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Great Wall of Moline

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Folks around Rock Island don't take much stock in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. None of those wonders did any work. The pyramids in Egypt and the Colossus of Rhodes merely took up space.

Like other Americans, Rock Islanders are partial to machines that get things done. One of our Midwesterners from nearby Galesburg, Illinois, was invited to design a structure to rival the Eiffel Tower for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. His invention still bears his name: the Ferris Wheel. The spidery steel web-work resembled the Eifel Tower, except that the Ferris Wheel did something.

No, our hero is Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee who hooked a bowing hermit up to power a sewing machine and got 18 shirts a day out of him.

Which brings me to the Great Wall of Moline, one of our own seven wonders. The Great Wall was a joint venture between the City of Moline and the new Rock Island Arsenal under construction on the island. The Government erected a power dam across the south channel of the Mississippi between Moline and the island. From this dam upstream, they constructed a 2,400-foot lateral dam along the Moline waterfront. Completed in 1872, this Great Wall of Moline contained 56 sluice gates, each a source of waterpower for the factories that were already making Moline the farm implement capitol of the world. More than one factory could operate from the power of each gate. In addition, power from the wall and the dam was transmitted mechanically to the ten great shops of the Arsenal on the island through a unique system of wheels and cables set on a series of towers, like an erector set.

The Great Wall of Moline supplied enough power for the Arsenal and the whole of Moline until 1899, when electricity arrived. Today, it lies underneath fill Moline used to expand its waterfront.

Though it's gone, I think you'll agree that our own Great Wall of Moline far outshone that earlier one in China. The Great Wall of Moline worked.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

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.