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General Rodman

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Brigadier General Thomas J. Rodman arrived on Rock Island in 1865 to complete the long-delayed Rock Island Arsenal building at the downstream tip of the island, he was already famous in military circles. He had invented the Rodman Gun, a cannon that lasted as much as twenty times longer than conventional cannon. It was the most formidable weapon of the Civil War.

Residents around Rock Island watching him complete the unfinished arsenal building must have realized that General Rodman was not about to rest on past glories. Abandoning government plans for the building, Rodman raised the height of the tower by a story, and installed four twelve-foot clocks, one on each side, twice the size specified, giving the structure an instant name: The Clock Tower Building. Rodman also embellished the roofline.

But even as he was completing the Clock Tower Building, he was planning to abandon it in favor of an immense arsenal in the center of the island. The Clock Tower had been intended only for storage and distribution. General Rodman envisioned a great manufacturing arsenal of ten stone shops.

His plans for a great arsenal were rejected three times by his superiors, but eventually, General Rodman won out. Within six years, working virtually around the clock, he drew up plans, got approval and funding from Congress, and supervised the beginnings of construction.

Overworked, General Rodman died in 1871 at the age of fifty-six before completing any of the buildings, and his dream was carried out by others. During World War II, more than eighteen thousand persons worked there. Today, the Rock Island Arsenal remains the largest in the world. It has permanently changed the name of Rock Island to Arsenal Island.

Funeral services for "the father of the Rock Island Arsenal" drew a thousand mourners in 1871. General Rodman and his wife are buried on the island next to the National Cemetery in a plot surrounded by a wrought iron fence and marked by two Rodman Guns.

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.