For more than five decades Republic Steel dominated Sylvan Island in the Mississippi River. A huge mill took up half of the land, and a rock quarry sat on the other half.

The plant operated from the 1890s until 1956 on the island, which appears to be a peninsula snipped from the mainland nestled beneath the Rock Island Arsenal.

Today any trace of Sylvan’s industrial days are hidden under dense foliage. The two thoroughly rusted bridges that link the island to the Moline shore hint at the past. Once on the island, a few crumbling hip-high walls can be seen from the main trails through the forest. Follow the walls into the thick canopy and you will find more ruins — piles of bricks and broken concrete, foundations and the occasional powerline pylon.

We first stumbled across the site choked with weeds and litter in the early 1990s. It was a great mountain bike path in the middle of the Quad Cities metro area, as long as you could dodge the broken glass. Fishermen and vandals alike seemed to like the location.

After we moved out of the Midwest, a volunteer group called Sylvan Island Dreamers cleared the trash and groomed the trails. The city sprung for some renovations like fishing decks, signage and a drinking fountain.

We had a chance to revisit the island last weekend. It’s still difficult to find, the bridges are tucked away behind active factories, and you have to find the correct side streets to get there.

Even so, the area seems popular. There were about a half dozen mountain bikers, five or six people dropped in fishing lines from the bridges and decks.. The local game warden even had the island on his list of stops and checked the angler’s takes.

We posted some photos from our trip in the Urban Archeology album/gallery .

More on Sylvan Island here
and here

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