RIA: Installation

A Self-Guided Tour of Rock Island Arsenal

Installation Tour

The history of the Rock Island Arsenal spans over 200 years.  From the time of the rapids first being surveyed by Europeans, to the establishment of a U.S. Army fort, to the powerhouse arsenal it is today, Rock Island Arsenal has withstood the test of time.

This self-guided tour is designed to accompany you through these last two centuries of leaps and bounds.  Learn the history of the Sauk (Sac) and Meskwaki (Fox) Native Americans, the conditions of a prison camp during the Civil War, and the industrial marvel that makes the Rock Island Arsenal one of the nation's greatest national treasures.  Visitors are welcome and encouraged to tour this great American treasure.

From our family here at Rock Island Arsenal to yours — we welcome you.

Important Reminders

  1. The U.S. Army does not endorse nor recommend any third party applications for the purpose of this tour and is not responsible for any license that the user may enter with the developer upon the agreement to install.
  2. Please remember that Rock Island Arsenal is an active military installation. Note that some points on this tour can only be viewed from the outside and some can no longer be seen. Other points have regular business hours. Be security aware and do not wander into restricted areas or locations that are off limits.
  3. Remember to obey traffic laws and obey posted signage.
  4. Use of a mobile device while you are driving is strictly prohibited.
  5. For your own safety, and the safety of the artifacts, please do not climb on any macro artifacts that are shown on this tour.
  6. Pictures are allowed north of Rodman Ave.

To get started on the tour, click one of the tour or interest points on the left or in the menu above (depending on your device).  The number corresponds to the point of interest on your tour sheet.

If you do not have a copy of this self-guided tour, you can do so by clicking below.


Visit the Rock Island Arsenal
The Rock Island Arsenal is an active military installation in Illinois. To visit the installation, a valid Visitor's Pass is required.  Visitors are subject to a cursory background check, and a typical visitor's pass is valid for one year from the date of issue. » Visitor Access Information
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Visitor Access & Control Center: 309.782.1337

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The first bridge that connected Moline, Illinois, to Rock Island (now Arsenal Island) was constructed by David B. Sears. Sears had constructed a small mill dam across the southern channel of the Mississippi River. A second damn completed the route from the Illinois mainland to the island. Because of the flat surface of both dams, wagons were able to traverse over the tops. This point in the navigation of the river allowed ferries to move wagons from Illinois to Iowa across the river by way of a steamboat landing on Benham's Island.

When Sears sold the property back to the federal government, the dams and the mills were destroyed, along with the steamboat landing. As a result, a stone bridge was constructed that connected Moline with Arsenal Island. The last-known map that included the crossing from Moline to Benham's Island was dated 1867. By 1870, the plans for a power dam downstream of the Sears Dam were presented to the War Department.

The railroad crossing at the downstream end of the island from the city of Rock Island to Davenport had already been opened, and a subsequent bridge with a built-in wagon crossing was already being planned. This bridge would be completed in the mid-1870s. The old Moline Bridge would go through several revisions before construction of the span that is used today.

In 1855, David Sears purchased title to Benham's Island, situated near the upper or eastern portion of the larger island of Rock Island (now Arsenal Island). Earlier, in 1846, he had built a stone wall dam which connected Benham's Island with Rock Island. The dam provided water power to his flour mill and several other neighboring businesses on the main island. A road built between the two dams formed part of a wagon route stretching from Moline to the steamboat landing at Benham's Island. From here, wagons were ferried across the river to Iowa.

The Sears' mill and dams built at Rock Island attracted other businesses. The water power brought commerce to the island. In 1847, Sears persuaded John Deere and his partners, Robert N. Tate and John Gould, to settle in Moline along the shore of Sylvan Slough.

Despite their holding of property, Sears and other citizens did not hold legal authority to the land on Rock Island. Because of this, they maintained communication with federal officials in an effort to obtain legal titles to the properties. George Davenport and David Sears were the only two citizens who were able to do so. When Sears sold the property on Rock Island back to the federal government, it was at a cost of $145,175 due to improvements on the property. His original purchase price was somewhere around $44.50.

The Rock Island National Cemetery is one of 130 national cemeteries operated by the Veterans Administration throughout the United States. Established in 1863 as the post cemetery, it is among the 20 oldest national cemeteries. It is also among the 30 largest national cemeteries in terms of number of burials, with almost 30,000 interments.

Rock Island National Cemetery was established in 1863 when an area was set aside to bury Union soldiers who died while serving as guards at the Confederate prisoner of war camp then operated at Rock Island Arsenal.

In 1868, the inspector of national cemeteries reported that the Rock Island cemetery contained 136 remains, including seven unknowns and six women and children. He described it as rectangle of 216 feet by 96 feet, enclosed with a "paling fence."

At the time, the arsenal's commanding officer, Brigadier General Thomas Rodman, indicated that the location of the burial area would ultimately conflict with his plans for extending arsenal buildings. He recommended the remains of individuals currently interred at Rock Island be moved to the upper end of the island; the inspector of national cemeteries further suggested that Civil War casualties interred in Oakdale Cemetery in Davenport, Iowa, be removed to the new site. Subsequent property transfers from the Rock Island Arsenal reservation brought the national cemetery to its present 66.8 acres, 53.3 which are developed.

Today, Rock Island National Cemetery is the final resting place of soldiers who served in the Civil War, as well as the Mexican War, Indian Wars, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Korean War, Operation Desert Storm and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.


General Thomas J. Rodman died 7 June 1871 at 1:30 AM. He was buried on Rock Island Arsenal on 9 June 1871. He was born in Salem, Indiana, on [31 July 1816]. While stationed at Allegheny Arsenal, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he married Miss Martha Black, daughter of Reverend Black of the Episcopalian Church of Pittsburgh. They had two daughters and [five] sons. General Rodman took sick on 15 December 1870, and was attended by Doctor Gregg.


Referred to as the "Father of the Rock Island Arsenal," Brevet Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman, was transferred to Rock Island from Watertown Arsenal, Massachusetts, in July 1865. Rodman had a distinctive vision for the newly founded arsenal, one that emphasized Rock Island as a grand national arsenal that would exceed the distinction of all others.

Rodman's vision called for the construction of ten stone shops at the center of the island, constructed entirely of Joliet limestone. The shops on the north would be the island's armory row, while the shops on the south would be the arsenal row. Rodman, a stickler for aesthetics, also insisted on the construction of his officer's quarters in the same Joliet limestone.

Rodman would not live long enough to see the completion of the arsenal. He died in his quarters on June 7, 1871. His funeral was held in Quarters One, where members of the community poured in to pay their respects. Accounts state that over 100 wagons full of citizens flocked to the arsenal.

Rodman is credited not only for his planning of the Rock Island Arsenal, but for the development of the Rodman Gun. The Rodman Gun would be used in coastal defenses around the United States for many years during his life and following his death.

Rodman is buried at Rock Island National Cemetery. His grave is flanked by three Rodman Guns.

Rock Island Arsenal was at the forefront of the history of tanks in the U.S. Army. That history began in 1919, when RIA was tasked with the assembly of 100 Mark VIII Liberty tanks. The American version of these tanks was only assembled at Rock Island Arsenal, and only three tanks remain today, two of which were produced at the arsenal.

Rock Island Arsenal would be tasked again and again in subsequent decades to assist with assembly and manufacture of tanks and tank parts. This included almost 300 T1E4 light tanks during the interwar years and the early World War II-era M2A1 medium tank. The arsenal also aided in the overhaul, assembly, and production of M3 Lee tanks and the overhaul of the M4A3 Sherman tank.

With an abundance of work being conducted on tracked vehicles such as combat cars, trucks, and tanks, RIA allocated locations on the island to test these vehicles. The initial location for testing was at the Kingsbury hard lot, located on the southwest side of the island. From the interwar years through the Korean War, this lot was used to test the integrity of tracks fitted onto these vehicles.

Since the lot was not dedicated explicitly to the testing of heavy vehicles, a separate test track was established during World War II. The track was used periodically through about 2010. Today, the test track remains in viable condition and is still sometimes used.

The Confederate Cemetery is all that remains from the Rock Island Prison Barracks, which was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union Army during the Civil War. Almost 2,000 prisoners died at the camp. Each gravestone in the Confederate Cemetery identifies the individual soldier and his company and unit. The Veteran Administration maintains the cemetery today.

The Confederate Cemetery covers a rectangular, three-acre parcel of land, bound by Rodman Avenue and a post-and-chain fence to the north, Confederate Avenue to the south, and heavy tree cover to the east and west. A paved walkway extends from Rodman Avenue to the edge of the burial sites, passing a six-foot tall obelisk that the Daughters of the Confederacy dedicated in 2003 to the Confederate veterans who died at Rock Island. At the south end of the grounds, opposite the monument, is the cemetery's flagpole. Four Confederate cannons sit near the entrance, two each on either side of the monument.

The burial area is roughly square and consists of 20 rows of graves running north and south. Although the spacing of each row is identical, the beginning and end of the rows are irregular. In 1908, the Commission for Marking the Graves of Confederate Dead began a program to place distinctive pointed-top marble headstones, inscribed with the name and regimental affiliation of each soldier, on the graves. The graves were previously marked with wooden markers and a few private headstones.

Between 1863 and 1865, the federal government established a second cemetery of a little more than two acres for the burial of Confederate prisoners of war. More than 1,950 soldiers died at the Confederate prison on Rock Island Arsenal, founded there in 1863.

From 1863 to 1865, Rock Island Arsenal was home to one of many Civil War prison camps. As with other camps in the North, the camp at Rock Island was plagued with disease and illness that took the lives of both prisoners and guards. Most of the dead were afflicted with smallpox or dysentery. Confederate prisoners were buried in the old Confederate cemetery that has since been moved. Union guards were buried separately from the Confederate dead at the old guard cemetery near the arsenal's old housing area.

When the arsenal was in its development phase, it was decided that the location of both cemeteries conflicted with the location of future construction. Brigadier General Thomas Rodman, commander of RIA, opted to move the cemeteries to the upper end of the island to their present day location. The Confederate Cemetery included the dead from the original cemetery. The new National Cemetery included dead from the old guard cemetery, as well as dead from the original post cemetery situated near Fort Armstrong.

The older post cemetery was dated to 1836, and was situated near the crossroads of Fort Armstrong Avenue and Beck Road outside the present Rock Island Gate.

In addition to remains from the old guard and post cemeteries, soldiers who had served during the Civil War and had been buried in other local cemeteries were moved to the National Cemetery on Rock Island Arsenal.

No markers remain today of either the old post cemetery, or the original guard cemetery.

Memorial Field

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During World War’s I and II, the Rock Island Arsenal sent civilian employees to Europe to learn valuable information about manufacturing and use of weapon systems. These employees studied machining and manufacturing processes for recoil mechanisms, gun carriages, and stocks. In addition, they learned of conditions in the theater of operations, enabling them to better produce materiel that could meet the needs of our Allies. This greatly improved production and quality of products at the Arsenal.

As with any deployment, it was not without risk. Some of these employees lost their lives being sent into active combat situations. In 1950, Rock Island Arsenal dedicated Memorial Field in memory of these employees who died while serving with the U.S. Armed Forces both in and out of uniform. It is maintained to honor this memory and honor the sacrifice of the civilian workforce today.

Memorial Field was established with a handful of macro artifacts. Today, there are 26 pieces on display, with several others being relocated to the Museum and other more practical locations. Of the 26 pieces, several are foreign pieces developed by nations like China, the Soviet Union, and Germany. Others were employed by the Iraqi military. A few were American produced variants of Allied nation designs. However, most significantly is the quantity of one-of-a-kind pieces at Memorial Field. Examples include the XM70E2 115-mm Rocket Launcher, of which the example at Rock Island Arsenal is the only surviving specimen; the M2A2 “Terra-Star”, and the XM124E2 Howitzer.

The M65 Atomic Cannon is one of only eight remaining guns of its kind and is an example of an atomic capable high-caliber artillery system. It was one of these eight guns that was the only artillery system to fire an atomic shell. The M198 155-mm Howitzer was one of Rock Island Arsenal’s most well-known modern products. The weapon system is still used in numerous NATO nations around the world. The iconic M4A3 Sherman tank is renown the world over for its 70-plus year history and its huge role in World War II.

Today, Memorial Field is the site of many ceremonies and tours emphasizing the legacy of an arsenal that specialized and continues to specialize in efficiency, quality, reliability, and service.
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The ten stone shops were constructed from 1867 to 1893 as part of General Thomas J. Rodman's plan for a national arsenal. The five buildings on the south side were designated as "Arsenal Row" and were used for manufacture and overhaul of personal equipment for troops. The buildings on the north side were designated "Armory Row" and were used for the manufacture and overhaul of small arms.

Rock Island Arsenal was founded on July 11, 1862, when Congress passed an act establishing three new arsenals. The first building erected was Storehouse A, now known as the Clock Tower Building and home to the Rock Island District of the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Rodman envisioned a grand national arsenal for the nation centered around ten stone shops which still stand today.

The five shops to the north were designated as Armory Row, while the five to the south were designated as Arsenal Row. A fire station and barracks flanked the shops to the west. The forge was middle building to the north, and the foundry was the middle building to the south. All of the building were constructed using Joliet limestone.

The first conflict that RIA produced for was the Spanish-American War, when the arsenal manufactured a number of carriages, saddles, and personal equipment for soldiers. During World War I, the arsenal was responsible for producing and retrofitting M1903 Springfield rifles, canteens, carriages, and other equipment. The main production item that immediately followed the war was the Mark VIII Tank, the first American-made tank. RIA produced all 100 American built Mark VIII tanks in just over one year.

Rock Island Arsenal has been active during every U.S. conflict since its birth, and has continually expanded into its current-day operations. From 1862 through today, the Arsenal and its workforce have upheld the creed "Forging the Strength of a Nation."

During the Civil War, Rock Island Arsenal became the site of one of the largest military prisons in the North, since policy dictated that prisoners be removed as far as possible from the scenes of hostility. This policy was ideal for the arsenal, because it was owned by the government, it was hardly used, and it was secure. Construction of the prison camp began in July of 1863, and the first prisoners were received that December.

During the Civil War, the Union operated 21 prison camps, including one on Rock Island Arsenal. The camp was situated in an area on RIA that now includes half of "Officer's Row" residences, and the golf course west of East Avenue and east of Gillespie Avenue.

The barracks at the camp were 22 x 100 feet in size, arranged in six rows, housing approximately 120 prisoners each. The total capacity for the camp was around 10,000. A total of 12,215 prisoners called the camp their temporary home between December 1863 and June 1865. Of those prisoners, nearly 2,000 died at the camp. Most of the fatalities were due to dysentery and smallpox. Immediately after the first prisoners arrived at Rock Island, a brutal cold snap reportedly led to temperatures dipping down to --30 below zero, which resulted in some prisoners dying of exposure.

After the end of the war, prisoners were released from Rock Island at the gates of the installation. The remaining barracks were turned over to the War Department and Rock Island Arsenal, and were later demolished. Few remains of deceased prisoners were returned to the South, as few were requested or had the means to be returned. Most of those who died in captivity were buried at the Confederate Cemetery on the arsenal.

All that remains of the prison camp today is a stone monument located on the riverfront that sits on the far northeast corner of where the camp used to be located.

"On behalf of the officers, men and civilian workers, I accept this sundial for the U.S. Army Weapons Command. As a symbol of time, the stuff that life is made of, this sundial will be a constant reminder that given the time, the many wonderful people of the U.S. Army Weapons Command and its Rock Island Arsenal will solve today's and tomorrow's problems while providing rich contributions to the life of the community."

Major General Henry Rasmussen

Commanding General, U.S Army Weapons Command

September 28, 1970


In 1877, Frankfort Arsenal, Pennsylvania, gave this sundial as a gift to Rock Island Arsenal. Today, the sundial remains in the same site it was originally placed, and is one of the few meso-sized artifacts still in its original location. The surface of the sundial was repaired in 1969, and it was rededicated in September 1970.

Flagler's Battery

Named after Lieutenant Colonel Daniel W. Flagler, commander of Rock Island Arsenal, Flagler's battery was constructed around the same time the sundial was installed. It is believed that it was built as a salute battery instead of as an actual defense. By the time of its construction, the battery would have been obsolete for use as an island defensive method. The close proximity to Quarters One and the surrounding grounds only adds weight to this theory, as it would have been in a prime location for ceremonies or events. The battery consisted of two 30-pound Parrott rifled cannons.

The battery was decorated with stacks of cannonballs similar to what is seen elsewhere on the island. It is unknown when the battery was removed, but it is estimated that it may have been sometime in the 1920s or 1930s, around the time that the tea house at Quarters One was destroyed.

Quarters One

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When the Rock Island Arsenal was established in 1862, few permanent buildings were present on the 946-acre island known as Rock Island. Upon the decision to make the arsenal a grand national arsenal in 1866, the only permanent building in place was the Clocktower Building. The other buildings included the ruins of the Colonel Davenport House and the old barracks buildings for the Confederate Prison Camp. As part of his master plan, Colonel Thomas J. Rodman designed the ten stone shops, ten store houses, and Quarters One thru Four.

Situated on the north-central shore of what is now referred to as Arsenal Island, Quarters One is the former residence of 38 senior officers that have been assigned to Rock Island Arsenal. The last of these residents vacated the house in 2008.

At more than 20,000 square feet, Quarters One is the largest house owned by the U.S. Army and the second largest in federal inventory. The largest house is the White House. In addition, Quarters One originally featured ornate grounds with a Japanese-style teahouse situated on the river. A root cellar and conservatory were added sometime in the early 1900s and remained through the 1980s.

Construction of the three-story Italianate Villa style home began in 1869 and was completed by 1871. Quarters One features a hand-carved limestone exterior with ornate cast-iron accents on the veranda and grounds fencing. These metal pieces are all made of recycled ordnance left on the island following the closure of Fort Armstrong and its redesignation as an army depot from 1836 to 1860. The limestone is cut to two-feet thick and runs all the way up to the top of the building. The tower stands another two stories tall with 18-inch-thick limestone. The limestone was procured from both Joliet, Illinois and LeClaire, Iowa.

The interior of Quarters One features a polychrome oak and walnut floors that are original to the house. It also features nine marble and one brick fireplaces, decorative cornices, 16-foot ceilings at the front of the house, and extremely spacious spaces.

COL Rodman justified the construction of Quarters One for several different reasons. First, he wanted a space to hold public gatherings. Second, he wanted to be able to house guests of the Rock Island Arsenal. Lastly, he had a barracks built into the quarters on the third floor to house Soldiers who were being price gouged by local lodging. The first public gathering held in Quarters One happened in June 1871 following COL Rodman’s death. Over 100 wagons full of visitors came to pay their respects to the man known as “the father of the Rock Island Arsenal.”

Over the years, Quarters One has served as the lodging for many distinguished visitors. These notable individuals include Charles Lindbergh, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and John “Blackjack” Pershing. In addition, it has served as temporary housing for a handful of foreign attaches and has hosted a few USO events.

While it is no longer a residence, Quarters One continues to host many community functions for both Rock Island Arsenal and the greater Quad City area. This includes weddings, receptions, meetings, parties, and other catered events.
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The Rock Island Arsenal Golf Club was founded in 1897 by Captain (later Colonel) Stanhope Blunt, who then served as arsenal commander. The current clubhouse was built in 1906 after the original was destroyed by fire. The golf course was granted its license by Secretary of War William Howard Taft in 1905. Today, it is operated by RIA's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) Division.

Established on July 24, 1897, the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Club was one of the first in the region. Members had been using small facilities as a locker room before fire destroyed the original building in 1905. The current clubhouse was built in 1906 at a cost of approximately $17,000.

The Rock Island Argus described the new clubhouse as fine as any in Chicago, short of the main dining area. Not to be outdone, the Grand Ballroom was added to the clubhouse in 1920.

Since their establishment in 1897, the clubhouse and golf course have hosted many tournaments and championships.

Through 2009, the RIA Golf Club was managed and maintained by Federal Sports Management, under a lease with the Department of the Army. This meant that the course and the club was privatized for arsenal employees and club members only. However, in 2010, the golf course was turned over to the U.S. Army's Department of Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR). Upon the transition to MWR, the course was then opened to the public.  It remained open until 2019, when it was permanently closed.  The golf course today is in the process of remediation with the driving range open.

The since-removed artificial lake on Arsenal Island was originally located just south of the Confederate Prison Camp. The drainage basin emptied out just south of where the RIA Golf Clubhouse is today. The lake was fed by a reservoir system located just north of Building 64. The present-day 18th hole of the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Course intersects a portion of the headwaters, and a portion of the driving range runs along the north edge of where the main body of water was located.

The original plan for the Rock Island Arsenal consisted of the ten stone shops at the center of the island, with adjacent supporting buildings. The commandant's quarters, along with other officer's quarters, were situated on the north shore of the island overlooking the Mississippi River. The fire and police station, barracks, headquarters, and other ancillary buildings were situated to the west of the main manufacturing complex.

As a means to create a natural divide between the manufacturing center and the officers, living space, a lake was dredged out in the prairie between the two areas. This lake spanned from approximately the half point of where the stone shops were constructed to just west of West Avenue where it drained. A bridge on West Avenue allowed traffic to pass over the drainage area towards the commandant's quarters.

A second bridge was built near the head of the lake for officers to use to avoid the inconvenience of walking around the lake on West or East Avenues. The bridge was just over 120 feet long and was built with stone. Lion's heads flanked the ends of the bridge, owing to the name of "Lions Head Bridge." The bridge completely collapsed sometime in 2015 and has since been condemned.

The lake bed is now the site of the first and last holes for the Rock Island Arsenal Golf Course, and the driving range.

Rock Island Arsenal Museum

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The Rock Island Arsenal Museum was opened to the public on July 4, 1905. Established with artifacts supplied by Chief of Ordnance Major General William Crozier to the museum on October 1, 1903, the Museum is the second oldest Army Museum. Crozier supplied 15 boxes of materiel “for the purpose of preserving it in a Military Museum to be established at Rock Island Arsenal.”

In addition, A small arms plant for manufacturing the Model 1903 rifle was established at Rock Island Arsenal in 1904. To make room for the manufacturing plant, the weapons and obsolete materiel that had been warehoused at Rock Island Arsenal were sold at auction. Before they were shipped, two examples of each gun were selected and retained for the museum. The contributions from Crozier and Rock Island Arsenal’s warehouses formed the extent of artifacts on the date the museum opened.

The original museum was opened in Shop A, or modern Building 102, which is located across the street from its present location in Building 60. During World War I and World War II, the museum closed its doors to make room for manufacturing equipment. When the museum reopened in 1948, it did so in its present location in Building 60.

The initial mission of the museum was to present the history of Rock Island Arsenal and Arsenal Island, while also examining a history of small arms development. Exhibits included weapons racks full of small arms, and other smaller assorted arsenal products. As the mission of the Rock Island Arsenal transformed, the museum added and moved displays around to compensate for these changes. Specifically, the establishment of commodity commands in the 1950s and the transformation away from an Arsenal Commander in 2004-05 were pivotal moments where changes were necessary.

In 1959, the Museum was named in honor of John M. Browning and emphasized itself more on the small arms mission. However, in 1986 it was renamed back to the Rock Island Arsenal Museum. The phrase “People, Processes, and Products” was coined to explain the important themes in the history of Rock Island Arsenal. The museum also had retained its small arm collection while also focusing on the history of the island, its commands, and the products of the arsenal.

In March 2020, the museum closed ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic. When pandemic restrictions ended, the museum remained closed to undergo renovations. The renovation increased the presentability of artifacts while telling the story of the arsenal. The new theme of the museum is discussing Rock Island Arsenal’s role throughout history in addition to numerous hands-on artifacts and interactive activities. Updates to the museum apply better focus on the products made by the arsenal and the people who made them.

Notable items in the collection that are on display at the museum include the M1903 Springfield rifle manufactured at Rock Island Arsenal (Serial Number 1), the XM204 105-mm Soft Recoil Howitzer, XM102 105-mm Howitzer, the bell from the steamboat Effie Afton, and lumber from the original Fort Armstrong.

The Rock Island Arsenal Museum is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 4 pm and closed on all federal holidays and the day after Thanksgiving.
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"Rock Island Arsenal was literally transformed by construction projects undertaken immediately prior to, during, and just following the period in which this country was involved in the World War. One familiar with these premises before that conflict would scarcely recognize them after the work was completed. All construction was done under high pressure, but most of it was of a permanent character and detracts nothing from the impression of durability, as well as of architectural beauty and utility which the institution always has given the visitor." - War's Greatest Workshop, 1922.

During World War I, Rock Island Arsenal was responsible for production of a wide assortment of war materiel. This included gun and ammunition carriages, recoil mechanisms, harnesses, rifles, personal effects (such as haversacks, canteens, and silverware), and much more. When the war ended, there was a need to store surplus materiel and materiel returning from Europe. The Arsenal's vast construction program was expanded to include the space needed for storage.

Available storage space increased from 545,000 square feet in 1917, to more than 12 million cubed feet by the time the war ended. This did not include the government's recent acquisition of the Savanna Proving Grounds north of the arsenal. The Savanna Proving Ground and Army Depot added 13,000 acres of outdoor storage space. The purpose for the Savanna site was to increase available storage to the main installation at Rock Island. In addition, gun and artillery testing took place at this facility.

At Rock Island Arsenal, the increase in storage space came in the form of over 70 new buildings; the largest was "Storehouse W1."

Today, Storehouse W1 is designated as Building 350, and houses the U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command (JMC). Most of the storage buildings at the south side of the island have been destroyed. Meanwhile, the buildings on the north side now house many Army offices, including Morale, Wellness, and Recreation (MWR), the Commissary, and the Post Exchange.

The Davenport House was the first permanent residence of Colonel George Davenport, a trader with Native Americans and supplier to the U.S. Army. Davenport earned the honorary rank of colonel while serving as the volunteer quartermaster at Fort Armstrong. The city of Davenport, Iowa, was named in his honor.

The original Davenport House was completed between 1833 and 1834 in the federal style. It is the westernmost house to use this style of architecture.

George Davenport remained on Rock Island after the closure of Fort Armstrong in 1836. For several years, he continued the upkeep and oversight of the now-abandoned fort and Army depot.

On July 4, 1845, Davenport's family left him at home to attend a parade in a neighboring community. Davenport was feeling ill. Under the assumption that the house was empty, bandits broke into his house in search of large sums of money. Finding Davenport in the house, the bandits beat and assaulted him in an attempt to uncover where the rumored wealth was located. Upon realizing this information was incorrect, the bandits fled the scene and left Davenport for dead. Davenport lived long enough to identify the bandits. The remains of John Long, one of the bandits, were not laid to rest until the 1970s.

The family abandoned the house in 1857, and it was rented by the U.S. Army during the Civil War as a residence for the commandant of the prison camp. In 1867, the Davenport family sold the house and property to the U.S. government. It then fell into a state of disrepair.

It was not until 1907 that the main structure was saved and restored by George Davenport's grandchildren. Repairs and restoration projects have continued ever since. Today, the house is maintained by the Colonel Davenport Historical Foundation and is open for tours.

1856 Bridge Pier: The First Rail Bridge Across the Mississippi

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Prior to his murder in 1845, Colonel George Davenport hosted a meeting to discuss bringing the railroad to Rock Island. Despite Davenport’s murder two weeks later, other attendees of the meeting carried forward his intentions. In addition, the interest in the project piqued the curiosity and investment of Henry Farnham who had experience in the railroad industry. A Congressional Act in 1852 granted railroad construction right-of-way over federal land. This coupled with the positioning of Rock Island in the middle of the river made the crossing from Rock Island to Davenport appealing to private industry.

Despite its appeal to private investors and companies, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis wanted the first rail bridge to be constructed further south. From 1852 to 1856, while the bridge at Rock Island was being constructed, Davis sent U.S. Marshals out to halt laborers from completing the bridge. Each time the Marshals departed; workers returned to constructing the bridge. The last time was in 1856, shortly before the bridge was completed.

On 22 April 1856, the bridge was completed and carried its first rail traffic across the Mississippi River. Construction had been completed by the Mississippi & Missouri Bridge Company. The wooden bridge used a Howe Truss design and consisted of five spans plus a draw span at the middle of the river. It was noted later in 1859 that the location of the draw span was not in a location conducive for navigation for two reasons. First, it was located near the beginning of the treacherous Rock Island Rapids, a stretch of rapids that ran from Rock Island to LeClaire. Second, it was not aligned with the location of the current in the main channel.

Two weeks after the bridge opened, the steamboat Effie Afton struck the bridge during its traverse of the draw span. The steamboat and one span of the bridge subsequently burned. This led to a large court case between the railroad and steamboat company, with Springfield lawyer Abraham Lincoln called to represent the railroad. After several legal proceedings, the case resulted in a hung jury. Eventually it was determined that while pedestrian and rail traffic could traverse over a waterway by bridge, it must yield to river and water navigation.

Following the court case, the bridge was repaired and reopened, where it operated until 1865 when it was replaced with heavier timber. In 1866, the federal government proposed that the bridge be moved to a new location for several reasons. First, it would allow better navigation of the river in the location for the same reasons mentioned in the 1859 survey. Second, it would use fewer materials as the river was narrower in the downstream location. Third, the construction of the newly established Rock Island Arsenal was in such a way that a new location was desirable. The government offered to split the cost of replacement. This was solidified in 1868 when heavy ice flows caused damage to the draw span of the second bridge.

The 1865 bridge was finally replaced in 1872 when the new iron bridge was built in the location of the current bridge.

Situated a short distance from its original site, the bridge pier located on the banks of the Mississippi River is one of two structures that remain from the original bridge. The bridge carried a single track over the river and spanned just over 1,580 feet from shore to shore.
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The Clock Tower Building was the first permanent structure built on Rock Island Arsenal. Construction began in 1864 and ended in 1867. The building was used as a storehouse for the arsenal. It gets its name from the large clock that is on top of a tower standing 117 feet from the ground. Each clock face is 12 feet in diameter. It is the only clock of its type still running with its original parts. Since 1934, it has been the home of the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

On July 11, 1862, Congress established three new arsenals. One was to be at Columbus, Ohio; another in Indianapolis, Indiana; and another on federally owned land on an island in the middle of the Mississippi River. Storehouse A, known today as the Clock Tower Building, was the first building of the newly founded arsenal.

The building was constructed under the supervision of Major Charles Kingsbury, RIA's first commanding officer. He was given instructions on how the building was to be constructed, and information on the contracts associated with the building. The building material used was LeClaire limestone quarried from the nearby community.

Construction on Storehouse A began on April 12, 1864, when the cornerstone was cemented into place. Within the cornerstone was a time capsule; however, a search conducted in 1966 was unable to locate this cornerstone. The building plan included a 97-foot tall tower that housed a hoist serving three floors within the building.

The building was completed in 1867 under General Thomas J. Rodman. The tower was completed at a height of 117 feet, instead of the specified 97 feet, and housed a clock with four 12-foot faces. The clock works that were installed in 1868 remain in place and are still functioning today.

In 1934, the first Corps of Engineers offices were moved into the Clock Tower Building, with additional offices and property transferred in 1941. Today the building is entirely occupied by the Corps of Engineers.

Overlooking Locks and Dam 15, the Mississippi Visitor Center is operated by the Rock Island District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The center's lookout provides an excellent vantage point to observe and learn about the function of the lock and dam system on the Upper Mississippi, the operation of the Government Bridge, and the importance of barge traffic on the river.

The Mississippi River Visitor Center is located on Rock Island Arsenal at Locks and Dam 15, overlooking the Upper Mississippi River. Since the early 1800s, the Corps of Engineers has been instrumental in making the river navigable for both commercial and recreational vessels. From January to March each year, visitors come to see the many bald eagles that flock to the dams on the Mississippi during the winter months to feed. In early spring, the river opens to commercial navigation. From April through mid-December, visitors come to watch boats pass through the locks.

The visitor center welcomes over 30,000 people annually and is handicapped- accessible. In addition to providing lock and dam tours, rangers also offer a wide range of programs to the local community.

From the indoor observation area or outside observation deck, you can watch pilots skillfully maneuver tons of cargo through the lock. At the visitor center, you can get to know the Upper Mississippi during our short movie, or look at our aquarium and interactive displays. Park rangers are available to answer questions and show you around.

Government Bridge

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The Government Bridge connecting Arsenal Island to Davenport, Iowa was constructed in 1896 on the pillars of the old iron bridge from 1872. The 1872 bridge was the third bridge constructed to connect Rock Island (modernly referred to as Arsenal Island) and Davenport.

The first rail bridge to cross the Mississippi River crossed at Rock Island to Davenport in 1856. The bridge was replaced later in the same location. When the Arsenal was established in 1862 and the Prison Camp in 1863, it was decided that the bridge would need to move to better accommodate the Arsenal. This was solidified following Thomas J. Rodman’s plan for a grand national arsenal in 1866. As part of this plan, Rodman not only condensed the cemeteries and moved the location of the arsenal, but he also moved the rail crossing to its present-day location.

In 1872, the new iron bridge was opened by Major Daniel W. Flagler. The new bridge, unlike the old ones, included two decks. The lower deck was constructed for pedestrian and wagon traffic. The upper deck was designed to carry rail traffic. This was done to prevent the scaring of horses by locomotive engines crossing at the same time.

Bridge traffic exceeded the capacity of the iron bridge, and it was therefore determined that the bridge must be replaced with a stronger construction. The contract for design was awarded to Ralph Modjeski, who was at the time just starting to design bridges and crossings. The 1896 bridge was Modjeski’s first bridge to be designed. (Conversely, the old Interstate 74 bridge connecting Iowa and Illinois was his last.) The contract to build the bridge was awarded to the Phoenix Bridge Company.

Modjeski heavily over-engineered the Pratt-Baltimore Truss bridge. Made of steel, the new bridge was designed to carry pedestrian and wagon traffic on the lower deck and had two rails for train traffic above. The steel frame of the bridge is designed to be redundant to reduce the risk of structural defects. The swing span closer to the Illinois shore can swing a full 360-degrees and is so well balanced that it is capable of spinning on its own after the brake and fasteners are released. The bridge was built in-place to reduce the disruption to traffic and was constructed on the original 1872 piers.

Over 120 years after the bridge was constructed, it remains the soundest and structurally integral of any bridge on the Mississippi River. Maintenance and replacement parts for the bridge are routinely carried out by Rock Island Arsenal’s Department of Public Works and Joint Manufacturing & Technology Center, respectively.

The contractor who operates the bridge has imposed a 35-mile-per-hour wind restriction on the bridge for safety. Most days, the draw-span can open and close without the motor due to the well-balanced table. The conjoined locks and dam 15 were added in 1931 and was a separate project.
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Locks and Dam 15 was the first project completed on the Upper Mississippi River as part of an overall project to create a nine-foot navigation channel. It was built to control water levels through the Rock Island Rapids from Rock Island, Illinois, to LeClaire, Iowa, and provide consistent river depths. This was considered one of the most dangerous areas on the river. Part of the rocky material creating the rapids was removed from the river and the dam submerged the rest. This improved navigation on the river. The lock began operation in August 1933.

In the heart of the Quad Cities, Locks and Dam 15 is 483 miles above the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The complex stretches across the Mississippi River at one of its narrowest points at the foot of the Rock Island Rapids, extending from the northwest tip of Arsenal Island on the Illinois side to a small area of flat-bottom land on the Iowa side. A roadway and railroad bridge, joining Davenport and Rock Island, spans the site.

The complex was the first completed in the 9-Foot Channel Project and served as a prototype for the whole system. Dam 15 is unusual as it is the only one on the river made entirely of roller gates. It was constructed at the narrowest part of the channel and is subject to ice and debris jams. It is built at a 16-1/2 degree angle to gain additional dam area for maintaining the navigation channel; it employs roller gates that are non-submersible, of differing sizes, and of non-standard length; it is not at a right angle to the river; it includes no earthen embankment dike section; it incorporates a power plant that generates electricity to operate its gates and valves; and it uses an open-truss service bridge with a bulkhead-lifting crane on its lower chord. The complex is also unusual because the intermediate locks' wall encases a bridge swing span.

The contractor for the lock construction was favored with low river stages, a mild winter in 1931-1932, and satisfactory labor conditions. The average number of employees during construction was 221.

The lock and dam elements of the complex were completed at a cost of $7.48 million.

1856 Southern Channel Bridge Crossing

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From 1852 to 1856, the first rail bridge across the Mississippi River was constructed. The Mississippi & Missouri Bridge Company, a joint venture between the Chicago & Rock Island Railroad Company and the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad Company, managed the contract to build the bridge over the federally owned lands at Rock Island. This included two bridges.

The main bridge crossed the northern main channel of the Mississippi River and crossed from Rock Island (modern day Arsenal Island) to Davenport, Iowa. The second bridge crossed the southern backwater channel of the Mississippi River, more commonly known as Sylvan Slough, and crossed from the mainland of Rock Island to modern day Arsenal Island. The bridge crossed approximately 20 to 25 feet west of where the current rail crossing to Arsenal Island is located. It did so at an angle traversing from southwest to northeast.

Once on the island, the track turned due north before shifting slightly west. Sylvan Avenue to the west of the modern factory was built approximately where the original tracks were located. From this location the rail crossed the northern channel to Davenport, Iowa.

When the 1865 bridge was constructed, the same bridge crossing on the southern channel continued to be used. It was only after the 1872 bridge was constructed that the original bridge crossing the southern channel was demolished. MAJ Daniel Flagler ordered the bridge destroyed and the piers cut to below the low water mark.

There are no tangible remains of the bridge that crossed the southern channel. However, there is evidence of its existence and location under the water. Using side-scanning SONAR, the ASC History Office has been able to determine the approximate location of the piers under the water. This correlated to the location of the bridge to paint a more accurate depiction of the exact track of the original track that crossed the Mississippi River.
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Rock Island Arsenal Manufacturing Center

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The manufacturing power of Rock Island Arsenal was first tested during the Spanish-American War. Utilizing the original stone shops, the arsenal produced personal equipment for infantry, cavalry, and artillery Soldiers. In addition, small field guns, 7-inch howitzers, and 5-inch siege guns were manufactured at the arsenal.

During World War I, Rock Island Arsenal accounted for over $90 million in war materiel production. This included gun carriages, limbers, battery wagons, recoil mechanisms, rifles, and various personal affects for Soldiers that were created during the 1910 equipment board.

The most notable pieces during this time was the acquisition of the M1903 Springfield program, recoil mechanisms and limbers for the French 75-mm field gun, and the Mark VIII tank. The arsenal more than doubled this output during World War II and expanded their mission set to include gun mounts for air and sea use. The foundation of the modern day factory was constructed during the war, and has subsequently been built on ever since.

The Korean War saw the urgent designing, development, manufacture, and deployment of the “Super Bazooka” for Soldiers fighting against Soviet armor. As the Cold War continued, the mission and scope of the arsenal changed to meet the need. In 1973, the Weapons Research Laboratory (renamed to the “General Thomas J. Rodman Laboratory, RIA on March 29 of that year) was transferred to Rock Island Arsenal. This transferred design and development of a wide assortment of weapons systems to the arsenal.

Throughout this transfer, the manufacturing center took on larger and more sustaining projects, such as the production of the American variant (M119) of the British L119 field gun. In the 1980s, the arsenal also acquired the contract for the M198 howitzer, which saw numerous export sales. Up armor and ad hoc replacement missions have remained at Rock Island since the Global War on Terror.

The Joint Manufacturing & Technology Center at Rock Island Arsenal of today is the last and only Army owned forge and foundry. Having grown from the stone shops envisioned by Thomas J. Rodman in 1866 to the multi-building complex that it is today, Rock Island Arsenal remains more ready than ever to deliver industrial power anytime for anything.
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In April 1941, eight months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, construction began at Rock Island Arsenal on what would become the world's largest ordnance storehouse, Building 299. The building enclosed 18 acres under one roof, with space enough for 17 football fields inside. It was equipped with rail tracks and could load and unload a complete train at its interior docks. Building 299 was built to accommodate the business generated by America's new role as an "Arsenal of Democracy" for those nations under attack by the Axis Powers.

As American production continued to escalate in the years leading up to the nation's entry into World War II, Rock Island Arsenal saw a steady increase in depot activities. By 1940, it was deemed that the interior storage available in Storehouse W1 (now Building 350) was inadequate. While RIA had possession of Savanna Proving Grounds in Savanna, Illinois, the storage available there was outdoors, and the nature of war materiel being produced required onsite indoor storage space.

It was therefore deemed necessary to construct a larger space for storage and loading. In 1941, construction began on Building 299 with the intention of providing space to store war materiel and load that materiel onto freight trains. The covered space allowed better productivity, faster loading, and increased security. Building 299 was served by two railways.

After the war ended, Rock Island Arsenal once again became a central storage point for overflow parts, equipment, machinery, and weapons. Both the satellite site at Savanna and the storage space on Rock Island were used for this purpose. Building 299 served as the main indoor storage facility for many items that were returning from Europe, and run-over machinery that was used for production at the Arsenal itself.

Today, Building 299 functions in much of the same way as it did following World War II: As a storage facility. The space is complemented by a large outdoor storage space to the east.

"Much additional shop room was needed, and, all told, the additions to the plant amounted to more than one and one-half millions of feet of floor space, costing more than seven millions of dollars. Chief among the new structures built for manufacturing uses were the artillery vehicle plant and the artillery ammunition assembling plant. The latter is 360x400 feet, in three sections, one three stories, one two, and the other one story in height. There were, during the period of hostilities 167,195 155 mm howitzer shells loaded, without adapters and boosters." - War's Greatest Workshop, 1922.

Building 250, originally known as Shop L, was constructed in 1917 to fulfill the role of an ammunition plant. Workers here mixed and filled 155mm cartridges, which were then sent on to be assembled with fuses in another building to the south. The completed ammunition was stored in warehouses south of the present-day Beck Drive and east of Building 299. The warehouses were served by rails, where trains would load up with cargo and transport war material off of the island.

World War I served as the only time when ammunition was manufactured and assembled at Rock Island Arsenal. Building 250 and its adjacent contemporary buildings were the only locations where ammunition production was carried out.

World War I also served as the first time in the arsenal's history that it employed women to conduct work that was not secretarial. Female employees were tasked with mixing TNT into 155mm cartridges ahead of the fuse setting process. Handling the mixture was extremely dangerous, and the building was designed to withstand explosions from shells. Three explosions were known to have occurred during World War I, but no deaths were reported due to the nature of the building. The large quantity of windows allowed explosions to blow out of the building rather than to stay confined, allowing for a better chance of survival of materiel and personnel within the building.

Over 160,000 155mm shells were manufactured, mixed, and set at Rock Island Arsenal in 1918. In later years, it was decided to keep ammunition separate from materiel to reduce potential loss.

Since 1879, Rock Island Arsenal has used the power of the Mississippi River to provide manual and electric power to the buildings located on the island. The first power system was telodynamic, which used four water turbines and a system of cables, belts, and pulleys. In 1899, a fire destroyed the powerhouse and the decision was made to replace the telodynamic system with a hydroelectric system. Situated across the back channel of the Mississippi River on the south shore of the island, the hydroelectric plant has been in continuous operation since 1901 and generates 20 percent of the island's power.

The history of water power on Rock Island Arsenal is a long one, but the most noticeable trace of it is seen at the hydroelectric dam and power plant located on the backwaters of the Mississippi River and Sylvan Slough. The original design used turbines, cables, belts, and pulleys within a system that delivered power to the ten stone shops located at the center of the manufacturing complex until 1899. This system of transmitting power through belts, cables, and pulleys was called the telodynamic system.

The turbines in the dam would feed into a system in the power plant. Wheels within the plant would spin, feeding a series of cables through the wheels. The cables traveled from the plant to the back of each stone shop, where they were then attached to belts that fed into each individual shop. The belts were then attached inside the shop to power individual pieces of machinery. The only remaining piece of the telodynamic system that can be seen today is the piece at the back of the stone shops where the cables would feed into the buildings.

This system was used until the power plant was destroyed by fire in 1899. The arsenal then switched to a total hydroelectric power supply, using the Mississippi River has a source.

Each time improvements were made to the capacity of the power dam, legal battles followed with private interests in the city of Moline. Power generated from the hydroelectric dam has been shared with the city of Moline since it was first constructed in 1872.

A wing dam works by constricting the flow of the river, especially in low water, forcing the available water into one narrow channel. This increases the current and volume of water and helps to scour the bottom. In the words of river pilots, wing dams "stop the leaks." The wing dam off Rock Island Arsenal was part of the river navigation improvement efforts during the early stages of the channel improvement. This was during the efforts to ensure a 4 1/2 foot channel was present for the entire length of the river.

The wing dam located at Rock Island Arsenal is a key river feature that spans greatly upstream in the Mississippi River and ends near the foot of Campbell's Island. The original piece of the wing dam was constructed by David B. Sears during the time that his mill was functioning on the island.

The need for such a dam was established in 1841 when a board selected by the Secretary of War examined the state of the rapids at Rock Island:

"It has already been observed that the entire head and fall at the island, or the aggregate descent from the surface water of the dam to the low-water surface at the foot of the rapids, is seven feet, nearly. To this fall it is proposed to add the descent from the head of Campbell's Island to the head of Rock Island (Arsenal), which is six and a half feet more; making the aggregate fall, from the head of Campbell's Island to the foot of Rock Island, thirteen and a half feet.

The method of uniting these two falls, and bringing them into conjoint operation on Rock Island, consists in the erection of a river-wall or dam, extending upward from the head of Rock Island, parallel, or nearly so, to the Illinois shore, till it reaches the foot of Campbell's Island -- the distance between the two islands, and consequently the extent of the wall, being three miles and three-quarters."

The resulting dam would be situated nearly 2 feet above low water levels. This improved navigation on the river near the rapids allowed riverboat traffic to continue unimpeded through the area. This was further enhanced when the river was dredged.

Today, the above-water view of the wing dam can be seen from the original site of Benham's Island to just north of Interstate 74 on the Illinois side of the river. The dam there sits just beneath the water level and can be noticed at the surface about half-way to Campbell's Island, approximately near where the Celebration Belle docks in Illinois. A few artificial rock points exist between this location and Campbell's Island, which are the only remaining surface features of the dam beyond this point.

Prior to the establishment of a permanent U.S. Military presence, the island known as Rock Island (modern Arsenal Island) had been the site of a retreat for local Sauk and Meskwaki natives.  Situated downriver from Rock Island was the village of Saukenuk (meaning: “village of the Sauk”), with another Meskwaki (sometimes referred to as “Fox”) village on the adjacent Iowa side.  The Sauk were an Algonquin tribe that had been dislocated from their original territory with a history of movement over the duration of over 100 years prior.

The Island of Rock Island offered many amenities that local tribes flourished from.  First, it provided ample wild berries for harvesting and was rich in vegetation.  Second, it had ample game for hunting.  Lastly, it had substantial number of trees for use in woodwork.

Beneath the island were caverns that were believed to be the home of a “Great Spirit” that took the form of a large white swan.  These caverns were not deep but ran approximately at the location of the railroad abutment and the main supporting wall for the modern Locks and Dam 15.  Rock Island itself jutted upwards of 10 feet from the riverbed, giving it a towering and imposing appearance on the Mississippi River.

The Island of Rock Island was first described by Marquette, and subsequently by Zebulon Pike.  By 1833, most of the local tribes were relocated much farther west, with U.S. military presence being established on the island by 1816.

The “Gathering Point” is a community art project by artist Kunhild Blacklock and architect Ed Angerer.  It is a culmination of natural and native history, interoperating them through artistic form.

The art installation was completed in July of 1999 and provides a vantage point over the wetland pocket that exists at the western tip of Arsenal Island.  Situated next to Fort Armstrong, it represents the 200 years prior to the 200 years of military legacy at Rock Island.  During the winter, many bald eagles can be seen from this point resting in trees that surround the wetland pocket between the Mississippi’s north and south arms.  This makes the Gathering Point a great location to bird and nature watch while also appreciating the natural history of the region.

Fort Armstrong was built in 1816 and was one of a system of forts on the Mississippi River. Fort Armstrong's role was fulfilled after it served as the military headquarters during the Black Hawk War. It was abandoned in 1836, but remained an ordnance depot until 1845. In 1916, a replica of one of the blockhouses from Fort Armstrong was erected where the fort once stood.

Construction of Fort Armstrong began in May 1816. The fort was named after John Armstrong, the Secretary of War under President James Monroe. The land that Fort Armstrong occupied was previously a resort for Sauk and Meskwaki tribes. The tribe's capital of Saukenuk was located about five miles south of Rock Island (now Arsenal Island).

The location of Fort Armstrong, on the western tip of Arsenal Island, was selected based on recommendations and surveys by Zebulon Pike and Robert E. Lee. The Rock Island Rapids provided a natural navigational pause, which allowed the fort's location as well as points north to be more easily defended. The vast number of resources available on Rock Island and the surrounding area also provided a rich location on which to build. With the Rock River situated further south, Fort Armstrong's location was such that it allowed the American forces to dominate the Mississippi River.

The primary function of Fort Armstrong was to provide security to American soldiers, settlers and commerce traversing the Mississippi River. However, relationships with the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes deteriorated. In 1832, Black Hawk, war leader of the Sauk tribe, crossed the Mississippi River to reoccupy Saukenuk. The Americans took this as a hostile action, triggering the Black Hawk War.

With the resolution of the Black Hawk War, Fort Armstrong was no longer needed, and so was abandoned. The ruins were used by squatters, until a fire destroyed what remained of the fort in 1854. The replica blockhouse was constructed in 1916 in celebration of Fort Armstrong's centennial.