From the Quad Cities Times
, April 21st, 2006- http://www.qctimes.net/articles/2006/04/21/news/local/doc44486c8c76c97948201555.txt First railroad bridge over river opened on this date
By John Willard
On this day 150 years ago, transportation history was made in the Quad-Cities with the opening of the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River.
With bridge workers aboard, the locomotive Fort Des Moines, of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, crossed the bridge between Rock Island and Davenport at dusk on Monday, April 21, 1856. At about 9 p.m., another locomotive pulling 10 heavily loaded freight cars bound for Iowa City crossed the bridge.
The next day, the first passenger train — a locomotive, baggage car and one passenger car — made the crossing.
“The church bells of the twin-cities rang out their joyous notes in honor of the achievement, and cheer upon cheer went up from the crowds along the line,” the Rock Island Argus reported on April 23, 1856.
The opening of the bridge was a significant achievement. In addition to opening up the West, the bridge signaled a shift in the nation’s transportation system from water to rail.
The Quad-Cities achieved the distinction of getting the structure through the efforts of railroad developer Henry Farnam.
Although several railroads were interested in crossing the Mississippi River in their race to reach the West, Farnam figured the Rock Island Line had the best shot because of the location of its route. It extended from Chicago to Rock Island, a distance of 181 miles, the shortest distance between Chicago and the Mississippi River. In addition, the Rock’s route was through a gentle valley free of hills and other obstructions.
In the fall of 1852, the Rock Island Line hired Farnam to build the railroad. On Feb. 22, 1854, the completion of the railroad to Rock Island was celebrated with a gala dinner in Rock Island. In June of that year, dignitaries from the East Coast rode the rails to Rock Island for a gala steamboat excursion up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, Minn., an event known as the Grand Excursion.
Just two weeks after the bridge opened to rail traffic, the steamboat Effie Afton struck a bridge pier, setting off a fire that destroyed the wooden structure. In a lawsuit filed by the steamboat’s owners, future president Abraham Lincoln represented the railroad. After lengthy litigation, the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled in favor of the railroad.
The original bridge was repaired, with replacements built in 1866, 1872 and 1896. The 1896 structure still operates as the A rsenal Bridge.
The completion of the original bridge will be celebrated Sept. 14-18 during “RiverWay 2006, Celebrating the Mississippi River in the Quad-Cities: Bridging the river, connecting the continent.”
Plans call for excursions aboard a passenger train drawn by a vintage steam locomotive, a Mississippi River “ghost bridge” created by light reflected off sprays of water, and other special events.
People interested in joining the effort can contact River Action Inc. at (563) 322-2969.
John Willard can be contacted at
(563) 383-2314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.