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From the Rivers to the Rails: A look at the Rock Island Line History

Even the history of the Rock Island Line offers a glimpse into the understandable and difficult tension that comes with change.


Before the trails, there were railways; and before the railways, there were riverboats.... Construction began on the Rock Island railway on October 1, 1852. It was the first railroad to connect Chicago with the Mississippi River. The Rock Island Bridge, completed in April of 1856, crossed the Mississippi between Illinois and Iowa.

Two weeks after the bridge opened, a steamboat crashed into the new infrastructure. Fortunately, there was no loss of life, but the steamboat was destroyed. ​ 

At the time, St. Louis was the steamboat capitol of the United States. Not surprisingly, there was growing tension between steamboat owners and the newest mode of transportation: trains.​

In October of that same year, several steamboat owners filed a joint lawsuit against the Railroad Bridge Company with the hope of deterring new bridge construction and railway expansion. A young trial attorney was enlisted to defend the Railroad Bridge Company against the lawsuit. His name was Abraham Lincoln.​


Over a thousand pages of depositions were filed and a two month continuance was given before the case went before a judge. Lincoln gave his closing argument-making the case that bridges over navigable rivers were to the advantage of everyone. The trial lasted 15 days and included the testimony of 100 witnesses.


Over a hundred years later, it is the greatest hope of the Missouri State Parks Foundation that the addition of new trails, and the new connections will benefit everyone: friends, neighbors and visitors to the State for generations to come.

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