Article and photos by Kathleen Walls
|Tinker Swiss Cottage looks like
it belongs in a fairy tale
Right in the heart of Rockford Illinois
is a historical and architectural treasure., Tinker Swiss
Cottage. The cottage is unique as it is one of just a few Swiss
style homes built in the United states.
|Robert Hall Tinker
The history of Tinker Swiss Cottage plays
out like a Victorian soap opera. The typical elements that would
create a intricate soap opera
are all present; unconventional December-May romance and
a May-December one as well, poor boy making good, rich and
famous adversary pitted against unknown entrepreneur, legal
battles, huge inheritances, untimely death, and unconventional
business dealings. Throw in a young man's trip to Switzerland
and a honeymoon in Hawaii and what more could fans ask.
The story began with John Henry Manny. In
1853, Manny invented a reaper which would harvest huge fields
more economically. He moved to Rockford, which had needed rail
transportation, with his new bride, Mary Dorr Manny
in 1853 and began manufacture of his reaper. The
following year he founded J.H. Manny & Company with several
other investors to mass produce his machine.
Meantime, he was beginning to make inroads on Cyrus McCormick's
profits from his reaper.
McCormick had invented his reaper in 1831 and considered
himself the "King of the Reapers." McCormick sued Manny for
$400,000 patent infringements in 1855. The trial was originally
scheduled for Springfield so Manny thought a local lawyer might
be beneficial. He added a young local attorney to his team which
was headed by a well-known lawyer named Edwin Stanton. The young
local was named Abraham L:incoln (for
more about Lincoln's early years) and Stanton was not
impressed. He referred to the new lawyer as "a damned, gawky,
(Oh if Stanton could only see into
the future when he would work under that same "gawky ape"
as Secretary of War.)
|Inside the conservatory of
Manny won the legal battle with little help from Lincoln who was
sent back to Springfield when the trial was moved to Cincinnati.
The win did Manny little good as he died less than a year later
at only 30 years of age. Mary was left a rich widow. At the age
of 27 she ran the business after Manny's death, a situation
almost unheard of in that era.
That same year,
19-year-old Robert Tinker arrived on the scene to work
with and later become partners with
William Knowlton, Mary
Manny’s business manager. (The plot thickens.)
In 1862, Tinker traveled to Europe and
while in Switzerland he fell in love with the homes he saw
there. a few years after he returned to Rockford, he began
building his elaborate Swiss mansion. He created spectacular
gardens on the grounds. Was it to impress Mary?
Perhaps, the home was connected to Mary's
Italianate brick mansion by a suspension bridge over Kent
|Some of the
furnishings in Tinker Swiss Cottage
Whatever his motivation, Robert Tinker
married Mary Dorr Manny in 1870. They took a romantic honeymoon
to Hawaii, Tinker's birthplace. The romance may have been
dampened a bit by the fact they
took Mary's sister Hanna and Robert's mother with them.
They then returned to Rockford and his twenty room mansion.
architecture of the cottage is amazing
They had no children but when Mary's sister died, they took in
her two nieces, Marcia and Jessie.
All lived happily in the Swiss Cottage until Mary died in
1901 and then Marcia died in 1904. Tinker then married his
wife's remaining niece,
46 year old Jessie, who was then a widow.
In 1908. they adopted a child, Theodore Tinker. Robert
Tinker became a father for the first time at 72. (Told you it
reads like a soap opera.)
At Jessie's death in 1942 the home was
donated to the Rockford Park District. It was a unique time
capsule. No other family had lived in the cottage and all the
original artifacts remained.
When you visit, be prepared to immerse
yourself in the most realistic Victorian setting you can
For more info: www.tinkercottage.com/
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