Our trip to the Rock Island Arsenal Island was sponsored by Visit Quad Cities.
The experiences are all ours
Do you have a travel style? I approach travel like I read a historical book. I read about it, visit to learn more, and jump into the research after coming back. Last year I took my family to the Quad Cities, and I fell in love with the cities on the border of Illinois and Iowa! My recent trip to the Quad Cities was more educational as we dipped our toes into the XIX century history.
Located on the shore of Moline, IL right by the Mississippi River is the Rock Island Arsenal Island. The United States bought the title to the island in 1804 through a treaty with the Sauk and Mesquakie Tribes. It became a federal military reservation by an act of Congress. Today the island is an active duty U.S. Army Base, a Historic Site, a Confederate Cemetery, a museum with a large weapon collection, and the biggest freight dam operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
To enter the Arsenal Island, you have to present a United States ID as it is an active military base. We also notified a uniformed man that we were planning to attend Pioneer Days – an event taking place by The Colonel Davenport House in the spirit of events of 1835.
Our first stop, however, was Lock and Dam 15 — the largest roller dam in the world. My kids didn’t seem too excited about it, but I remained hopeful.
“You came at the perfect time,” the man in uniform pointed at the outside, “If you ever wanted to know how a dam operates, this it.”
Watching dam operations is not the most exciting thing in the world yet it was hard to argue its size. The barge underneath us looked like a refugee camp with endless rows of cargo trailers. The towboat at the end was patiently waiting to move. I wanted to see the famous swinging bridge of the Rock Island Arsenal Island Dam.
As the barge pushed by a towboat was ready to move through the dam, a part of the bridge suddenly separated, swang 90 degrees, and idled parallel to the Mississippi River as it always stayed there.
“Mama! The bridge is broken!” my 3-year old son raised his arms in disbelief.
Five minutes later a big chunk of metal moved once again and filled the gap in the bridge.
“Is the bridge not broken anymore?” my son seemed unsure. I couldn’t blame him – it’s not every day you see a bridge fall apart in front of your eyes and get back together in a matter of minutes.
Colonel Davenport House
As the cars filled the bridge trying to get to the other side of the Mississippi, we moved onto the next attraction of the Rock Island – the Davenport House.
Colonel George Davenport is known to be the first settler of the Rock Island and contributed significantly to getting the railroad operations on the island. Colonel Davenport House Tours run here May through October and come with a guided tour sharing the story of the family living here in 1800’s. The tour is about Colonel Davenport’s life and death and the transformation his home went through over the years. It also introduces visitors to a traditional homestead in the 1800’s with many items of that era.
The World of XIX
As we pulled to the house, two women in XIX clothes winding yarn greeted us. It’s like we traveled back in time and now joined the villagers who churning butter, showing the goods in the trading tents and helping kids make yarn dolls sitting in the circle on the grass.
My daughter couldn’t miss an opportunity to dive into the art of yarn doll making. Her brother disappeared into a trading tent. My husband joined a conversation that had something to do with the history of firearms. That’s when I smelled fresh bread! Right in front of the big house on the table next to the rustic fire pit, I spotted small slices of homemade soda bread with a miniature mountain of freshly churned butter next to it. I had to have that!
Still chewing the bread I walked into the house and joined the tour. The tour guide was explaining the meaning of the “Good Night, don’t let the bed bug bite.” Did you know that they used a pedal to beat the bed down before going to sleep to keep bugs away?
I picked more bread on the way out of the house and thought that I should get out of here before I leave the entire village hungry.
Rock Island Arsenal Museum
Next – the Rock Island Arsenal Island Museum. I wasn’t sure if my 3-year old would be able to fully appreciate an arsenal this museum had to offer and offered it to my husband to explore the world of Firearms all on his own – he was thrilled!
He was even more excited when he came back, “That was astounding! I could’ve spent a day there. I took pictures!”
If you ever want to see hundreds of pictures of the Arsenal Museum, ask – I will be happy to share. I could see that the man was excited! He had stories to share for days about the history of firearms, features of revolutionary war guns, and books that tell you about weapons that have been used by the Sioux or Cheyenne at the Battle of Little Bighorn or serial number 1 of the Model 1903 rifle.
I wanted to stop at the Confederate Cemetary as it’s located by the exit. The island cemetery dates back as early as 1863. The Rock Island Prison Camp was established here during the revolutionary war to hold more than 10,000 inmates. More than 12,000 Confederate prisoners passed through its gates in two years. This place became a final resting place for approximately 1,950 Confederate prisoners over two years while the camp was operating.
The place of absolute and ultimate silence with rows of military plots stretched across the green field. I only stayed here for a few minutes, but it felt like an hour – something about the finality of this resting place, peacefulness, and a strange feeling of closure to history. Later, I found a book Rock Island Arsenal and it is astonishingly insightful on the life of the prisoners of war and their Union Guards along with other historical events of the island. The rich history of this island comes to life while old sketches and photographs add to the authenticity.
As the military checkpoint disappeared in our rearview mirror, Roadman Avenue took us over the Mississipi river, we felt like we drove right out of the history book – with a whole lot more knowledge than we had a few hours ago when we took the inbound route to the Arsenal Island.