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Quarters One features 50 lavish rooms

ARESENAL ISLAND -- Major Gen. James Monroe and his wife, Charlyne, call it home. To the U.S. government, it's a national treasure.

U.S. Army photo

This 1970 U.S. Army photo shows Quarters One from the front, looking west, as it appears today.

Nestled along the central northern shore of Arsenal Island at the end of Gillespie Avenue is the 20,000-square-foot, 50-plus room, century-old mansion known as Quarters One.

Since it was completed in 1871, the Italian-villa-style estate has housed the men who have served as the arsenal's highest ranking officers.

It also has served as a benchmark for area history and reputedly is the largest government-owned residence outside of the White House. With its 26 rooms, nine bathrooms, 18 hallways and vestibules and 16 closets, Quarters One is the largest quarters in the U.S. Army.

Along with the other officers' quarters and Arsenal Island itself, Quarters One was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 1969.

After the Civil War, Bvt. Brig. Gen. Thomas J. Rodman, the arsenal commander, made a grand design for the construction of buildings to house the island's highest commanders. The 84 wooden barracks that made up a Confederate prison camp were razed, and in May 1870, construction began on Quarters One, the largest and grandest of the properties.

Gen. Rodman died before construction was completed in October 1871, and his funeral was held on the grounds of the nearly completed mansion.

Major Daniel Flagler took over the task of overseeing the construction. In spring 1872, the landscaping was finished, which completed the project. The projected cost was $50,000. The final cost was $100,000.

Craftsmen raised the walls of Quarters One using 2-foot-thick Joliet limestone. The building's main core is L-shaped, and includes a west wing and a square observation tower. Large wrap-around porches grace the building's north and east sides.

While the exterior design is beautiful, the details of the interior decor also are remarkable. The fireplaces in nearly every room feature mantels of Italian marble. Molded plaster cornices and ceiling medallions, and hardwood floors of maple, oak and walnut are found throughout the home.

Much of the work was done by arsenal craftsmen, who molded the brass hinges and doorknobs throughout the home. Arsenal saddlemakers crafted the leather-covered door to the butler's pantry. In addition to the remarkable door in the 16-room basement, the butlery features limestone counters designed for rolling dough, special, brick bread-baking ovens and niches for butter churns.

The ornate ironwork is perhaps the most impressive locally produced portion. The forged iron grillwork on the porches was all hammered out in Arsenal shops, as was the iron fence surrounding the grounds. Golden eagles are perched atop the main gate.

Some of the building's original features have fallen away or been removed over the years, including a teahouse on the lawn overlooking the Mississippi River. Built in 1898, the teahouse was torn down in 1927 because melting ice caused the wood base to rot. The formal gardens and greenhouse also were removed due to disrepair. The glass-enclosed conservatory was removed in the 1970s because there wasn't enough money to make needed renovations.

Most of the well-built mansion remains intact, though much of it is unused. Seven rooms on the third floor once used as servants' quarters are not heated because they are vacant.

Quarters One has hosted some of the Quad-Cities most notable guests.

Probably the best-known story of such a visit is the 1927 stopover by famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who landed in the Quad-Cities during a cross-country trip to promote commercial aviation. The visit touched off a spat between the Iowa and Illinois Quad-Cities over who would host him. To settle the dispute, Lindbergh chose to lodge at Quarters One, since it's located on the island between the two states.

The bed he slept in remains at the mansion. It's made of walnut with burled inlays, and bears a plaque commemorating the visit. His room is now the master bedroom.

Because Quarters One is still a private residence, it is not open to the public.

-- By Marcy Norton (January 26, 1998)

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