A Little Time and a Keyboard: Midway Village Rockford's History Museum Provides Connection with the Past

Midway Village Rockford's History Museum Provides Connection with the Past

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Midway Village Rockford's History Museum

During our recent visit to Rockford, we visited Midway Village Rockford's History Museum to learn a bit of the foundations that have created Rockford. The museum presented fascinating facts about Rockford and gave us more appreciation for the place we were visiting.

Learning about Rockford history at Midway Village Museum
Greetings from Rockford! 
You may wonder why the museum is called "Midway." As we learned about the settling of Rockford in the 1830's, we learned that the city was originally named Midway because it is situated midway between Chicago and Galena. However, the city quickly became known as Rockford due to the excellent ford across the Rock River. The museum contains interesting artifacts from the first period of history including a chain that was used to measure out mile square sections to form townships. Surveyors would use these chains with eighty of them making a mile. Wow!

Interactive exhibits including the one below where a Rockford residents tells families about life in the prairie town immediately engage children. This particular exhibit also contain a number of artifacts from homes during the early settlement of Rockford. One interesting tidbit -- many of the first homes of Rockford where log cabins before replacement frame homes were built.

The railroad rather than the steamboat became the critical transportation mode connecting Rockford with larger cities starting in 1852. Swedish immigrants were among the first to arrive by rail cementing Swedish heritage as an important part of the vibrance of Rockford.

Knitting eventually became an integral industry in Rockford. The city was once an important sock knitting hub. Socks once had seams at both the heal and the toe. John Nelson and William Worth Burson invented a sock knitting machine that would not leave seams at the heel or toe, thus making socks more comfortable. The socks up to the ankle were sewn on a machine called the parallel row.

Parallel Row Sock Knitting Machine

The tubes for the top were sewn with the circular sewing machine. The two piece were looped together. With their inventions, Nelson and Burson opened Rockford's first sock manufacturers Nelson Knitting Company.

Circular Sewing Machine
Circular Sewing Machine

The museum goes through the timeline of sock knitting in Rockford from the founding of Nelson in 1880 to the emergence of other companies to the eventual departure from the industry in 1992. You also learn about the history of the red heeled sock and the famous Sock Monkey!

Rockford's industrial history is not confined to socks. One of my favorite pieces in the museum is a horse drawn carriage that once brought 5 gallon cans of gas to homes that had cars in the early 1900's. Eventually, Smith Oil & Refining would build one of the first gas stations in the Midwest in Rockford.

Smith Oil & Refining Wagon that transported gas to homes
Smith Oil & Refining Wagon that transported gas to homes

A truly fun part of the museum is the section dedicated to the Rockford Peaches!

The Peaches were one of the teams in the women's baseball league during and shortly after WWII.\\

After visiting with the Peaches, we learned more about industry and invention in Rockford. Celebrated Rockford inventor Howard Colman invented machines to help manufacture cloth. The knotter is particularly impressive machine to check out. The knotter helped making it easier to change threads in the cloth weaving machines.

The knotter invented by Howard Colman in Rockford, Illinois
The knotter invented by Howard Colman
Known as "Reaper City," we learned about Rockford company Manny Reaper which manufactured reapers and mowers. Another manufacturer, Emerson also made mowers. Below is the Emerson mower.

As a rock hound, I found it pretty cool to learn that rock hammers are made in Rockford by Estwing.

Do you love spice tins or cookies in tins at Christmas? Well, some of those tins are made in Rockford!

Much to our delight, the museum is also home to an airplane! The brilliant blue "The Greater Rockford" was flown in an attempt to fly from Rockford to Sweden along the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately, pilot Colonel Bert Hassell ran out of gas over Greenland and had to land. He is credited with pioneering that "Great Circle Route" for flying between the US and Europe.

The "Many Faces, One Community" exhibit is an incredible hands-on exhibit detailing Rockford's immigrant heritage. Children can hear the voices of the various immigrants that came to Rockford and learn how they contributed to the fabric of the city.

The exhibit takes you through a city street where you learn about professions of the immigrants as well as enter some of their homes.

The exhibit tied in various senses including smell as we smelled traditional Italian spices in an Italian mother's kitchen -- just like my Italian grandma's!

Smelling station for traditional Italian spices
Do you recognize this spices?

We also learned about the furniture making history of Rockford and got to piece together some projects.

This part of the museum is incredible and you really get a flavor for how Rockford grew and how various immigrants contributed to the city we see today.  "Many Faces, One Community" provides this flavor through many tangible experiences.

Additionally, it gives families a true peek into bygone eras that present history up close rather than just in a book.

Shoe shine on a city street
Shoe shine on a city street

Overall, the indoor museum portion of the Midway Village Museum is full to the brim with exhibits to explore. In addition, the museum also is home to a Victorian Village. The village is a great way to experience what life was like in the late 19th century. The village was not open during our visit, so we would love to go back and explore it during another visit.

The mill at Midway Village in Rockford, Illinois
The mill at Midway Village
Midway Village is the perfect way to learn the history of Rockford and to gain perspective for future explorations in the city. Additionally, it provides an avenue for children to experience history they would normally just read about in history books. Midway Village is great for launching your Rockford experience!

Thank you to Go Rockford for hosting our visit to Rockford, Illinois for Stroll on State! 

Exploring Midway Village Rockford's History Museum

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