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News & Features
The Rock Island Line: A Mighty Good Road
The Story
Part 1: The island

Part 2: The railroad

Part 3: The song

Part 4: The artists

Rock Island
Rock Island
Learn about Rock Island with this interactive map.

Links & Resources
  • Davenport House Museum
  • Libary of Congress Folklife collections
  • Lincoln's legal papers
  • Rock Island High School weather cam
  • Rock Island history
  • Rock Island Railroad history
  • Web cam of Lock & Dam No. 15, Rock Island, IL

    Producer: Jim Bickal
    Associate Producer: Julie Siple
    Online editor: Bob Collins
    Broadcast editor: Stephen Smith
    Art director: Ben Tesch
    Production supervisor: Michael Wells
  • A Mighty Good Road
    October 10, 2002
    By Jim Bickal, Minnesota Public Radio


    On October 15, 1852, the first train of the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad traveled from Chicago to Joliet, Illinois. Two years later it would bring a delegation of East Coast journalists and dignitaries to the Mississippi River as part of the Grand Excursion to Minnesota. Over the next 50 years, as the Rock Island Line grew, it carried passengers and freight through 14 states and became part of the story of the American west. Then it inspired a song that has been passed from generation to generation. Minnesota Public Radio's Jim Bickal has traced the stories of the song and the railroad and discovered that together they tell quite a tale.

    The Route
    Follow the travels of the song and the story with our Rock Island route map.

    The Music
    Several artists have put their own style into the song Rock Island Line. Here are just a few samples:
  • Lead Belly
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Johnny Cash
  • Lonnie Donegan
  • Stan Freeberg
  • Kelly Pace
  • The Knitters
  • Little Richard
  • Mano Negra
  • Brownie McGee and Sonny Terry
  • The Weavers

  • Talk About This Story
    Join the Conversation
    Folk Music History: How do you think the story of this folk song relates to the history of America?