First Mississippi River Railroad Bridge Opened In The Quad Cities 166 Years Ago
When we think of bridges in the Quad Cities, we don't think about the bridge's histories too often. Bridges in the QCA have made up a lot of the news in the past few years, but one Quad Cities bridge was a hot commodity back in the 1850s. That bridge, which has had many versions, was the first-ever railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River and it was built right here in the Quad Cities.
If you didn't know, the Quad Cities is home to the first-ever railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River bridge between Rock Island and Davenport was built to unite the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad from the east, with the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, which was running to the west, according to Iowa Almanac's, Jeff Stein.
This new railroad bridge between Rock Island and Davenport became the first-ever railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River when it became open to trail traffic on April 22nd, 1856. On this day, 166 years ago, the citizens of Davenport and Rock Island cheered as they watched three steam locomotives pull eight-passenger cars safely across the new bridge. This new bridge also allowed eastern Iowans to get to New York City by train in only 42 hours, according to Stein.
Stein says that the bridge did not come without a struggle.
According to the Iowa Almanac, it took three years to build, and that was only after the nationwide fight was settled between those who wanted the first national rail route to be in the north and those who wanted it to be in the south.
Stein says in the Iowa Almanac for April 22nd, 2022,
"Two notable men involved in the Rock Island Bridge controversy would soon square off in another national debate. Jefferson Davis was the U.S. Secretary of War at the time, and he strongly favored a southern rail route to benefit his home state of Mississippi. As a lawyer, Abraham Lincoln represented the bridge company in legal action against steamboats, who were concerned that bridges would interfere with their ability to move commerce along the river."
In 15 days, we get to tell you about how the brand new railroad bridge, at the time, was burned when a steamboat crashed into it while crossing through the open draw.
As mentioned before, we are on a different version of what was the first railroad bridge to cross the Mississippi River. The last one that saw rail traffic was in 1980.
But the first railroad bridge spanning the Mississippi opened for traffic on this date in 1856. Listen to the extended audio version of today's Iowa Almanac with Jeff Stein below, and listen to Iowa Almanac weekdays at 5:40 a.m. on B100.