Master Sgt. Rollie Brown, a clinical operations noncommissioned officer at First Army Headquarters, accompanies Vietnam veteran Eldon Miller to a ceremony for the Quad Cities Honor Tour at Rock Island Arsenal. The tour was hosted by the Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, a chapter of the Honor Flight Network, which is dedicated to honoring veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ian M. Kummer)
An Act of Congress established Rock Island Arsenal in 1862. Maj. Charles P. Kingsbury, the first commanding officer of Rock Island Arsenal, located and designed three buildings for the arsenal. In 1867, the clock tower building was the only one completed. Today, it is the home of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District.
Brevet Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Rodman, the second commanding officer of Rock Island Arsenal, redesigned the arsenal on a much grander scale. For his contributions from 1865 to 1871, he is known as the “Father of Rock Island Arsenal.” From 1871 to 1886, Lt. Col. Daniel W. Flagler oversaw the construction of the arsenal buildings upon Rodman’s death.
Rodman designed the 10 stone shops at the center of the island. The five buildings in the south row were designated “arsenal row,” and were designed for the manufacture and overhaul of general ordnance material. The five buildings in the north row were designated “armory row,” and were designed for the manufacture and overhaul of small arms.
Rodman also designed living quarters for himself and his military assistants. Quarters One, an Italianate villa, was completed in 1871. It has 20,000 square feet of floor space divided into more than 50 rooms. It is considered the second-largest single-family government residence next to the White House.
The Rock Island Prison Barracks existed from December 1863 to July 1865. It was one of 21 prison camps operated by the Union. A total of 12,192 Confederate prisoners were held at the prison camp. The Confederate cemetery is the only tangible remains of the Rock Island Prison Barracks. A total of 1,964 prisoners died. Each grave marker identifies the individual soldier, his company and his unit.
The Rock Island National Cemetery is one of the national cemeteries operated by Veterans Affairs throughout the United States. Originally established in 1863 as the post cemetery for Union prison guards at the Rock Island Prison Barracks, this cemetery is among the 20 oldest national cemeteries. The cemetery covers 70 acres and has approximately 23,000 to 24,000 grave markers representing 29,000 burials. It is among the 30 largest national cemeteries in terms of number of burials.
In 1969, the arsenal was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1989, the original arsenal buildings were designated a National Historic Landmark. Today, Rock Island Arsenal is the nation’s largest government owned and operated arsenal.