Rock Island County, Illinois Genealogy Trails

Railroads in Rock Island County


Arrival, Development and John Buford's role of the Chicago - Rock Island Railroad

Arsenal Bridge -first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River

Abe Lincoln's Trial in defense of the Railroads




Rock Island County, Illinois
Genealogy Trails History Group is a Volunteer Organization Dedicated to providing FREE access to Historical and Genealogical Data.
2006 - 2014 by Genealogy Trails -  All Rights Reserved - With full rights reserved for original submitters.













Arrival of the Chicago - Rock Island Railroad

The opening of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad was celebrated with much rejoicing in Rock Island on February 22, 1854. The Rock Island Advertiser published the following article the next morning:

"It is done! The tocsin of Progress and Enterprise has sounded its march from the Atlantic to the beautiful shores of the Mississippi at Rock Island. The first train of cars arrived at this city, on yesterday, at 5 o'clock, P.M.

We were on the ground at an early hour, prepared to see and rejoice with the thousands who were there collected. Amid the acclamations of a multitude that no man could number, and the roar of artillery, making the very heavens tremble, punctual to the moment, the iron horse appeared in sight, rolling along with a slow yet mighty motion to the depot. after him followed a train of six passenger cars crammed to the utmost with proud and joyful guests, with waving flags and handkerchiefs, and whose glad voices re-echoed back the roar of greeting with which they were received.--Then came another locomotive and train of five passenger cars, equally crowded and decorated. This splendid pageant came to a stop in front of the depot, and the united cheers of the whole proclaimed to the world that the end was attained, and the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad was opened through for travel and business.

The guests were appropriately received at the depot by committees appointed for that purpose, when J. J. Beardsley, Esq., in behalf of the city of Rock Island, arose and in an eloquent and imposing manner pronounced... "The event that has called forth this demonstration, is none other than the fact that on this day the coast of the Atlantic Ocean has been bound to the shores of the Mississippi River, with bands of iron."

On March 1, 1854, William Brackett, Esq., published remarks about John Buford's role in this event in the Rock Island Advertiser.

John Buford's role in the growth and completion of the Chicago - Rock Island Railroad
On March 1, 1854, William Brackett, Esq., published remarks about John Buford's role in the development and completion of the Chicago - Rock Island Railroad in the Rock Island Advertiser.

While the mind is almost bewildered in contemplating the fruits of the gigantic achievement, whose success we have come here to-day to celebrate, as well as the glorious prospect which looms up in the future, the recollections of the past seem to be almost forgotten, and the memory of those who first conceived and planned the project of uniting by strong iron bands the "worn out world" of the East with the young, vigorous, and sinewy West, seems to be almost lost sight of amid the transports of joy which greet us on every side. -- Yet we should not forget that there is a past, as well as a present and a future to the history of this road.

And well do I remember how gloomy and overshadowed seemed the prospect of this enterprise a little more than seven years ago, when a Spartan band of the citizens of Rock Island first broached this subject at a public meeting, held in the Court House.-- That meeting was called together for the purpose of taking into consideration the question of petitioning our Legislature to grant a charter for a railroad from Rock Island to Peru. In that day of small things, that antedeluvian period, before the deluge of emigration had set in upon us from the East, it was not thought proper or polite to ask for a road as long as that from Chicago to Rock Island. That would have been asking too much. I see around me some of those who participated in the proceedings of that meeting; Col. Buford, the venerable father of the President of the day, presided over its delibertions--a name which I cannot recall in connexion with this subject without doing his memory the justice to say, that he was far in advance of his age. Without any of that halting or blinding prejudice which is supposed to belong peculiarly to the aged, his clear and penetrating wisdom foresaw the great and exceeding weight of glory and prosperity that would be wrought out for the people of the West, by establishing such a line of communication between the Atlantic sea-board and the great basin of the Mississippi Valley; and he gave to this project the whole force and ardor of his generous nature. I think, sir, it is not saying too much of him to affirm that had his valuable life been spared to us a few years longer, this enterprise would have sooner commended itself to public favor. There would not have been so many doubting Thomases amongst us, and we should have witnessed several years earlier, the magnificent spectacle which is presented to us today.

Another article published in the Rock Island Advertiser on March 1, 1854 gives the details of this continuous line of railroad connecting the Mississippi with Lake Michigan.

Details of the Development of the Chicago - Rock Island Railroad
On March 1, 1854, the Rock Island Advertiser reprinted an article from the Chicago Democratic Press.

Chicago and Rock Island Railroad--Its Commencement, Progress and Completion

On Wednesday last, the 22nd inst., that event looked forward to for years with so much interest by our citizens--the connection of the Mississippi with Lake Michigan, by a continuous line of Railroad--was consummated. The honor of arriving first at this important goal belongs to the Chicago and Rock Island road--an honor, by the way well worthy the herculean efforts which have been made to achieve it. In February, 1851, the legislature chartered the company--in October of the same year the contract for its construction and equipment was taken--in April, 1852, the first estimate for work upon it was paid--and in Feb. 1854--three years from its charter, and twenty-two months after ground had been broken upon it--the work is completed and cars running daily its entire length--one hundred and eighty-one miles! This is certainly a proud monument to all the parties who have been instrumental in pushing the work forward to completion, and especially so to those sagacious and energetic men who have had it in special charge--Messrs. Sheffield and Farnam. In view of an event fraught with so much interest to our city as the completion of this road, we have thought a brief history of it might not prove uninteresting to many of our readers.

In October 1851 the company were so fortunate as to close a highly favorable contract with Messrs. Sheffield and Farnam for the construction and equipment of the entire road. By the terms of the contract the road was to be completed, equipped and placed into the hands of the company by the last day of January, 1856, for which the contractors were to receive the sum of $3,987.683, as follows:

$500,000 in cash, $1,487,683 in capital stock and $2,000,000 in mortgage and convertible bonds bearing seven percent interest upon such bonds as they might sell until the delivery of the road to the company. Subsequently, and after a portion of the road had been in operation, it was found that the rolling stock provided for in the contract would not be sufficient to accommodate the business of the road. Another contract was therefore entered into with the same firm to supply the deficiency, and also to fence the road, which, together with right of way and interest on stock up to the time of completion and delivery of road, swells its actual cost to about $4,750,000. Immediately upon closing the contract for building the road, Messrs. S. and F. purchased all the rails necessary for its completion, having conditionally negotiated for the same prior to undertaking the work. This was a most fortunate stroke on the part of those gentlemen, as subsequently the rate of iron advanced to a price almost double that which they paid. It is now conceded by those familiar with the subject that at the present rates of iron and wages, the road could not be constructed and equipped for a sum less than one million dollars advance upon the contract price. The iron used in the construction of this road is the T Rail, weighing 59 pounds to the yard. The following is a list of the Sub-Contractors, all of whom have manifested a commendable energy in prosecuting to completion their respective undertakings:

Gardener & Goss...14 miles
Joel A. Matteson...35 miles
Jeremiah Crotty...25 miles
Warner & Sherwin...37 miles
Whitman & Boyle...17 miles
George Armour...16 miles
Michael Killela...8 miles
Clark & Mann...2 miles
A. T. Groendycke...10 miles
B. F. Carmichael...13 miles
Horace Holmes...4 miles
Gardener & Goss...184 miles

J. Warner & Co.
Stone & Boomer


The remainder of the article is incomplete, but it does list the distance from Chicago to various cities along the route:

Joliet...40 miles
Morris...61 miles
Ottawa...83 miles
La Salle...98 miles
Peru...99 miles
Tiskillwa...122 miles
Sheffield...136 miles
Geneseo...158 miles
Rock Island...181 miles







Arsenal Bridge

It was the first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River.

Construction began in 1854 and was completed in April 1856.

In May of 1856 portion of the bridge was destroyed by fire.


In 1872, a second bridge, made of iron, was built by the Arsenal. It consisted of a single rail line above the wagon path.
The bridge was built by the Baltimore Bridge Company and had a five spans 220 to 260 feet long.
The draw was 368 feet in length and the width was a narrow 16 feet.
It was used for two way wagon traffic.

Arsenal Bridge


The 1872 bridge was replaced in 1896, as locomotives and rail cars had become too heavy for the structure.
The Government Bridge was built to accommodate the automobile and increased railroad traffic.
This design, with two railroad tracks on top, is unique in the United States.
The swing span turns 360 degrees either direction.
It is operated by a 56 horsepower streetcar motor, original to 1896.

The bridge operator controls the swing span from the house on top of the bridge.
A ground person makes sure all the traffic is off the bridge span before it turns.
Once the bridge is open the wind can easily move it.
The bridge is owned by the U.S. Government but operated by private contractors, which means that any ticket issued on the bridge falls under federal fines.

Source: Tour of the Arsenal Island.
C. Horton - 2007






Abe Lincoln's Trial in defense of the Railroads

Abe Lincoln

Abe Lincoln is best known in Rock Island County for his defense of the railroads against the steamboat company that owned the Effie Afton which ran into one of the pillars of the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi built in 1856.

I have always assumed that he won the case, since railroads survived and steamboats did not. However, Larry McHenry submitted this research that clarifies why the results of this trial are so muddy. The issue between the railroads and the steamboats really focused on which way goods should travel across the country: across the prairies by rail or up the rivers from the South. The trial did not result in a definitive answer to this question.

The trial in which Lincoln defended the railroad ended in a hung jury 9:3. With a hung jury the party can have it retried, if it is a win of an acquittal then the case is over.

Actual proceedings against the bridge were instituted by James Ward, a St. Louis steamboat owner. He had been a member of the St. Louis Chamber of Commerce Committee which had investigated the bridge.

On May 7, 1858, Ward filed a bill "in the District Court of the United States for the District of Iowa, praying for an abatement of the Rock Island Bridge as a public nuisance, especially injurious to him as an owner and navigator of steamboats. to and from St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota."

Rendering his decision in November, 1859, Judge John M. Love declared the bridge "a common and public nuisance" and decreed that the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad Company "remove the three piers and their superstructure which lay within the State of Iowa."

However the Bridge Company then appealed it to the Supreme Court with William(?) Stanton and won. Not being detoured the St. Louis river interest then appealed to United States Congress and had the Bridge declared a hazard and removed, and that is why we now have the government bridge.

It was never a definite "win" for the railroads, but it did help Lincoln begin his law career as he argued well in favor of the railroad interests.

Stanton later became Lincoln's Secretary of War.

Submitted by Larry McHenry