Bringing the Past to Life
Article and Photos by Kathleen Walls
(unless noted otherwise)
|Police Station on right and
community well and Law Office to left
Midway Village in Rockford, Illinois is a few
miles and a hundred plus years from modern downtown Rockford. It's
137 acres of yesterday. Here you do more than learn about the past,
you relive it. The village contains 26 buildings all dating from
between 1830, the year Rockford, originally called Midway because it
was halfway between Chicago and Galena, was founded, and 1904. Most
are authentic buildings moved to the village site. Six are
reproductions differing only in scale from the original building.
The oldest building in the village dates to 1840.
|The Amos W. Woodward Millhouse
Credit Rockford CVB
The most picturesque
building in the Village is the Amos W. Woodward Millhouse. The
antebellum mill with its water wheel is located on the edge of the
Museum’s Severin Lake and is a replica of an operating water-powered
machine shop. The mill's original proprietor,
Amos Woodward used
the actual mill as his machine shop. He went on to invent a
mechanical governor which worked in conjunction with a water wheel
to operate equipment and was the start of the present day Woodward
led our tour, gave us a bit of history as we went. He showed us a
railroad hotel.from around 1858. The Montanye family opened a hotel
originally called the Montanye House in Caledonia, It was renamed
the Chamberlain Hotel when the Montanye's sold it in 1878. This
hotel was a lot like a boarding house in that they served meals as
well as provided lodging. This one is a replica at three quarters
original size but really gives
a feeling of what life was like then.
|Carlson-Russ General Store
||Kit shows us some of the store's stock
village needed a general store. In Midway Village you would shop at
Carlson-Russ General Store. These places sold everything a person
might need from ribbons to rawhide. This one is reminiscent of the
ones run by Abraham Lincoln in New Salem before his political
|Inside the blacksmith shop
"must have" in every turn of the century village was the blacksmith
shop. There was no forge going when we visited but it is easy to
imagine a burly man in a leather apron pumping a bellows to bring a
piece of iron to the white hot stage so he could shape it into a
village has all the buildings you would expect to find to run and
maintain a village in that era,
law office, town hall, police and fire stations.
|Inside the one room schoolhouse
room school house is filled with desks of graduating sizes.
Kit explained, "It was not uncommon for the older kids to
help teach the younger ones while the teacher was busy explaining
something to one of the older
commented that since all the grades were in the same room, "Heaven
help the younger brother who tried to get away with anything. The
older brothers always told on him."
||Inside it is simple but beautiful
church is simple and beautiful. It has a working bell that can be
rung by simply pulling the rope. When you gaze out its window you
are looking into the graveyard complete with tombstones. It stops
short of having real corpses buried beneath them.
Clark Hardware Store is a bridge between past and present. John
Lewis Clark moved to Rockford in 1857. He was an artist and tinsmith
who became a hardware maker.
His son, Harold, joined his father in the hardware business
in 1898 and together
founded J. L. Clark
Hardware. They had several stores over the years. The building in
the village is one from 1904.
| J.L. Clark Hardware Store
They were also
successful manufacturers of several products, some of which you
still see today. They developed "Gem Flue Stopper," an inventive
device that was used to plug up the hole in a wall when a stovepipe
was removed. As a child
I lived is houses that had such devices. I wish I had looked then to
see if they were Mr. Clark's product.
The scrap tin was decorated
and fashioned into tin containers for many products. Another useful
invention they developed in conjunction with Ray_O-Vac was small
batteries sealed in steel to make them leak proof. These became the
industry standard for all the batteries you see today.
|Rockford Memorial Hospital
Anyone who had been
upset at treatment in a hospital needs to look at the replica of old
Rockford Memorial here in Midway village as it would have looked in
1885 and they will be thrilled to return to their modern facility.
Kit explained "Nurses were trained for about two years. Doctors did
not have to go to college then. They just went to a private medical
school for two years where almost everything was lectures."
|Ladies, imagine having your baby
whlle strapped into this chair!
The hospital is filled
with odd treasures, such as a "Birthing Chair." The device is a
cross between a barber chair and a gynecologists examining table. It
is a sturdy black leather chair with stirrups and straps. Most women
chose to have their babies at home with the help of a midwife. After
seeing that chair I would have done the same.
|Before the computer age, it took a
lot of machinery to print a newspaper
One of the buildings you
might not have expected to find in a frontier town the size of
Rockford which only had less than 15,000 people is a newspaper
office. However not only did Rockford have a newspaper, it had two
dailies, four weeklies, a
paper in Swedish and an Italian one. Those were the two main groups
of immigrants during that time.
formed in 1840 as the voice of the Democrats. The
established, represented the Whigs. Rockford was strongly Whig and,
in July, 1841, put the Star
out of business by the simple method of throwing its type into the
middle of the room and dumping ink all the ink. The owners took the
hint and gave up. Rockford
Pilot succeeded the Star
and used the same press. Other early newspapers were
Republican and the
Free Press. The presses
at the Village are authentic to some of these papers and are still
The homes in the village
range in time from
shortly after its founding to the early 1900s.
House was built by one of Rockford's earliest carpenters, Mowry
Brown . Brown moved into northern Illinois area in the 1830s. He
moved first to Alton where he met his furture wife,
Lucy A. Pease. who , like
him, descended from New England farmers.
late 1830s he and his new wife
moved to the newly established town of Rockford. There he
practiced his carpentry trade as well as farming his own land. It is
believed hi built the house that is now in Midway Village in the
early 1840s, making it one of the oldest surviving structures in
Winnebago County. It's a beautifully crafted small Greek revival
Breckenridge House was moved here from the corner of Spring Brook
and Mulford Roads in Rockford. It was the pre-Civil War home of the
village seamstress. The garden is lovely so leave time to prowl
Marsh House is representative of the days shortly before the Civil
Russell and Abigail
Marsh were pioneers of Rockford. They settled there the winter of
1838. Their son George purchased land near them at North
Alpine Road. When he passed away in 1888, his nephew George W.
purchased the land. It is believed that the Marsh house was
built in the 1860s by either George or George W.
|1905 barn and the Pepper House
House, circa 1875 -1890, is a cozy two story frame farmhouse that
seems to invite you inside. It is where the interrupters dress for
the tours. What a way to get into the spirit.
Ralston House (1890s – 1904) shows the Victorian influence. It is
decorated inside to show the lifestyle of prosperous villages. The
downstairs parlor was a showcase of their treasures.
many other historic structures preserved in this village as well as
a museum dedicated to dolls over time, the Old Dolls’ House Museum.
Also a interesting exhibit relating the history of Rockford's
favorite toy, the Sock Monkey. A aviation exhibit shows Rockford's
contribution to that industry. And for sports fans, The Girls of
Summer, and exhibit showcasing the Rockford Peaches, one of the
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (or AAGPBL), founded
by Philip Wrigley to keep the "National Pastime" alive during the
war years. It lasted
from 1943 until 1954. All together there are over 100,000
artifacts in the museum and the Village. It's a place you could
spend days reliving an interesting part of Rockford's past.
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