Rock Island Arsenal

Do you like history?
How about weapons?
Or water?

If you like all three, then you should definitely take time to visit the Rock Island Arsenal if you are in the Quad Cities area. With 14 different points of interest, you could have a fun outing for the whole family.

Due to time, attention spans and cold weather, we visited 3 of the 14 points and talked about some of the others.

This is a military installation on an island between the Mississippi River and the Sylvan Slough. All adults must show picture ID to enter one of the gates. We have visited many military bases and this is required at all of them.

Our first stop was the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, housed in one of the ten stone buildings that were constructed from 1867-1893 for manufacturing general ordnance material and small arms. This is the second oldest military museum in the U.S. It opened on July 4, 1905. It's open Tuesday through Saturday from 12:00 pm - 4:00 pm and it's FREE.

After signing the guest book we entered the small theater for a ten minute film about the Arsenal. It was extremely informative and very educational. We learned that the Arsenal has manufactured thousands of different items for the military for over 100 years. It also housed a prison operated by the Union and before that the land held a fort that was used during the Black Hawk War.

They manufactured some of the additional armor for Hummers.

We liked the Samurai Katana swords on display.

My oldest daughter liked the gold plated machine gun.
It was made with unserviceable parts.

The more we looked at the guns displayed,
the more we were able to spot unique ones like these.

The museum is a large rectangle that is easy to peruse. There is a room behind the theater that the kids enjoyed. It housed costumes that they could wear.


I only know the basics about small weapons, but the collection was interesting regardless of prior knowledge. They had each piece labeled with a color and number and you could look up a weapon in binders if you wanted more information. My dad was with us, so he also provided information about some of the guns on display.

The M-14, on the left, was the gun that my dad learned to use, take apart
and reassemble during basic training for the Vietnam War.

Besides the weapons, there were displays relating to the history of the island and examples of other items that have been manufactured there.

After leaving the museum we stopped at the Mississippi River Visitor Center. It is located at Locks and Dam 15 on the Mississippi River side of the island. This is where all ships have to be raised or lowered to continue their journey on the river.

Here is one of the locks and the Government bridge
that can rotate 360 degrees to let ships pass.

There were no ships passing through the locks, but we explored the small museum, enjoyed indoor and outdoor views of the locks and dam, and watched a film on water safety (cartoon for children) and a longer video about the Mississippi. It was very interesting to learn about the reason for the locks and dams along the Mississippi, above St. Louis. Robert E. Lee led the Army Corps of Engineers in surveying the Rock Island area before work was done to make it more navigable. The video showed how boats go through the locks.

The river was still frozen to the right of the locks, near the shore.

The kids each received a free activity booklet that they continued to enjoy working on the next day.

Our final stop was at the replica of a part of Fort Armstrong. The fort was one of several built along the Mississippi in the early 19th century.

I would have liked to see the Confederate Cemetery and National Cemetery on the island, but will have to save that for another, warmer visit.


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