Written by Jack McCarthy   
Wednesday, 11 December 2013 00:00

jane dino

We have our own dinosaur. Jane, the T-Rex on display at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, doesn't look a day over 66 million years old.  News Bulletin photo.


Frank Sinatra once played here and we're home to an astronaut, activists and auto manufacturing. Find out more in this first in a series.

Nearly 300,000 strong. The U.S. Census Bureau says Winnebago County is home to 292,069 people, according to a 2012 estimate. That's a 1.1 percent decline (around 3,200 persons) from 2010.

A demographic breakdown indicates 71.8 percent are non-Hispanic Caucasian, 12.6 percent are black or African-American, 11.4 percent listed as Hispanic or Latino, 2.5 percent are of Asian origin and 2.4 percent report a background of two or more races. Nearly eight percent of residents are foreign-born and 12 percent spoke a language other than English at home. There are 125,884 housing units in 2011 in the county with 69 percent home ownership rate. We don't move much. Some 87.3 percent say they've lived in the same home for at least a year or more. The median household income was $47,597, with 16.8 percent of residents living below the poverty line. -—U.S. Census Bureau.

Something fishy here? Winnebago County was formed on Jan. 16, 1836 and was named for the Winnebago tribe of native Americans who once called the region home.  Rockford was first settled in 1834-35 and briefly known as Midway, but quickly adopted the current name because of an excellent ford across the Rock River. The Native American word “Winnebago” translates to “fish eater.” There are also Winnebago counties in Wisconsin and Iowa.

—Wikipedia.com, Familypedia.com, Genealogy-trails.com


Who is Jo Daviess? Our neighbor to the west is named after Maj. Joseph Hamilton Daviess, United States District Attorney for Kentucky, who was killed in 1811 at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Stephenson County, immediately adjacent to Winnebago, is named after Col. Benjamin Stephenson, an official of the Illinois Territory.

Baseball pioneers. Rockford's Forest City Baseball Club became nationally-known in years just after the Civil War and joined the first professional baseball league, the National Association, for the 1871 season. They were led by Albert Spaulding (pitcher), Ross Barnes (infield) and Adrian "Cap" Anson, all who went on to notable  careers in the National Association and its successor, the National League. Barnes, the National League's first batting champion is buried in Greenwood Cemetery. 


Just peachy! The Rockford Peaches were members of the All-American Girls Professional sBaseball League that played 12 seasons in a circuit that operated between 1943-54. The league was founded by the late Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley and was subject of a movie "A League of Their Own." Minor League men's baseball teams called Rockford home and a Midwest League franchise played here between 1988-99, with four Major League affiliations in that span and at their home Marinelli Field: Montreal Expos (1988-92), Kansas City Royals (1993-94),  Chicago Cubs (1995-98) and Cincinnati Reds (1999). Rockford's best season was in 1994 when it went 89-50, but no team ever won a Midwest League title. The franchise relocated to Dayton, Ohio in 1999 and is now  called the Dragons. Among the most notable players to emerge from Rockford is current Chicago White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Adam Dunn, who has 440 career home runs through 13 seasons. The Midwest League may be gone but professional baseball continues with the Rockford Aviators (formerly RiverHawks), who play in the independent Frontier League. And don't forget hockey's stars of tomorrow. The Rockford IceHogs, affiliate of the defending Stanley Cup champion the Chicago Blackhawks, currently play at BMO Harris Bank Center. —aagpl.com, mwlguide.com.


More sports. Rockford's MetroCentre was the test site, a concept game for what would become the Arena Football League. A test game was played on April 27, 1986 between the quickly-created Chicago Politicians and the Rockford Metros. The financially-plagued (and now-defunct) Chicago Rush moved several games from Allstate Arena near Chicago to the BMO Harris Bank Center this past season. —arenafootball.com.


Dino-mite! Rockford's juvenile T-Rex is on display at the Burpee Museum of Natural History. She's a 66-million year-old teenager discovered  in June 2001 in Montana as part of an expedition mounted by the Burpee Museum of Natural History. Her 21-foot-long restored skeleton is now on display at the museum. She's claimed to be the most complete adolescent T-Rex ever discovered.



Famous names from here: Julia Lathrop, associate of Jane Addams, children's advocate, and Chief of the Children's Bureau, U. S. Department of Labor under President Taft; Kate O'Connor.  women's rights activist, labor leader, and government official; Bessica Medlar Raiche, physician and first woman to solo in an airplane (1911); Martin Johnson, photographer and explorer; Carl E. Swenson,  inventor of the universal joint for automobiles and landscape painter; James H. Breasted,  archaeologist and Egyptologist; Rear Admiral George J. Dufek, Antarctic explorer; General Laurence S. Kuter, participant in the Yalta Conference (1945) and commander of NORAD; Mildred F. Berry,  speech pathologist and political activist; John B. Anderson,  former congressman and independent candidate for President of the United States in 1980; Lynn Martin, former congressional representative and Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan; Janice Voss, astronaut; Harry Forbes, world bantamweight boxing champion, 1900-03; Sammy Mandell, world lightweight boxing champion, 1926-30; Hal Carlson, National League pitcher, 1917-30; Cheap Trick, prominent rock group; Michelle Williams, singer, songwriter, record producer and actress and once part of the group Destiny's Child; Kurt Elling: jazz vocalist; Actors Barbara Hale, Aidan Quinn, and Susan Saint James; Olympic medalists  Janet Lynn, Ron Merriott and Kenny Gould; Novelists Paul Dale Anderson, Wayne Dundee and Alice Beal Parsons (who all sometimes use Rockford scenes and events in their work). 



Baby you can drive my car. A visit to Rockton is not complete without a stop at Historic Auto Attractions, 13825 Metric Drive, home to more than 

75 historic autos and artifacts, including presidential limousines, a Secret Service limo from Kennedy's assassination, Johnny Cash's "one piece at a time" car, Eva Perrone's armored limo, Al Capone's car and movie cars such as the Batmobile, and countless pieces of Hollywood memorabilia.

Better hurry, however. The museum closes at the end of the month and won't reopen until April.

—chicagolandand beyond.com


Magnificent. The Coronado Performing Arts Center on Main St. is the crown jewel of downtown Rockford. A movie palace and vaudville hall built in 1927 for $1.5 million, it featured Spanish castles, Italian villas, oriental dragons, starlit skies and a Grande Barton Pipe Organ. Show business legends like the Marx Brothers, Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong, George Gershwin, Bob Hope, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Gypsy Rose Lee have all played there. An $18.5 million renovation project that began in 1998 restored the building to its previous glories. Today it's home to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra, Rockford Dance Company, Rockford Community Concert Association and Land of Lincoln Theatre Organ Society and Broadway road shows.



"Our Towns" was compiled by Jack McCarthy from a variety of local and regional sources and other materials. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 10:30
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