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Rock Island, Illinois
Clockwise from top: Lock and Dam No. 15, statue of Black Hawk, Rock Island Centennial Bridge, Quad City Botanical Center, replica of a Fort Armstrong blockhouse
Rock Solid, Rock Island
Location of Rock Island in Rock Island County, Illinois.
Location of Rock Island in Rock Island County, Illinois.
Country United States
State Illinois
County Rock Island County
Incorporated 1841
 • City 17.07 sq mi (44.22 km2)
 • Land 16.87 sq mi (43.70 km2)
 • Water 0.20 sq mi (0.53 km2)
 • City 37,108
 • Density 2,199.51/sq mi (849.23/km2)
 • Metro
381,342 (134th)
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes
61201, 61204, 61264, 61299
Area code(s) 309
FIPS code 17-65078
Interstate Spurs I-280

Rock Island is a city in and the county seat of Rock Island County, Illinois, United States. The original Rock Island, from which the city name is derived, is now called Arsenal Island. The population was 37,108 at the 2020 census. Located on the Mississippi River, it is one of the Quad Cities, along with neighboring Moline, East Moline, and the Iowa cities of Davenport and Bettendorf. The Quad Cities has a population of about 380,000. The city is home to Rock Island Arsenal, the largest government-owned weapons manufacturing arsenal in the US, which employs 6,000 people.

There is a wide variety of housing available in Rock Island, including historic homes, new downtown condos, new construction in the heart of the city, and wooded retreats. The Rock Island-Milan School District, Rockridge School District (southwest portion of city) along with private schools, serve the city. The District (Downtown Rock Island) has art galleries and theaters, nightclubs and coffee shops, and restaurants of all flavors. Golf courses, parks, a casino, botanical center, marina, historic tours, bike paths, and festivals offer entertainment opportunities.


Rock Island IL Barber 1865p322 cropped
Rock Island in 1865.

This area has been a fortuitous place first for settlement and then for steamboat traffic, bridges, and railroads.

Saukenuk, a Sauk village

Various Native American tribes occupied this area for thousands of years before settlement. By the early nineteenth century, it was occupied chiefly by the historic Sauk tribe. Their major village of Saukenuk was located on the south side of Rock Island, along the Rock River. After the War of 1812, the United States built Fort Armstrong on the island for defensive reasons in 1816.

Saukenuk was the birthplace of the Sauk war chief Black Hawk, for whom the Black Hawk War of 1831–1832 was named. Fort Armstrong served as the US military's headquarters for the war. Today the Black Hawk State Historic Site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, includes much of the site of the original village of Saukenuk. The park includes a museum and a number of hiking trails along the Rock River and in surrounding woods.

Railroads and development

Harper House Rock Island IL postcard no 2
The Harper House

The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad was founded here in 1851. It was informally known as the Rock Island Line. As part of later nineteenth-century development, two first-class hotels: the Harper House (opened in February 1871) and the Rock Island House were built in town. Rock Island Arsenal has manufactured military equipment and ordnance for the U.S. Army since the 1880s. The railroad was liquidated in bankruptcy in 1980.


Due to its geography, Rock Island has a rich history of bridge building, including the first railroad bridge across the Mississippi (now gone), an unusual two-track railroad bridge, and the largest roller dam in the world.

The first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River was built between Arsenal Island and Davenport in 1856. Many steamboat pilots felt that the bridge had been intentionally positioned to make it hard for them to navigate, and this conflict reflected a larger rivalry: St. Louis and its steamboats against Chicago and its railroads. Two weeks after the bridge opened, the steamboat Effie Afton collided with the bridge, caught fire, and damaged the bridge. The owner of the Effie Afton sued the bridge company for damages, and Abraham Lincoln was one of the lawyers who defended the railroad. This test case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the railroad in 1872. Although the original bridge is long gone, a monument exists on Arsenal Island marking the Illinois side. On the Iowa side, the bridge was located near where 4th and Federal streets intersect with River Drive.

Rock Island System Map
The Rock Island Line shipped goods from west of the Mississippi, across the bridge at Rock Island, east to Chicago. This map shows the railroad's extent in 1965.

Lock and Dam No. 15 and the Government Bridge are located just southwest of the site of the first bridge. The Government Bridge, completed in 1896, is notable for having two sets of railroad tracks above the car lanes. There are only two bridges in the world with this feature.

Three other bridges span the river between Rock Island and Davenport. The Crescent Rail Bridge is a railroad-only bridge, completed in 1899. The Centennial Bridge was completed in 1940 for autos only. The newest bridge is the Interstate 280 bridge, completed in 1973.

Lock and Dam No. 15, completed in 1934 as a federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) project during the Great Depression, is the largest roller dam in the world. The dam is designed for navigation, not flood control. During flood season, the rollers are raised, unleashing the full flow of the water.

On the south side of the city, overlooked by the Black Hawk State Historic Site, is a crossing of the Rock River to Milan, Illinois. This set of bridges also crosses the historic Hennepin Canal and Sears Dam (this was named after the entrepreneur David B. Sears, who previously built the Sears Dam between Arsenal Island and Moline.) In 2007 a new bridge was completed between 3rd Street Moline/southeast Rock Island and Milan. It expedites the trip to Milan, the airport, and points south on U.S. Route 67.


Rock Island is located at 41°29′21″N 90°34′23″W / 41.48917°N 90.57306°W / 41.48917; -90.57306 (41.489083, -90.573154).

According to the 2010 census, Rock Island has a total area of 17.872 square miles (46.29 km2), of which 16.85 square miles (43.64 km2) (or 94.28%) is land and 1.022 square miles (2.65 km2) (or 5.72%) is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 1,711
1860 5,130 199.8%
1870 7,890 53.8%
1880 11,659 47.8%
1890 13,634 16.9%
1900 19,493 43.0%
1910 24,335 24.8%
1920 35,177 44.6%
1930 37,953 7.9%
1940 42,775 12.7%
1950 48,710 13.9%
1960 51,863 6.5%
1970 50,166 −3.3%
1980 46,821 −6.7%
1990 40,552 −13.4%
2000 39,684 −2.1%
2010 39,018 −1.7%
2020 37,108 −4.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2010 2020

2020 census

Rock Island Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White (NH) 26,464 21,910 67.83% 59.04%
Black or African American (NH) 6,987 7,135 17.91% 19.23%
Native American or Alaska Native (NH) 84 63 0.22% 0.17%
Asian (NH) 680 1,603 1.74% 4.32%
Pacific Islander (NH) 8 12 0.02% 0.03%
Some Other Race (NH) 66 160 0.17% 0.43%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 1,065 1,928 2.73% 5.20%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 3,664 4,297 9.39% 11.58%
Total 39,018 37,108 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race

2010 Census

In 2000 Census, there were 39,684 people, 16,148 households, and 9,543 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,492.0 people per square mile (962.4/km2). There were 17,542 housing units at an average density of 1,101.6 per square mile (425.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 77.13% White, 17.17% African American, 0.28% Native American, 0.75% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 2.41% from other races, and 2.19% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 5.90% of the population.

There were 16,148 households, out of which 26.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.2% were married couples living together, 14.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 40.9% were non-families. 34.5% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.31 and the average family size was 2.97.

The city's population was spread out, with 23.0% under the age of 18, 13.1% from 18 to 24, 25.7% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,729, and the median income for a family was $45,127. Males had a median income of $32,815 versus $23,378 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,202. About 10.9% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.5% of those under age 18 and 8.4% of those age 65 or over.


Construction will begin in April 2017 for a new Rock Island County courthouse. The 46,000 square foot building will have three stories that house four courtrooms, judges offices, a law library, and both the Circuit Clerk and States Attorneys offices. The $28 million project is expected to be completed in the fall of 2018. The old courthouse is expected to be torn down upon completion of the new building.

Points of interest

The Quad City Hindu Temple
Longview Park
Longview Park
See also: Quad Cities Landmarks

Rock Island, Illinois is the site of the Quad City Hindu Temple, a Hindu shrine dedicated chiefly to the deity Venkateswara. The temple opened in 2007. Prior to its construction, Hindu worshippers had to travel to St. Louis or Peoria to participate in Hindu festivals and worship.

Cultural organizations

  • Ballet Quad Cities
  • Genesius Guild
  • The Quad City Symphony Orchestra plays part of its Masterworks Series' concerts at Centennial Hall on the Augustana College campus.


Largest employers

According to the city's 2017 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the largest employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Rock Island Arsenal 6,301
2 Trinity Rock Island 1,848
3 Rock Island-Milan School District 41 1,292
4 Rock Island County 733
5 Jumer's Casino & Hotel 550
6 Augustana College 550
7 Pfg Tpc Roma Foods 530
8 City of Rock Island 436
9 Modern Woodmen of America 435
10 Honeywell Safety Products 400


The first football game in what was to become the National Football League was played at Rock Island's Douglas Field in September, 1920. It was hosted by the Rock Island Independents (1907–1926), who were a charter NFL franchise in 1920.

The Rock Island Islanders were a minor league baseball team that played for 37 seasons between 1901 and 1948. The Islanders played at Douglas Park and were affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia A's.

The Rock Island Legion Post 200 baseball team won the 4th State Championship in its history in 2011 in Galesburg, Illinois. Post 200 would finish 4th that year in the Great Lakes Regional.

Karters flock to Rock Island every year for the prestigious Rock Island Grand Prix on Labor Day weekend, which attracts competitors from across the United States and the world. With exception to 1997, when the annual race was canceled due to legal liability issues, the Rock Island Grand Prix has been held every year since 1994.

Rock Island High School has won state championships in basketball, girls and boys track, softball, and wrestling. Additionally the football and basketball programs are perennial powerhouses. Rock Island Public Schools Stadium has an artificial surface and has a seating capacity of over 15,000.


The majority of the city is served by the Rock Island/Milan School District with portions of the southwest area falling under the Rockridge School District. The Rock Island-Milan School District is currently home to 13 public schools, with one high school, two junior high schools, nine elementary schools, and one alternative education center. Several private schools also serve Rock Island, including Jordan Catholic Elementary School and Alleman Catholic High School.

High schools


Former schools

Villa de Chantal Catholic school closed in 1978, and the building was destroyed by fire in 2005. Schools that were closed and demolished include Franklin Junior High School, Central Junior High School, Lincoln Elementary School, and Audubon Elementary School.

Notable people

  • David Ackles, born Rock Island, February 20, 1937. 1940s Hollywood child-actor, then 1960s thru 1990s diverse songwriter-singer-pianist best known for composing and first recording in 1968 his later Worldwide hit "The Road To Cairo". Plus lesser known "Down River" and eclectic songs much favored or covered by other artists.
  • Eddie Albert, Oscar-nominated actor and activist, known for television series, Green Acres and Switch, and films
  • Black Hawk, leader and warrior of the Sauk American Indian tribe
  • Ken Bowman, Ken Duncan and Herm Schneidman, players for NFL's Green Bay Packers
  • George Davenport, American frontiersman, trader, U.S. Army soldier, and Indian agent
  • Steve Decker, catcher with the San Francisco Giants, Florida Marlins, Colorado Rockies and Anaheim Angels
  • Frederick Denkmann, lumber mogul and partner of Friedrich Weyerhäuser
  • Pony Diehl, Wild West outlaw
  • Booker Edgerson, Buffalo Bills
  • Lane Evans, former United States Congressman (Illinois 17th District); born in Rock Island
  • Russell Farnham, one of the first settlers of the area, and a partner of George Davenport
  • Virginia Frederick, Illinois state representative
  • Daniel G. Garnsey, former U.S. Congressman
  • Aaron H. Grout, son of Governor Josiah Grout and Vermont Secretary of State
  • June Haver, screen and radio actress; wife of actor Fred MacMurray
  • Chase Hilgenbrinck, former professional soccer player with the New England Revolution
  • Roger Imhof, actor and performer in motion pictures, vaudeville, burlesque and the circus
  • Jesse Johnson, musician, guitarist for group "The Time", as well as solo artist
  • Mark Johnson, Olympian and winningest wrestling coach at the University of Illinois
  • Madison Keys, professional tennis player
  • Lou Kolls, MLB umpire
  • Helen Mack, screen and stage actress; born in Rock Island
  • Jerry Mansfield, NFL player
  • Elisabeth Maurus (aka Lissie), folk-rock singer and songwriter; born in Rock Island
  • Tim Moore, stage, screen and television actor; first black TV star
  • Don Nelson, forward and head coach with several NBA teams, most all-time wins as a head coach
  • Greg Norton, former bassist of the hardcore punk band Hüsker Dü
  • Col. Gary Payton, astronaut
  • Chasson Randle, basketball player and all-time leading scorer at Stanford
  • Paul E. Rink, Illinois judge, lawyer, and politician
  • Harry Sage, catcher with the Toledo Maumees
  • Bobby Schilling, U.S. Congressman from Illinois's 17th congressional district
  • Dred Scott, American slave who sued for his freedom
  • J. Clinton Searle, Illinois state representative and lawyer
  • Michael H. Sexton, Minor League Baseball executive
  • Tom Sexton, shortstop with 19th century's Milwaukee Brewers
  • Thomas P. Sinnett, Illinois politician and lawyer
  • Charles A. Spring, Presbyterian leader and son of Samuel Spring
  • Henry Strasak, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer
  • Lefty Taber, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies; born in Rock Island
  • Jason Tanamor, writer and author; part-time resident of Rock Island
  • Hiram Truesdale, lawyer and jurist
  • Jonathan Tweet, game designer, author, blogger
  • Samuel Rinnah Van Sant, Civil War soldier, Governor of Minnesota 1901-05
  • Henry Cantwell Wallace, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture 1921-24
  • Friedrich Weyerhäuser, lumber mogul
  • Bill Zies, catcher with the St. Louis Cardinals
  • Lester Ziffren, journalist and Hollywood screenwriter

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