Before European settlers arrived in the 1830’s, Rock Island – at the junction of the Rock and the Mississippi Rivers – was the site of numerous Sauk and Fox Indian Villages. The great Sauk warrior Black Hawk lived here when the U.S. Army secured the upper Mississippi for white settlers. Ft. Armstrong, built in what is now Rock Island, served as both a trading post and military installation, attracting more settlers and eventually lead to the fall of Black Hawk and migration west by the Sauk and Fox Indian nations. The Hauberg Indian Museum at Black Hawk State Historic Site houses archives and artifacts collected by turn-of-the century Rock Island resident John Hauberg. They are displayed in life-like displays depicting the Sauk and Fox Indians’ daily life throughout each of the four seasons.graphic

Growth of the Ft. Armstrong post came about due to its strategic location in a shallow area of the Mississippi River. This allowed riverboats large and small access to the growing community in and around Ft. Armstrong. Within a few years, the trading post became a thriving and growing frontier river town of several hundred families. The original city plat was filed on July 10, 1835 and named Stephenson; it was renamed Rock Island in 1841.

Rock Island’s economy prospered in 1856 when the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (the first to be robbed by Jesse James) built the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi. The railway brought industry to Rock Island: lumbering, pottery, manufacture of farm implement and railroad supplies, among others.

River towns of the mid-19th century were known to be raucous, often unrefined and even downright rough-and-tumble communities. Rock Island was no exception. Riverboats brought all kinds of new settlers from gamblers, snake-oil salesmen and carpetbaggers to families, industrialists and young entrepreneurs. And all had a hand, in one way or another, in contributing to the development of Rock Island into a robust center of commerce, industry, wealth and residence. The legacy of those earliest settlers remains today, evident in the city’s still exciting attractions and leisure activities, and renovated elegant homes and storefronts.

Near the bustling downtown, some of the residential neighborhoods, which continue to undergo extensive renovations, include grand homes dating to the 1850’s. These elegant structures were mostly custom-built for and by the community’s wealthiest citizens; smaller houses were also built and sold to local citizens, almost in the same manner as modern-day tract or production housing developments. Even the simplest homes, though, were built of the era’s finest quality materials: virgin American lumber, stained glass, solid brass fixtures, and gas and electric lighting fixtures of etched glass. Most importantly, homes were constructed with expert craftsmanship and attention to detail from the foundation to the rooftop. Most of the neighborhoods that surround downtown are remarkably intact. Over the past ten years, much has been done to remove veneers of siding to reveal wonderful details and restore the quality of place that makes these neighborhoods the best historic neighborhoods in the Quad Cities.

 

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