St. Louis directory :
22 Rock Island Bridge
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Rock Island Bridge.

The Chamber of Commerce having always taken a great interest in any question relating to the unob-
structed navigation of the great rivers of the West, a short history of the Rock Island Bridge, and the
various legal steps taken to prevent its erection, and since that time to remove it as a nuisance, will come
within the scope of this report.

The Chicago and Rock Island Railroad was the first enterprise of the kind completed from Chicago to
the Mississippi; and it was also the first Bailroad in the United States built by speculators and contractors
By it anew era in railroading was initiated, under which roads were to be built, not because the people
needed them, and were willing to take the stock, but that contractors might make their fortunes in the
construction. The parties who were the main men in the Rock Island road then projected a connecting
road from Davenport westward; they became the principal stockholders, and took the entire contract for
building the road to the Missouri River. To make all things smooth, they must needs have a bridge across
the Mississippi River, and the same men appear as the corporators and builders of that structure. As their
charter contained a clause that the same "should be constructed in such a manner as not materially to
obstruct or interfere with the free navigation of the river," but little attention was paid to the matter; every
one supposing they would, of course, comply with all the provisions of their charter. But in choosing a
site, they located their line across the island of Rock Island, at that time held by the General Government
as a military reservation.

Some gentlemen of St. Louis, rightly foreseeing what trouble would in future be caused by bridges across
this river, sent one of their number to Washington, and he procured an order from the Secretary of War,
forbidding any work on the island, and caused a suit to be instituted at Chicago to prevent the erection of
the proposed bridge. But because the Secretary was a Southern man, a great cry was raised that the whole
proceeding arose from a spirit of Southern jealousy, and the Company continued their work. The suit was
tried before Judge McLean, and the main point contested was, the right of the Company to cross a small
island—the important question of the effect upon the navigation of the greatest river in the world being
evidently regarded as a mere collateral matter. The case is reported in the sixth volume of McLean;s Reports,
page 517. The Jndge declined to grant the injunction, because the testimony upon the question of the
obstruction was very contradictory, and nearly of equal weight; and he thought it best to let the Company
go on and build, leaving navigators their remedy by actions at law for damages as they might occur. The
result has proved that the captains and pilots who testified that the bridge would be a great obstruction
were right; for within a few days after the opening of navigation—the first spring after the bridge was
completed—thirteen steamboats were detained there at one time, none of them being able to pass the draw.
The first boat that had power to stem the currents—the Effie Afton—was wrecked, and swinging ronnd,
caught fire, and burned off one of the spars. Immediately all the detained boats passed through the burnt
space without difficulty, and they continued to use that passage until prevented by the rebuilding of the
obstruction. The suit for the value of the Afton was tried at Chicago, in September, 1857, before Judge
McLean, The Court would not permit the right of challenge for cause, and the only four peremptory chal-
lenges allowed the Plaintiff had been exhausted. Under these circumstances, the Plaintiff was fortunate to
get off by having the jury disagree. His case is now in progress in Burlington, Iowa, where he will get a
more satisfactory hearing.

The injury to the commerce of the river had become so serious, that in December, 1856, this Chamber
appointed a Committee to institute proceedings to have the bridge abated as a nuisance, aud they have raised
the necessary means to carry their suit to a termination. In the winter of 1857-8, one or the piers of the
bridge began to show signs of falling, and the company prepared a very large quantity of materials to
strengthen or rebuild it. This Committee at once instituted a suit in Iowa, and all repairs to the broken
pier have been prevented. During the summer it moved about eighteen inches, and the draw of the bridge
had to be cut off fully two feet, as the pier yielded and the truss pushed over. There is every probability
that part of the bridge will fall when the ice comes down this spring.

The evidence taken in this preliminary suit shows that the injury to the commerce of the river, including
lumber, caused by this bridge, is fully half a million dollars each year. One witness testified that the damages
he had seen would amount to between $400,000 and $500,000, and several others that the loss and detention at
the bridge for the three years it has been standing, amount to more than those on both the Rapids for twenty
years. Testimony is now being taken for the final hearing, which is set down for May next, and those who
have the best means of judging are quite confident that every stick and stone of this great obstruction will
be removed by due course of law.—Last Annual Report to Chamber of Commerce.