City of Rock Island

The City of Rock Island is a diverse community on the Mississippi River, founded in 1835. The great Sauk warrior Black Hawk lived here when the U.S. Army came to the Mississippi and secured the area for White settlers. Fort Armstrong was built on the island called Rock Island. It served as a trading post and military installation, both of which attracted more White settlers, leading to the expulsion of Black Hawk and the Sauk and Meskwaki people.

A small frontier river town called Stephenson was founded in 1835. It was chosen as the spot for the Rock Island County courthouse and jail. The name of the town was changed to Rock Island in 1841.

Today Rock Island is part of the Quad Cities, a quadrant of cities on both the Iowa and Illinois sides of the Mississippi River, with a population of nearly 400,000 people. The population of Rock Island was 37,108 at the time of the 2020 U.S. Census.

With a rich history going back to the time of Black Hawk, Rock Island has a lot of stories to tell. It has been influential in the lumber industry, manufacturing, and even in the movie business. The characters of Jake and Elwood Blues from the movie “The Blues Brothers” said they were from Rock Island and the notorious John Looney was featured in the film “Road to Perdition” featuring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman.

Rock Island was part of the railroad boom and the City prospered after 1856 when the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad built the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi. This brought an influx of manufacturing, agricultural and lumber business to the area.

Swedish immigrants comprised much of the new population in Rock Island’s early days. Swedish influence could be seen in churches, businesses and the establishment of Augustana College in 1875. What began as a single-building college has expanded to one of the Midwest’s top liberal arts colleges, with 2,500 students.

It wasn’t just Swedes who immigrated to Rock Island. The City had migrations of Germans, Irish, Jews, and African Americans throughout the years, all of whom created distinct neighborhoods and made our city richer for its diversity.

Several QC PastPort destinations have been completed and more are coming soon. This history is an illuminating and entertaining part of the American Experience. The City knows the importance of keeping history alive for future generations and QC PastPort is proud to work with the City of Rock Island as a founding member of QC PastPort. 


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