Through the Lens of Time: Living in the Historical Heart of Rock Island Arsenal

Have you ever dreamed of living on an island? For me, that dream recently became a reality, albeit in an unexpected way. Our new home isn’t the typical tropical paradise one might envision. Instead, we’ve relocated to the Rock Island Arsenal, nestled in the heart of the Mississippi River between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa.

Quarters One- featured image

Island Life: Living on the Rock Island Arsenal

Have you ever dreamed of living on an island? For me, that dream recently became a reality, albeit in an unexpected way. Our new home isn’t the typical tropical paradise one might envision. Instead, we’ve relocated to the Rock Island Arsenal, nestled in the heart of the Mississippi River between Rock Island, Illinois, and Davenport, Iowa. Despite its unconventional setting, this U.S. Army base has played a vital role since the Civil War. In this narrative, I’ll paint a picture of what it’s like living in a real-life museum, sharing insights into the daily life and experiences of calling this unique island home during our last few years in the military.

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Living on Rock Island Illinois

Life in a Museum

The Rock Island Arsenal, a military installation in Illinois, has many important military housing, buildings, and structures that are historically significant and impressive in terms of architecture. This little island holds a lot of packed history. And I really appreciate that. I’ve been chasing history for 30 years in foreign lands. And now I get a chance to live in it at home. These landmarks tell stories about the arsenal’s past and its role in the America’s I see today. Each landmark has a unique story about the people and events that shaped the area, from old forts to beautifully crafted limestone buildings and the lingering spirits that inhabit them both.

Funny, but my favorite seat in my house is the toilet on the second floor. I know, TMI, but let me explain.

Living on Rock Island, Illinois, offers a unique vantage point of the Mississippi River, best enjoyed, unexpectedly, from the closed toilet seat in my home. Sandwiched between the houses ahead, this spot becomes a makeshift lookout. Here, I often observe three finches energetically playing tag in the small tree that adorns my front yard. The view also allows me to watch the boats and trains as they pass by, their whistles a call to the wanderer in me, sparking curiosity about their destinations.

This curiosity isn’t new; it echoes back to my childhood when my mom would drive us to watch planes take off. We’d play “where are they going?” – a game that became a tradition I carried on with my kids. Even now, I find myself engaged in this game, but with the trains and boats on the Mississippi instead of airplanes. Sitting there, playing this game, I’m reminded of how these simple moments fueled my love for stories and storytelling, a passion that continues to shape my life here in Rock Island.

But I digress. Here are a few things I can’t see from my throne:

The Clock Tower Building

Living on Rock Island, Illinois, brings me close to significant historical landmarks, one of which is the storehouse now known as the Clock Tower Building. Situated roughly 300 feet from the historical Fort Armstrong and the Rodman Avenue gate, this structure stands as a testament to the area’s rich past. Its construction features Le Claire limestone and buff-colored dolomite, sourced from a quarry fourteen miles upriver, emphasizing the local heritage embedded in its very foundation.

The building itself is a marvel of classical Greek revival architecture, a style that dominates its design and is emblematic of public buildings from its era. It spans 180 by 60 feet, rising three stories high, complemented by a full basement and attic. A notable feature is the portico that adorns one of its long sides, extending 14 by 60 feet. In contrast, on the opposite end, a 34-foot square tower ascends to 97 feet, housing a clock and serving as the main lift for accessing the building’s three floors. Living in proximity to such a storied structure offers a constant reminder of Rock Island’s historical depth and architectural splendor.

Completed by the summer of 1867, the construction engaged a workforce of up to 400 men, resulting in a structure towering 117 feet, surpassing the initially planned height by 20 feet. The centerpiece of the building, the clock, has since become its iconic symbol. Its four impressive 12-foot faces exceed the original plans in size, offering a striking sight up close, especially at night when the clock faces are illuminated.

Quarters One

My walk to the gym takes me by Quarters One every morning. It’s a unique architectural style built in 1871, showcasing a design style I had never heard of- Second Empire style. Like many structures on the Arsenal, contractors primarily used locally quarried limestone to construct this large military residence. This grand residence spans multiple stories and boasts approximately 30 rooms and 20,000 square feet. Quarters One isn’t just a historic residence—it’s a real-life game of Clue, where every room holds secrets and whispers from the past.

Throughout its history, it has served as the home for a succession of commanding officers in the United States military, solidifying its status as a beacon of authority and importance within the military hierarchy. The White House is the only residence larger than Quarters One. Amidst its grandeur, whispers of the supernatural add to its allure, with tales of mysterious sounds and unexplained sightings adding layers of mystique to its rich history. It stands as a testament to the craftsmanship of its era as well as a beautiful landmark on Rock Island Arsenal.

The residence has seen its fair share of history. With 30 rooms and 20,000 square feet, it’s not just a home—it’s a living museum. Who needs Netflix when you can explore the corridors of a bygone era? It is open from time to time for special occasions and parties.

Let’s talk travel; check out Beyond Borders: Stacey Peters on the Age Has No Limit Podcast.

Rock Island National Cemetery

Did you know soldiers (and their families) are buried in places other than Arlington National Cemetery?The National Cemetery on Rock Island is the final resting place for thousands of veterans and their families. It was established during the Civil War and primarily served as a burial ground for Union soldiers. Over time, it expanded to include veterans from subsequent conflicts, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs maintains the cemetery and is open to visitors.

I knew that soldiers could be buried with their spouses. However, I just noticed that the spouse’s name was on the reverse side of the headstone today. The ceremony is lovely and peaceful like many of the cemeteries I’ve visited.

I walked around the 70-acre cemetery, looking at the names, ranks, births, and deaths. I finally understood the reasons why both my husband and father desired burial in Arlington. These cemeteries are so peaceful and well taken care of. Yes, we hope our family will visit when we die, but so will others, people like me today, who want to pay our respects.

The Confederate Cemetery

Honestly, discovering this cemetery located so far north surprised me. But there is a Confederate Cemetery on Rock Island Arsenal. It serves as a burial ground for Confederate prisoners of war who died while imprisoned at the Rock Island Prison Barracks during the Civil War. It was established in 1863, around the same time they established the National Cemetery for Union soldiers.

The Confederate Cemetery, much smaller in size compared to the National Cemetery, includes a history marker, a tall flag stand, and a singular obelisk that neither honors nor dishonors the men buried there. The cemetery contains the graves of approximately 2,000 Confederate soldiers. The prison housed as many as 12,000 prisoners until it was closed in 1865. It is also maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is open to visitors interested in Civil War history.

Rock Island Arsenal Museum

The museum showcases the history and heritage of the Rock Island Arsenal, featuring exhibits on its military significance, manufacturing capabilities, and contributions to U.S. military history. It’s open Tuesday thru Saturday from 1000 to 1600.

It is located at 3500 North Ave, Rock Island, IL 61201, United States.

Lock and Dam No. 15

The builders constructed the Clock Tower Building between 1933 and 1934.

They built it to ease navigation for boats and ships along the Upper Mississippi River. Creating a deeper and more consistent channel ensured safer and more efficient transportation of goods. I like watching from the bathroom window. This helped businesses move their products more quickly, boosting the local economy, supporting regional trade and commerce, and entertaining me.

Fort Armstrong

Fort Armstrong was a U.S. Army installation located on Rock Island in the Mississippi River near the modern-day city of Rock Island, Illinois. John Armstrong Jr., who was the Secretary of War at the time, originally established it in 1816 and named it. The fort played a significant role in the defense of the frontier during the early 19th century, particularly during the Black Hawk War of 1832.

During its operational years, Fort Armstrong served as a strategic military outpost, helping to protect settlers and facilitate trade in the region. It also interacted with Native American tribes, including negotiations and conflicts.

They eventually abandoned the fort in 1836, and it fell into disrepair. On Arsenal Island, one can still see some remnants of Fort Armstrong. It serves as a reminder of its historical significance and provides a nice place to enjoy a coffee and the views of the Mississippi.

Life on the Arsenal

Housing is the most modern structure in the arsenal. In addition to Quarters One, there are a few other historical homes for leadership.–a clear reminder that one need not travel far to appreciate the depths of history. Thankfully, we live in modern quarters. This unique blend of past and present is a daily reality for those who live and work on the arsenal grounds. The past is not hidden away but can be discovered with a simple walk across the arsenal’s expanse. I hardly ever see anyone outside, but I hear that will change when the weather gets warmer.

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2 thoughts on “Through the Lens of Time: Living in the Historical Heart of Rock Island Arsenal

  1. Good evening 🌇 I was reading and you made me laugh 😂 you said that you love sitting on the toilet on your second floor. I said keep reading. lol 😆 can’t wait for more.

    1. Good evening! I’m delighted to hear I could bring a bit of laughter to your evening. It’s moments like these, unexpected and light-hearted, that add a dash of color to our daily lives. Now, let’s dive into more stories and insights. Who knows what other surprises we might uncover together? Onward to the next chapter!

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