The Rock Island Arsenal is an active US Army facility located on a 946-acre island on the Mississippi River between the Quad Cities of Davenport, Iowa and Rock Island and Moline, Illinois. 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.
The United States acquired title to the island in 1804 through a treaty with the Sauk and Mesquakie Tribes. 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. Another act of Congress established the Rock Island Arsenal in 1862.
The island features many historical attractions and a museum. In 1816, Fort Armstrong was built as part of a system of forts in the Upper Mississippi River 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. A replica of one of the blockhouses is still present on the Island.
The Colonel Davenport House
, built in 1833 for Colonel George Davenport, features guided tours from May through October each Thursday through Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. When the city of Davenport was mapped out, it was named after him. Members of the "Banditti of the Prairie" murdered him in his home on July 4, 1845.
The Colonel Davenport House is a historic house originally built for Colonel George Davenport. Guided tours are available during the summer.
On April 22, 1856, the Railroad Bridge Company completed the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River from the Island to Davenport. 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. Today, a monument marks the location of this bridge.
The first Government Bridge replaced the railroad bridge in 1872. The Government Bridge - used today to cross from Rock Island to Davenport - is built on the same piers as the first Government Bridge. The current bridge, built in 1896, is a double-decker bridge with railroad tracks above and a roadway below. Its swing span rotates 360 degrees to allow river traffic to pass through Lock & Dam 15. This is a unique engineering accomplishment. The bridge is also located next to one of the largest roller dams in the world.
The Mississippi River Visitors Center
, located at Lock & Dam 15, and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District, provides an excellent vantage point to observe and learn about the function of the lock and dam system and the importance of barge traffic on the river. The Visitor Center is open 7 days a week 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Years Day. Lock & Dam Tours are available by reservation and take place Saturdays and Sundays beginning Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
The Mississippi River Visitor Center features educational exhibits about the navigational system of the Mississippi River, as well as a viewing platform to watch the lock and dam at work.
The Rock Island Arsenal Museum
originally opened to the public on July 4, 1905, the museum is the second oldest U.S. Army museum. The primary mission of the museum is to portray the history of Rock Island Arsenal and Arsenal Island. The museum is well known for its significant weapons collection. Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The Rock Island Prison Barracks existed from December 1863 to July 1865. It was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union. Confederate prisoners, totaling 12,192, were held at the prison camp. The Confederate Cemetery is the only tangible remains of the Rock Island Prison Barracks. Of the 12,192 prisoners held at the prison barracks, 1,964 prisoners died. Grave markers identify the individual soldier, his company, and his unit.
The Rock Island National Cemetery is one of 117 national cemeteries operated by the Veterans Administration in 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 24,000 grave markers.