East Meets West: The First Railroad Bridge to Cross the Mississippi River

pcs.




The 51-minute documentary tells the story of the bridge that first connected Rock Island to Davenport in 1856, including how Henry Farnam led the effort to build the railroad and the bridge; the dramatic collision with the steamboat Effie Afton just two weeks after the bridge was completed; and Abraham Lincoln's successful defense of the railroad's right to cross the river in the trial that followed. The bridge was not only a symbol of conflict but a crucial link to the transcontinental railroad and settlement of the West. Both locally and nationally, its historic importance cannot be overstated.  

The doc features interviews with Lincoln historian Douglas Wilson and esteemed historian and author Douglas Brinkley as well as bridge engineer and historian Bill Ashton, and Rock Island Arsenal historians George Eaton and Paul-Thomas Ferguson, intertwined with stories from local residents with family connections to this significant site of U.S. westward settlement that came almost 20 years before the bridge in St. Louis. River Action, which is supporting the premiere of the documentary, also granted use of footage from a video promoting their first bridge reconstruction project.

Douglas Brinkley said, "If I were to pick the symbol, to put my thumb on a map of where that connection between East and West began, it was not at the arch in St. Louis (that's for Lewis and Clark history). The real beginning of connection east and west was the bridge that connected Rock Island, Illinois, with Davenport, Iowa."