Little Known Historic Attractions Await Visitors on Rock Island, Illinois

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By on January 9, 2011 in Current Events with 0 Comments

Rock Island Arsenal (RIA) has a lot to offer visitors, but be prepared; it’s an adventure trying to find the parts of the arsenal that are open to the public.

On the National Register of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark, RIA is an active Army factory. Visiting the arsenal is like visiting any other military base — ID please.

Established in 1862, some of the early products manufactured here included leather horse equipment, meat cans and canteens, paper targets, carriages and the Model 1903 rifle.

RIA is located on a 946-acre island in the Mississippi River between Davenport, Iowa, and Rock Island, Illinois. It is the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the western world providing base support services for the Armed Forces. About 250 military and 6,000 civilians work on the island.

Touring the Island

The RIA Museum offers an excellent visual history. Established in 1905, it’s the second oldest US Army Museum in the United States.

Museum missions include preserving and displaying the history of RIA and Arsenal Island, and the history of small arms development.

Anyone interested in military history and weapons will enjoy the well-researched and displayed exhibits.

There also are two cemeteries on the island that are often the destination of visitors.

The island served as a Confederate prison from December 1863 to July 1865. It was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union — 12,192 Confederate prisoners were held at the prison camp.

The Confederate Cemetery is the only tangible remains of the Rock Island Prison Barracks. A total of 1,964 prisoners died while incarcerated. Uniform white stones are engraved with Confederate soldier names, their regiments and grave numbers.

Some records can be searched for Civil War ancestors held at the prison camp. For more information about assessing these records call the RIA museum at (309) 782-5021.

Rock Island National Cemetery is the most visited here. It’s estimated more than 50,000 guests visit the cemetery every year. It is one of 117 national cemeteries operated by the Veterans Administration throughout 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 23,000 to 24,000 grave markers representing 29,000 burials.

The last stop on your tour is the Colonel George Davenport’s House.

Davenport originally came to Rock Island to serve at Fort Armstrong, one of a chain of frontier defenses erected after the War of 1812. The fort was located on the island.

By 1818, Davenport resigned and established a trading post on Rock Island. During the Black Hawk War, he served as the quartermaster for the militia and troops. This earned him the honorary title of Colonel and $20,000 in compensation.

In 1833, he built a mansion on Rock Island.

Today you’ll find a yellow Federal-style house overlooking the Mississippi River, filled with period furnishings and, in season, surrounded by beautiful flower gardens.

When Davenport lived in the home, the city of Davenport, Iowa, was mapped out and named after him.

His life was cut short when members of the Banditti of the Prairie — a band of roving criminals — murdered him in his home on July 4, 1845.

If you go:
For more information on the arsenal and its attractions, please check this website.

Overnight guests should check out the Holiday Inn Express in nearby LeClaire, Iowa. Perched on the Mississippi River, the hotel is located just off Interstate-80 at exit 306.

For more information call 563-289-9978 or check the website.

For information on other attractions in the area, check the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau website.

© 2017 Marilyn Jones. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Marilyn Jones.


About the Author

Marilyn Jones has been a journalist for more than 30 years and is currently a freelance feature writer specializing in travel. Her articles have appeared in major newspapers including the BostonGlobe, Akron Beacon Journal and Chicago Sun-Times as well as regional travel magazines.

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