by Jessica Waytenick •

Address: Island in the Mississippi River accessible from gates in Rock Island and Moline, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa

Web Site: or

Hours: Mississippi River Visitor Center Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Admission: Free.  A current U.S. picture ID is needed in order to be permitted on the Island because it is a working military facility for persons 16 and older. If you are an international visitor, contact Visitor Processing at 309-782-0804 approximately three weeks before your visit.

Note: When stopping at the entrance gate, tell them what specific places you will be visiting.

Media Contacts: Kris Leinicke, Arsenal Museum, 309-782-3518 or

LouAnn McCracken, Mississippi River Visitor Center, 309-794-5338 or

Media Note: All news media must be escorted on the Island and should enter at the Moline gate.

The Arsenal Museum tells the history of the island in exhibits and photos, and features a model of Fort Armstrong, the first fort built on the island. It also features a premiere firearm collection. The Arsenal Museum is the second oldest U.S. Army Museum in the country and celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005. In 2006, they opened a Resource Center with over 100,000 historic photographs, manuals, histories, maps, drawings, blueprints, and the WWII green book series.

In 2009, the new children’s room opened. Named “Bridging Our Progress,” it features interactive elements which highlight Rock Island Arsenal’s past and current contributions.

The museum recently updated their permanent Early Island History exhibit. 

The exterior of the room is faced with two faux finishes. The first suggests the rough hewn lumber of Fort Armstrong. The fort was built in 1816 on the western end of the island to protect fur traders and monitor river traffic. A set of custom-made building blocks are available inside the room for younger visitors to assemble a replica Fort Armstrong blockhouse. The other finish suggests the limestone construction of the ten stone shops.

Two computer kiosks provide an interactive experience. Visitors may test their skills at assembling a Model 1903 rifle on one kiosk while the other kiosk provides an inside look into the manufacturing capabilities at Rock Island Arsenal. Two display cases compare and contrast items used by soldiers during the Civil War and those items used by today’s warfighters.

The interactive experience continues beyond the computer screen with a hands-on pulley system. The system demonstrates how pulleys work and how they were used to operate machinery during early manufacturing at Rock Island Arsenal. A favorite element was retained from the previous children’s room. Reproduction clothing of Civil War era and present day military uniforms can be tried on by visitors of all ages. Two life-size mural backdrops provide the perfect setting for a photo opportunity.

The museum is open 12-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

Stop in at the Mississippi River Visitor Center and learn about the river while you watch barges lock through Lock & Dam 15 and see the world’s largest Roller Dam hold back the mighty waters of the Mississippi.  During the summer, the Visitor Center offers guided walking tours of the Lock & Dam by reservations.  Also throughout the year, they offer tours of the historic clock tower on Arsenal Island where groups are able to climb to the top of the tower and see the inner workings on the clock.

Colonel George Davenport came to Rock Island as a civilian who had a contract to supply rations to the soldiers at Fort Armstrong on Arsenal Island.  He supervised construction of the bake oven house where soldiers could bake their bread.  It was the first building on what is now Arsenal Island.  He built a house for his family in 1833-1834 on the north end of Arsenal Island.  It was considered a mansion of its time.  The furnished historic house is open for guided tours in May-October.

Located on the largest island in the upper Mississippi River, the Rock Island Arsenal has played a major role in the supplying of troops during the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korean Conflict, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and today.

From beginnings rooted in the protection of the fur traders in the early 1800's, to its current role as a modern military installation, the Arsenal Island has been an important part of the growth in the Quad Cities. The U.S. Government originally purchased Arsenal Island in 1804 as part of a treaty with the Sauk and Meskwaki Indians. The Island is approximately 3 miles long by 3/4 of a mile wide, with an area of 946 acres.

Also on the Island, visitors can see the National and Confederate Cemeteries, tanks, artillery, and the many buildings built from native limestone that house military and governmental offices. Once on the island, you will feel like you have entered a small city. Also drive by the Quarters One mansion; built in 1871, it’s the former commanding general’s home.

During the Civil War, Arsenal Island was home to a Confederate prison camp, the Rock Island Prison Barracks.  The camp was operational from December 1863 to July 1865 and more than 12,000 Confederate prisoners were held there.Many died of smallpox brought to the prison by the first soldiers to be incarcerated there.Pneumonia and dysentery were common.Conditions were brutal and the facility averaged nearly a hundred deaths a month. The Confederate graves are maintained by the National Cemetery Association and they are located a half-mile down the road from the U.S. National Cemetery.


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