How did Centennial Bridge get its name?
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Right now you are standing in the heart of old Stephenson, which was the name of Rock Island’s first town plat in 1835. The town took on the name Rock Island when it was incorporated in 1841. It grew rapidly and prospered, due in large part to its location on the river. Boats carrying goods and passengers upstream stopped in Rock Island to take on pilots who would navigate the treacherous Rock Island rapids. After 1854, Rock Island was also was a major stop on a primary east-west railroad, the Rock Island Lines.
The Centennial Bridge was built between 1938 and 1940 as the first four-lane highway bridge over the Mississippi River. At first, the bridge was to have been named after Robert Galbraith, the mayor of Rock Island who spearheaded the effort to fund and build the bridge. However, just two months before it opened, Galbraith proposed instead that it be named Centennial in recognition of the City of Rock Island’s 100th birthday. The five main spans of the bridge have a steel, tied-arch design The bridge rests on six concrete piers, steel H-piles, and concrete approach beams. The bridge includes 9,750 tons of steel.
The graceful arches of the Centennial Bridge have become an iconic symbol of the Quad Cities.The arches were lighted in 1988 by River Action, Inc. through the creation of an organization called Lights! River! Action!, which raised the funds for the lights and their maintenance.
The small square building at the foot of the bridge is a Rock Island landmark, the former Centennial Bridge Commission Building. It was converted into a visitor center in 2008, and is filled with displays featuring past and present views of all of the Mississippi River bridges in the Quad Cities, along with rare documents and photographs of the construction of Centennial Bridge. If the “Open” flag is flying, take time to stop and see the colorful, history rich displays, or speak with a visitor counselor and pick up materials for other area attractions.
One way to continue your tour is by crossing the Centennial Bridge using the pedestrian walk. When you are near the center of the bridge call the RiverWay Audio Tour number at 563-209-9071 and listen to recording #67.
Another way to continue the tour is to head east on 2nd Avenue and venture through downtown Rock Island, also known as the Arts & Entertainment District. Take note of the pleasing integration of new buildings with the historic downtown streetscape. The gray condominiums with the tower on the northeast corner of 16th Street and 2nd Avenue were completed in 2003, and mix well with the historic Illinois Theatre Building on the southeast corner of the intersection. Several buildings in the 1600 block of 2nd Avenue date back to the 1870's and have remarkable histories. Read all about them and other interesting downtown sites in the “Downtown Rock Island” walking tour brochure available at the Centennial Bridge Visitor Center. The next tour stop is located at 17th Street at the bike trail.