Rock Island Arsenal is an active US Army facility located on a 946-acre island in the Mississippi River. In 1969, the arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, the original arsenal buildings were designated a National Historic Landmark.
Today, Rock Island Arsenal is our nation's largest government owned and operated arsenal. The importance of the island was identified as early as 1809, when it was set aside as a federal military reservation by an Act of Congress.
In 1816, Fort Armstrong was built as part of a system of forts in the Upper Mississippi Valley. The fort's most important role in keeping the peace was when it served as military headquarters during the Black Hawk War of 1832. It was abandoned in 1836, but remained an ordnance depot until 1845. What we see today is the 1916 replica of one of its blockhouses erected for the fort's centennial celebration.
George Davenport originally came to Rock Island as the sutler for Fort Armstrong. By 1818, he resigned and established a more lucrative trading post on Rock Island. During the Black Hawk War, he served as the quartermaster for the militia and troops. This earned him the honorary title of Colonel and $20,000 in compensation.
In 1833, he built a mansion on Rock Island overlooking the Mississippi. When he lived in the home, the city of Davenport, Iowa, was mapped out and named after him and the first meeting to bring the railroad to the area was held. Members of the "Banditti of the Prairie" murdered him in his home on July 4, 1845.
On April 22, 1856, the Railroad Bridge Company completed the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River. This was a wooden bridge with five spans and a swing span at mid-channel. Fifteen days after it was opened, the steamboat Effie Afton struck the bridge. The Effie Afton was destroyed, and part of the bridge was burned. This incident led to a famous court case that pitted steamboat interests against railroad interests. Abraham Lincoln, then a Springfield lawyer, defended the railroad. The trial ended in a hung jury. The US Supreme Court eventually decided a subsequent suit in December 1862, and the bridge remained operational. The first Government Bridge of 1872 replaced it. Today, a monument marks the location of this bridge.
The Government Bridge that we cross today from Rock Island Arsenal to Davenport, Iowa, was built in 1896. It is a double-decker bridge with double railroad tracks above and a roadway below. It was built on the same piers as the first Government Bridge of 1872. Its swing span that can rotate 360 degrees for river traffic is a unique engineering accomplishment.
An Act of Congress established Rock Island Arsenal in 1862. Major Charles P. Kingsbury, the first Commanding Officer of Rock Island Arsenal, located and designed three buildings for the arsenal. In 1867, the Clock Tower Building was the only one completed. Today, it is the home of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District.
Brevet Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman, the second Commanding Officer of Rock Island Arsenal, redesigned the arsenal on a much grander scale. For his contributions from 1865 to 1871, he is known as the "Father of Rock Island Arsenal." From 1871 to 1886, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel W. Flagler oversaw the construction of the arsenal buildings upon Rodman's death.
Rodman designed the ten stone shops at the center of the island. The five buildings in the south row were designated "arsenal row," and were designed for the manufacture and overhaul of general ordnance material. The five buildings in the north row were designated "armory row," and were designed for the manufacture and overhaul of small arms.
Rodman also designed living quarters for himself and his military assistants. Quarters One, an Italianate villa, was completed in 1871. It has 20,000 square feet of floor space divided into more than 50 rooms. It is considered the second largest single-family government residence next to the White House.
The Rock Island Prison Barracks existed from December 1863 to July 1865. It was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union. A total of 12,192 Confederate prisoners were held at the prison camp. The Confederate Cemetery is the only tangible remains of the Rock Island Prison Barracks. A total of 1,964 prisoners died. Each grave marker identifies the individual soldier, his company, and his unit.
The Rock Island National Cemetery is one of 117 national cemeteries operated by the Veterans Administration throughout the United States. Originally established in 1863 as the post cemetery for Union prison guards at the Rock Island Prison Barracks, this cemetery is among the 20 oldest national cemeteries. The cemetery covers 70 acres and has approximately 23,000 to 24,000 grave markers representing 29,000 burials. It is among the 30 largest national cemeteries in terms of number of burials.