Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Northern Early America
At the same time President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark up the Missouri River in 1805, Lt. Zebulon Pike was sent up the Mississippi River. Pike was instructed to gather information about the river and note sites that would be favorable strategic locations for forts. In June 1809, Congress reserved Rock Island, or “big island,” as Pike called it, for federal military use.
The two westernmost battles of the War of 1812 were fought in May and August of 1814 near Rock Island. One took place at an island north of Rock Island called Campbell’s Island, named for the commander in charge of the troops who died as a result of wounds incurred there. The other took place at Credit Island which is just below Rock Island. (It was so named because of it being the site of fur trade between the Indians, British and French where the Indians were extended credit for supplies to get them through trapping season until they could pay off their credit with furs in the spring.) These two battles and the Fur Trading Act of 1816 caused the United States government to build a fort on Rock Island. Soldiers arrived on May 10, 1816 and commenced construction of Fort Armstrong on the west end of Rock Island. It was only the second fort between St. Louis and Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin at the time. The fort was named after the Secretary of War under President James Madison, John Armstrong. When construction began there were 600 soldiers and 150 laborers. After the construction was completed less than 200 soldiers garrisoned the post. Between 1824 and 1836 the garrison consisted of less than 100 troops. Besides providing a U.S. military presence to discourage encroachment by the English and French fur traders, Fort Armstrong also provided protection for settlers, and attempted to police intertribal feuds amongst the Indians of the area. Read about Rock Island history.
The blockhouse is located almost exactly the same location of the original southwestern blockhouse on the west end of the island.
There are stone markers of interest also on the ground around the blockhouse as well as the metal sculpture which was designed by Preston Duncan, a Mesquakie. Other places on the island to visit include the Visitors Center at Lock and Dam 15, the COL Davenport House, the Confederate Cemetery, and the Rock Island Arsenal Browning Museum.
The island lies in the Mississippi River between Davenport, IA and Rock Island, IL. The driving instructions as provided by the Rock Island Arsenal website are as follows:
Driving (from Iowa) To the Moline Entrance: take Interstate 74 to
the River Drive exit and turn left. Go two blocks and just before the
overpass turn right and follow the ramp up to Moline Bridge to the Arsenal.
Driving (from Illinois using I-74) To access the Rock Island
Arsenal Garrison from Illinois using I-74 take I-74 West to the 7th Avenue exit. Turn left onto 7th Avenue and follow to 14th Street. Turn right and go straight down the street and up the ramp to the Moline Bridge to the Arsenal.
The speed limit on Arsenal Island is 25 mph. Watch for signs. The Illinois seat belt law is enforced on Arsenal Island.
Rock Island Arsenal Garrison Museum: Open 7 days a week 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
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.
Rock Island National Cemetery: Open Sunup to Sundown 7 days a
The Colonel Davenport Historical Foundation: Open for tours May
through mid-October on Thursday through Sunday noon to 4:00 p.m.
Memorial Park: Open dawn to dusk 7 days a week.
Visitor parking is available throughout the island
A visit to the QC Convention and Visitors Bureau might provide more info. The driving instructions for the Arsenal provide instructions only to the Moline entrance. That's where most visitors are supposed to go to check in when visiting. The Blockhouse is actually on a public access road that runs along the west end of the island and is accessed by either the Rock Island Viaduct/Bridge off of 24th Street in Rock Island or the Gov't Bridge off of East 2nd Street in Davenport.
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