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Cornerstone

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

If stones could talk, the Rock Island Clock Tower Building's blocks of Joliet limestone would have more than one story to tell, but so far, we've heard not even a whisper or a sigh.

All of the attempts to make it talk have failed.

The Clock Tower was authorized by Congress in 1862 as a Storehouse to supply Union troops guarding the Mississippi River, but it was abandoned as soon as it was completed in favor of a much more ambitious arsenal in the middle of the island. It lay abandoned until 1933, when the Rock Island District Corps of Engineers moved in to be close to their nine-foot channel project, then just underway.

In 1966, as part of the Rock Island District's celebration of its centennial, the cornerstone of the Clock Tower was to be opened and its contents revealed.

But the stones would not give up their secret. In spite of clear directions from a Rock Island Argus reporter who went there on the morning of April 21, 1864 and watched the metal box placed inside a chiseled-out stone in the northwest corner of the foundation, the location could not be found. The Clock Tower does not lie due east and west, and determining the northwest corner was difficult. In addition, in 1872, three feet of earth was scraped away from the building to build an embarkment for the adjacent railroad tracks crossing the new Government Bridge. How high up was the cornerstone?

In spite of increasingly sophisticated listening devices and space age magnetic detectors, in spite of bright new ideas by new personnel, the stones of the Clock Tower would not talk. Not in 1975 when the nationwide Corps of Engineers celebrated their 200th birthday, not in 1985, not in 1995.

This silence seems to be epidemic among public buildings. The inability to locate its cornerstone puts the Rock Island Clock Tower in the same company with the United States Capitol in Washington, D. C., with the White House, the Washington Monument, and the original Smithsonian Institution.

I suspect a stony conspiracy.

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