If Rock Island Auction Company claims this area of Illinois to be the ‘gun mecca’ of the United States (with 5 firearm companies within the immediate vicinity), then Rock Island Arsenal is certainly the beginning of that influx of that concentration of firearms companies. Today, it is still an active duty U.S. Army post that conducts research and development for a wide variety of services within the U.S. Military. The mission statement consists of,
Provide quality facilities and excellent base operations support and services to all installation tenants in the areas of law enforcement, crime prevention, security management, fire, safety, information management, facilities engineering, housing, maintenance of buildings and roads, and transportation
Notice the research and development of arms and ammunition wasn’t really covered in that at all? That is because although small arms are important to the history of the island, they aren’t the only topic of research that the island goes on about. There is a swath of other devices and topics that the researchers at Rock Island Museum devote their time to as well as small arms. The museum director, Kris Leinicke makes a point about that in talking about the collection, “Small Arms have always been a small portion of the Rock Island experience, so we have our massive small arms as a sort of catch to draw people in, and then learn about the rest of the island’s history as they explore the museum”.
The arsenal has an extremely interesting history which goes back to the beginnings of the United States. As the Western frontier began to expand past the Ohio territory and what is currently the states of Indiana and Illinois, conflict with the various Native American tribes began to occur and become more violent. Rock Island held an extremely strategic position in being an island of significant size in the middle of the Mississippi River, dividing what would later become Indiana and Illinois. Through some shady dealings, the U.S. Government acquired Rock Island off of a purchase and began to station troops on the island. At this point in time the Western frontier resembled more of a war zone than a new country. Rock Island was one of many frontier posts stationed in a north to south line to protect various trading stations and the edge of the nation itself.
As the frontiers pushed further West, the various other forts and stockades closed down while Rock Island remained in operation due to the importance of the location. However its importance as an actual arsenal didn’t begin until the break out of the Civil War. Being on the Mississippi allowed the shipment of supplies either up or down the river with ease, as opposed to carrying them over land. Over time the island was requisitioned until the Government owned it entirely. While this was going on, it became a notorious Confederate prisoner of war location as well. Over the next 30 years after the end of the Civil War, the arsenal was built up into one of the largest Government manufacturing plants in the entire country. Many of these buildings were made of stone as well, part of the feeling of expansion that gripped America as apart of Manifest Destiny. The Museum itself was built in 1905, making it the second oldest Museum being run by the U.S. Army.
Today the Museum is apart of the umbrella organization, Center of Military History. This is a U.S. Army affiliated group that controls the funding and organization of more than forty museums across the country, in addition to funding research projects and publications that look at the Army’s role throughout history. On top of the CMH, the Museum is supported by the Rock Island Historical Society, a local organization that helps the Museum in funding, scholarships, internships and various other avenues of support. As mentioned earlier, the museum is situated on an active duty Army post but this simply means all visitors must show proper identification at the gate, and are subject to searches upon entry. The opening times and address for the Museum are as follows-
1 Rock Island Arsenal
Rock Island, IL 61299
Hours of Operation:
noon – 4:00 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays, all Federal holidays, the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas Eve.