Following many years of work in historic preservation, Rock Island leaders made history again Monday, July 6, as the downtown officially became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

Led by the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, the effort was announced by the city of Rock Island and the Development Association of Rock Island (DARI) on the Great River Plaza downtown.

“Rock Island is a historically significant community. Establishing this designation offers many benefits to property owners and the community,” Mayor Mike Thoms said. “Projects will be easier to fund with access to tax credits and provides an opportunity for Rock Island to showcase heritage tourism, as a means to advance and encourage historically appropriate development.”

Downtown Rock Island on the 2nd Avenue strip

“Each of these properties tells a unique story that is part of Rock Island’s history,” said DARI board member Daryl Empen, who is president/CEO for Gas & Electric Credit Union and active in preservation of historic homes in his Broadway neighborhood. “We are proud to work with the city of Rock Island and local preservationists to obtain national recognition for these historic buildings and our downtown neighborhood.”

The city’s application for National Register status was approved after nearly one year under review by the National Park Service (NPS). Historic places are added to the National Register by the NPS based on recommendations from the State Historic Preservation Office, a division of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of properties that merit special attention and preservation. The boundary for the downtown Historic District encompasses sections of properties between 1st and 6th Avenues along the blocks of 21st Street through 14th Street and includes the Centennial Bridge.

Fort Armstrong Hotel is among the buildings in downtown Rock Island being recognized.

In general, properties must be more than 50 years old to be eligible for the National Register. A listing places no obligations on private property owners but does make properties eligible for some financial incentives. Downtown Rock Island became eligible to be designated in 2003, and plans were put in place to work towards receiving the official designation.

According to a National Register FAQ, for a property to be listed, it must meet at least one of four criteria –

  1. It has to be associated with an important event or series or events.
  2. It has to be associated with an important person or group.
  3. It has to have distinctive architectural features or a unique method of construction.
  4. It has to have the potential to yield significant information (like an archeological site might).

Plaques are presented to properties which have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to having general historic value, things that are listed must possess a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

Previously, two areas of Rock Island have been placed on the National Register – the Broadway Historic District and Chippiannock Cemetery.

There are already 13 individual properties in the city on the National Register:

  • Augustana College, 639 38th
  • House on the Hill at Augustana, 3052 10th
  • Old Main at Augustana, 3600 7th
  • Connor-Parker House, 702 20th
  • Denkmann-Hauberg House, 1300 24th
  • Fort Armstrong Hotel, 1900 3rd
  • Circa ’21 (former Fort Armstrong Theatre), 1828 3rd
  • Peoples National Bank, 1723 2nd
  • Potter House, 1906 7th
  • Abbey Station (former Rock Island Lines Depot), 3031 5th
  • Sala Apartments, 320-330 19th
  • Stauduhar House, 1608 21st
  • Wagner House, 904 23rd

In June 2018, the city was awarded a grant from the State of Illinois and hired McGuire, Igleski & Associates of Evanston, Ill., as a consultant, who worked closely with Rock Island’s Community & Economic Development Department to write the nomination in summer 2018.

The process took roughly one year that involved identifying architects, styles, age of the buildings, and how well they are preserved. Buildings were identified as either contributing, non-contributing, and included some properties that were individually listed on the National Register.

In 2019, the draft nomination was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office as well as the city’s Preservation Commission before being sent to the National Park Service. After a lengthy review process over last fall and winter, the nomination was officially approved in March 2020.

The National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the register include districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects that are significant in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering and culture.

National Register properties are distinguished by having been documented and evaluated according to uniform standards. This process begins with the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Listing in the National Register contributes to preserving historic properties in a number of ways:

  • Recognition that a property is of significance to the nation, the state, or the community.
  • Consideration in the planning for federal or federally assisted projects.
  • Eligibility for federal tax benefits.
  • Eligibility for Property Tax Assessment Freeze Program(owner-occupied residences).

To see which Rock Island structures are on the National Register, search the Rock Island Historic Structures Inventory. That includes 40 landmarks as designated by the city.

Since its inception in 1966, more than 95,000 properties that Americans believe are worthy of preservation have been listed in the National Register.

Informational meetings in Rock Island, and additional information will be planned soon based on Covid-19 restrictions. More information can also be found at rigov.org.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.