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WQAD Throwback: Tour the inside of Rock Island Arsenal's historic Clock Tower

WQAD got an inside look at the tower in early 2001. The clock itself had been running almost continuously since 1867.

Editor's note: This is part of a series looking back at stories from the WQAD archives. This particular story aired in February 2001 and was filed by reporter Vanessa van Hyfte and photographer Andy McKay.

There is a Quad Cities landmark with a history that reaches back to the Civil War: the old Clock Tower, the first building on the Rock Island Arsenal.

Our guide for the tour is Ron Dice, the U.S. Corps of Engineers archaeologist. He has the key to the very top of the tower, a place off limits to the public.

“We're on the fourth floor of the clock tower building which is actually the attic and we use this for temporary storage,” Dice said.

The attic holds some old treasures. Before elevators, the old pulley moved guns and ammunition through the floors.

“We originally had two openings or trap doors. This is one of them on the floor. And this is the pulley system,” Dice said as he points out the features.

Around the corner on the next floor up, 500-pound weights were once used to power the tower's massive clock.

“(The attendant would) crank the weights up and gravity would supply the power," Dice said.

The 1867 staircase is still intact with its original wood and paint. “This is a mint green color. It would be considered kind of awful today,” Dice said.

The fifth floor of the tower is home to one of the four original clock faces.

“The wood had rotten through the 100-some-odd years since the building was built," Dice said.

The winding stairs go up six stories, with one more floor to the top.

The tower still holds all the old clock faces that have been replaced over the years, but the portholes are the originals. They offer a unique peek at the Mississippi River.

Graffiti covers the walls. Many passages take you back through time.

There is one from "the Pratt family" that reads: “Papa started to wind the clock in 1867 and continued winding it every day, only missing it three times until 1907."

The clock is no longer run by hand but by electricity. The parts are all original. It's the only known clock of its type that is still running.

“It's actually a pretty amazing piece of machinery. It's been running almost continuously since 1867,” Dice said.

For the last destination of the tour, we attacked the steepest staircase and finally arrive at the top.

“I think it’s one of the best views in the Quad Cities. It has a 360-degree view," Dice said.

A perch unmatched in the river valley and home to the old bell.

“People started complaining about the loudness of the bell,” Dice said.

As a result, it was muted in 1940, but the bell still rings out across the Mississippi River.

“This is the center place for where the history began in the Quad Cities," Dice said.

The Clock Tower building underwent a major restoration in 2020. Click here to be connected to the website of the US Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District.

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