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Save the Arsenal

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If an asteroid ever does head straight for earth, let's hope Congress is not involved in deciding what to do. Just look at the Rock Island Arsenal.

In 1805, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike suggested that Congress reserve Rock Island as a military site. The Government did build Fort Armstrong at the tip of the island in 1816, but that did not stop Congress from debating whether or not that was a good idea. They are still debating nearly two hundred years later.

Fort Armstrong was abandoned in 1836. Immediately, squatters moved onto the island, harvesting most of the timber and clearing small farms. three years later, the military decided it wanted the island back, and recommended the island for a United States Arsenal.

Promoters who saw the island's commercial potential were opposed. A group of speculators in New York and St. Louis secretly convinced Congress hold an auction of the island, promising a return of $100,000. President Zachary Taylor issued an order to hold the auction. When news of the auction reached Illinois, Senator Stephen A. Douglas and other politicians rushed in to prevent the sale. The reprieve arrived just as the auction got underway.

Squatting increased. By 1854, the squatters included a railroad, several manufacturing concerns, waterpower promoters, and many more garden variety squatters.

In 1854, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis strongly recommended the site for an arsenal, but Congress could not decide. Meanwhile, a whole village was now squatting on the island.

When the Civil War began, local and state politicians again lobbied for an arsenal on the island. They succeeded in 1862 when Congress established the Rock Island Arsenal.

If you're from Rock Island, you know that's not the end of the story. "Saving the Arsenal" has become an industry of its own, employing nearly every politician within a hundred miles.

Let's hope Congress doesn't make up its mind anytime soon. Can you imagine what Rock Island would be like with a gross of unemployed politicians with time on their hands?

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.