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Rock Island Arsenal
History Of Arsenal
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Rock Island Arsenal History

The Rock Island Arsenal is an active US Army facility located on a 946-acre island in the Mississippi River. The arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Placesin 1969. Later, in 1989, the original arsenal buildings were designated as National Historic Landmarks.

Today, Rock Island Arsenal is the United States largest government owned and operated arsenal. The importance of the island was identified as early as 1809, when it was declared 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. The fort 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.


In 1833 Colonel George Davenport built a mansion on Rock Island overlooking the Mississippi River. 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 took place. 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. Only 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, a Springfield lawyer at the time, 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, the location of this bridge is marked by a monument.

Today's Government Bridge connect the Arsenal to Davenport 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, and is still operational today.

In 1902, the arsenal produced more than 16,000 sets of cavalry equipment and 53,000 sets of infantry equipment. Most of these articles were shipped to the Manila Ordnance Depot in the Philippines where U.S. troops were still fighting.

The Model 1903 rifle, a .30 caliber, bolt-action rifle, was first manufactured at Rock Island Arsenal from 1904 to 1913. Approximately 234,000 rifles were produced. Production was reestablished in September of 1916. During the First World War , nearly 114,000 Model 1903 rifles were manufactured in whole or as repair parts at the Arsenal.

Between the wars, Rock Island Arsenal concentrated on its dual missions of tank and artillery development. At the beginning the Second World War , emphasis was placed on artillery production. Machine guns were manufactured at Rock Island Arsenal during the Second World War.

In 1967, the small arms mission was transferred from Springfield Armory, Massachusetts. The arsenal was now responsible for product engineering, research and development, and manufacturing support of small arms.

During the 1980s, the Rock Island Arsenal improved its manufacturing facility, now known as the Kingsbury Manufacturing Complex. All steps in manufacturing, using state-of-the-art numerically controlled machines, are under one roof. This complex curently houses the Department of Defense's only complete, in-house forge, foundry, and plating shop.


Today, Rock Island Arsenal is the only U.S. Army facility that assembles tool sets, kits, and outfits that support equipment in the field. The arsenal manufactures gun mounts, recoil mechanisms, artillery carriages, and other combat equipment.

Visiting the Arsenal

Entering From Iowa
Take Interstate 74 to the 7th Avenue exit in Moline. Turn right at the stoplight at the end of the exit ramp. Proceed on 7th Avenue for approximately 3 blocks to 17th Street turn right. Go straight on 17th Street for 3 blocks and cross River Drive. Just past the River Drive intersection there will be an entrance ramp on the left to the Rock Island Arsenal.

Entering From Illinois
Take Interstate 74 to the 7th Avenue exit in Moline. Turn left at the stoplight at the end of the exit ramp. Proceed on 7th Avenue for approximately 3 blocks to 17th Street turn right. Go straight on 17th Street for 3 blocks and cross River Drive. Just past the River Drive intersection there will be an entrance ramp on the left to the Rock Island Arsenal.

Once on the Arsenal, proceed to thr Visitors Control, building 23 by turning right at the first road after the bridge. At other times proceed to the security checkpoint upon entering the island. You will then be on Rodman Avenue; all areas of public interest are accessible from Rodman Avenue.

1. Rock Island Arsenal Museum: Open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Closed Mondays, Federal Holidays, Day After Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve.

2. The Mississippi River Visitor Center: Open 7 days a week 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Memorial Day & Labor Day 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

3. Rock Island National Cemetery: Open Sunup to Sundown 7 days a week.

4. The Colonel Davenport Historical Foundation: Open for tours May through mid-October Thursday through Sunday noon to 4:00 p.m.

All persons over 15 years of age must present valid photo identification to enter the island and all vehicles are subject to search.

Visitor parking is available throughout the island.

***The speed limit on Arsenal Island is 25 mph. Watch for signs.

***The Illinois seat belt law is enforced on Arsenal Island.

Information Courtesy of the US Military at http://www.ria.army.mil/sites/local/


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