| United States|
7.9% (Feb 2015)
- land61.08 sq mi
| Anderson Japanese Gardens, Burpee Museum of Natural History, Discovery Center Museum, Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Coronado Theatre|
Rock Valley College, Rockford University, Rockford Career College, Educators of Beauty, Rasmussen College-Rockford
Rockford is the third largest city in the U.S. state of Illinois, the 164th most populous city in the United States, and the 148th most populous region in the United States. It is the county seat of Winnebago County and is located on both banks of the Rock River in far northern Illinois. According to 2010 census data, the City of Rockford had a population of 152,871, with an outlying metropolitan area population of 348,360, which was estimated to have decreased to 150,251 and 344,623, respectively, by July 2013.
Settled between 1834 and 1835, Rockford was strategically positioned between Chicago and Galena and thus became suitable for industrial development. Rockford was notable for its output of heavy machinery and tools; by the twentieth century, it was the second leading center of furniture manufacturing in the nation. Its decline, emblematic of other cities in the Rust Belt, led to economic diversification into automotive, aerospace, and healthcare industries, as well as the undertaking of various tourism and downtown revitalization efforts.
Referred to as the Forest City, Rockford is known for various venues of cultural or historical significance, including Anderson Japanese Gardens, Klehm Arboretum, Tinker Swiss Cottage, the BMO Harris Bank Center, the Coronado Theatre, the Laurent House, and the Burpee Museum of Natural History. Moreover, its contributions to music are noted in the Mendelssohn Club, the oldest music club in the nation, and performers such as Phantom Regiment and Cheap Trick.
Rockford was founded by New Englanders in in 1834 as separate settlements (commonly known as Kentville and Haightville, for the founders of each) on each side of the river and originally called Midway. Galena resident Germanicus Kent, his associate Thatcher Blake, and his slave Lewis Lemon are credited as the original settlers of Midway along the west bank of the Rock River; in addition, Daniel Shaw Haight is credited for completing the same task along the east bank. It was established as the county seat over rivaling communities Winnebago and Roscoe in 1836. Due to the areas proximity to a ford across the Rock River, the village of Midway was renamed Rockford in 1837 by arriving New Englanders.
Rockford was chartered as a city in 1852, following the establishment of a post office in 1837 (of which Shaw Height served in as the first postmaster) and a weekly newspaper in 1840. Growth was fueled by the charter of Rockford Female Seminary in 1847 and a connection to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad in 1852. The New York Tribune inspired the metonym The Forest City for Rockford in 1853.
The decision of John Henry Manny to locate production of his horse-powered combine harvester in Rockford attributed to a local rise in agricultural machinery manufacturing. Swedish furniture cooperatives did the same for their respective industry. The Rockford Union Furniture Company, under John Erlander, spearheaded these cooperatives; today, Erlanders home is a Rockford museum, demonstrating his efforts in elevating Rockford to second in furniture manufacturing in the nation, behind Grand Rapids.
In the antebellum period, Rockford shared abolitionist leanings, lending considerable support to the Free Soil Party. In 1848, 42 percent of voters in Winnebago County, which Rockford dominated as the county seat, voted for Martin Van Buren. Four years later, John P. Hale became the first presidential candidate to visit the burgeoning city, although the returns on that visit were minimal, given that he received only 28 percent of the vote. During the Civil War, one of the first Illinois regiments to be mobilized, the Zouaves, were from Rockford, which served as the site for Camp Fuller, a training site for four other infantry regiments.
The Rockford Female Seminary became the alma mater of Jane Addams in 1881. This move accompanied the Seminarys transition into a more complete curriculum, which was represented by its renaming to Rockford College in 1892. Culture flourished with the founding of the Mendelssohn Club in 1884, which became the oldest operating music club in the United States. This was complemented by the construction of a Carnegie library in 1902, which became the first building of Rockfords public library system. 1903 saw the dedication of the Winnebago County Veterans Memorial Hall in the presence of sitting President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt returned to Rockford during his campaign in 1912 and later to address the soldiers at Camp Grant, a training site for World War I soldiers.
According to the 2010 census, the city has a total area of 61.95 square miles (160.4 km2), of which 61.08 square miles (158.2 km2) (or 98.60%) is land and 0.87 square miles (2.3 km2) (or 1.40%) is water. Neighboring communities that border Rockford, and are considered an integral part of the Rockford metro area, are the cities of Loves Park, Machesney Park, Belvidere, and the villages of Winnebago, Roscoe, Rockton, Poplar Grove, New Milford, and Cherry Valley. The Rock River is the traditional center of the Rockford area and is its most recognizable natural feature. Also of note, South Beloit, Illinois and Beloit, Wisconsin are part of this continuous urban area that stretches for approximately 30 miles along the Rock River from the Chicago Rockford International Airport north to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
According to the Citys 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the largest employers in the city are:
The attractions of Rockford are often of architectural significance. The Lake-Peterson House, constructed by alderman John Lake in 1873 and preserved by Swedish industrialist Pehr August Peterson, is a notable example of Gothic Revival. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it is contemporarily used for the School of Medical Technology of the Rockford-based Swedish American Hospital. Further Swedish influence on Rockford during the Victorian era is represented in the Erlander Home Museum, the base of the Swedish Historical Society. Swiss influence can be seen in the Tinker Swiss Cottage, which was opened as a museum under the park district in 1943 and was featured in an episode of Ghost Hunters in 2012.
Modern architectural movements, like Art Deco and Prairie School, are also integral to Rockford. Most renowned is the Coronado Theatre, a civic and entertainment center that was named one of 150 Great Places in Illinois by the American Institute of Architects. The theatre is known for its blend of Art Deco with Spanish Baroque Revival and has hosted numerous performers over its lifetime, including the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Dylan. The 186-foot tall Faust Hotel complements the Coronado; constructed in 1929, it endures as Rockfords tallest building, albeit as apartments for the elderly and disabled. The Laurent House, a single-story Usonian home constructed in 1952 by Frank Lloyd Wright, is the only Wright building designed for a person with disabilities. Acquired by a private foundation from its commissioners, it was renovated into a museum in 2014.
The area is often regarded as an outdoor destination. Rock Cut State Park is located to the northeast of the city. Once home to various Scots, Canadians, and New Englanders, as well as a railroad line to Kenosha, the parks 3,092 acres are now utilized for camping, hiking, fishing and boating, and hunting. Anderson Japanese Gardens, modeled after the Portland Japanese Garden and landscaped by Hoichi Kurisu, is 10 acres in size and features a teahouse and guesthouse in the sukiya-zukuri style. John Anderson, the commissioner of the gardens, was presented with a commemorative silver cup by Japan for his efforts in the mutual understanding of cultures in 1992; he donated the gardens to a nonprofit organization later in 1998. Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is 155 acres in size and is noted for its selection of both indigenous and foreign plant species.
The citys park district is particularly active. It operates Aldeen Golf Course, which was rated the best municipal golf course in Illinois by Golf Digest and one of the top fifty golf courses in the nation that cost under $50 to play by Golf Magazine. In addition to Tinker Swiss Cottage, the park district maintains four other museums. The Burpee Museum of Natural History is home to the worlds most complete juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, Jane, as well as a triceratops, Homer. The Discovery Center Museum, a childrens museum featuring over 250 hands-on exhibits including a planetarium, is on the 12 Best Childrens Museums In The U.S. list by Forbes. The Burpee Museum and the Discovery Center Museum, along with the Rockford Art Museum and the bases for Northern Public Radio, the Rockford Dance Company, and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra compose the downtown Riverfront Museum Park complex. The last museum under the park districts authority is Midway Village and Museum Center, a recreation of a Victorian era village. However, it also maintains the third largest conservatory in Illinois, the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, on the citys eastern riverwalk. The conservatory is adjacent to the Symbol, a Alexander Liberman sculpture that was moved from downtown during the 1980s and is now one of Rockfords most recognizable features.