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Government Bridge


Special Route and Bridge DesignationsThe Government Bridge, or Arsenal Bridge, spans the Mississippi River connecting Rock Island, Illinois and Davenport, Iowa. It is adjacent to Mississippi River Lock and Dam No. 15.

The Government Bridge is the fourth structure to be built at or near its current location. The first bridge, constructed in the early 1850s and located around 1500 feet upstream of the present, was the first bridge to ever span the Mississippi River and played prominent roles in the ramp up to the American Civil War and construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad.

The bridge was to connect the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad with the newly created Mississippi and Missouri Railroad proposed by Thomas C. Durant to be the first railroad in Iowa and was to link Davenport, Iowa and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Companies operating steam ships on the Mississippi opposed the bridge fearing that it would pose a navigation hazard and alter their monopoly on trade.

Since the bridge crossed an island that was formerly the home of Fort Armstrong, the Department of War had a say in the construction (even though Fort Armstrong had closed in 1845). Future Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who was Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce, initially approved the bridge thinking that the first transcontinental railroad was going to go through the South to Los Angeles, California. However, as resistance to this plan began surfaced, Davis opposed the bridge fearing that it would result in the transcontinental railroad going through the North. Davis ordered the construction halted, but was ignored. Davis had no success in getting the courts to agree with him and the bridge was built, opening on April 22, 1856.

On May 6, 1856, the steamer Effie Afton hit a span on the bridge completely destroying the steamer and one of the spans. Steamboat companies sued to have the bridge dismantled. The M&M and the Rock Island Line hired Abraham Lincoln to defend the bridge. The case was to work its way to the Supreme Court and be decided in the bridge's favor in 1862 during the Civil War. In the meantime, the M&M and Rock Island merged to become the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. Durant took his earnings from the M&M merger to form a new company called the Union Pacific. Lincoln in doing research as private attorney visited the M&M facilities and meet with various M&M officials in Council Bluffs, Iowa. When the Pacific Railroad Act gave Lincoln the power to decide the eastern terminus of transcontinental he picked Council Bluffs as the most favorable to his former clients.

The first bridge only lasted until 1866, at which time it was considered inadequate for the ever-increasing loads carried by the railroad. All that remains of the first bridge are two piers on opposite sides of the river. It was replaced by a heavier wooden structure that reused the original piers. This structure was replaced by an iron, twin-deck bridge in 1872 that carried both a single rail line and separate roadway. This bridge was at a new location on the western tip of Arsenal Island, and the original bridge and rail line was abandoned. The relocation was driven by the federal government, who still owned the island and wanted to redevelop it into an arsenal. The original bridge and rail line severed the property in two and this development constraint was removed by relocating the bridge to an extreme end of the island. The federal government jointly used this bridge for access with the railroad, which gave rise to the current name - Government Bridge.he combat subdued version of the division patch they wear, they were nicknamed The Desert Bulls.

The current Government Bridge is actually the fourth crossing of the Mississippi in this vicinity, having been built in 1896 on the same location and using the same piers as the 1872 structure. It too is a twin-deck, steel-truss structure that carries both rail and highway traffic, but it increased the rail lines from one to two to ease what had become a rail traffic bottleneck.