Fifty Years Ago
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When the writer first visited this most beautiful Island in the Mississippi river, then and now known as Rock Island, the ground on which the triplet cities of Davenport, Rock Island, and Moline now stands, was covered with prairie grass, and apparently a sterile waste as regards to the two former, whilst the latter was principally covered with timber. Now how changed! Then the site of Davenport was claimed to be the most beautiful on the west bank of the Mississippi, between St. Paul and St. Louis by Black Hawk and his confreres, who had traveled up and down the river in canoes, whilst his judgment was confirmed by thousands of passengers who viewed it from steamboats in after years. Now the triple cities are widely known as the leading manufacturing cities of the great west, with railroads stretching out from ocean to ocean, and although the Mississippi makes a dividing line, they are united by a magnificent bridge, which makes their intercourse easier than over paved streets.
Rock Island, at that time, was excluded from settlement by the orders of Government, as it had been reserved, on the recommendation of Hon. Lewis Cass, whilst he was in the Senate and Cabinet, as a site for a United States Arsenal and Armory. Fort Armstrong was situated on the lower end of the Island, and was then in command of Col. William Davenport. The Sac and Fox agency (Maj. Davenport, agent,) stood on the bank of the river about half a mile above the Fort; next came the residence and office of Antoine Le Clair, United States Interpreter for the Sam and Foxes, and a little higher up, the residence, store-house and out buildings of Col. George Davenport, who had by an act of Congress, preempted a claim of two hundred acres of land running across the Island from bank to bank of the river. The Island is about two miles long, and being at the foot of the rapids has the best water power on the river, capable of running a much greater amount of machinery than is at present in operation. The entire Island is now owned and occupied by the Government, (the heirs of Col. Davenport having sold and deeded their interest), and is now used as an Armory and arsenal, which are destined to be in the near future, the most extensive works of the kind probably in the world. Indeed, army officers who have traveled extensively in the Old World, say they have never seen anything to compare with it, in elegant grounds, water power and buildings, and with such facilities for moving anything to and from the Arsenal. These works were commenced under the supervision of Gen. Rodman, the inventor of the Rodman gun, and since the death of the General, D. W. Flagler, Lieut. Col. of Ordinance, has been in command, and a more efficient and better qualified officer for the place could not have been found in the army.
There are already completed ten massive stone buildings, which are used for work shops, storage, etc., officers’ quarters, both durable and comfortable, and many other buildings. The former residence of Col. George Davenport, (the House in which he as killed for money many years ago) built in 1831, of solid hewed timber, and afterwards weather-boarded, still stands unoccupied.
The Island is mostly covered with trees of different varieties, which are kept neatly trimmed, and is laid out like a park, with wide avenues extending its whole length, which makes the most elegant drives and shady walks for the thousands of visitors who flock to the Island to feast their eyes upon its magnificence.