Written by Jack McCarthy   
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 00:00



This little guy is the famous Sock Monkey, originally created in Rockford by the Nelson Knitting Co.  In 1955, the company was awarded the patent for the doll and Rockford officially became the Home of the Sock Monkey (News Bulletin sources).


Welcome to the second and final part of our series on things to know about your home town.


Still No. 3, for now—For many years Rockford was Illinois’ second-largest city in population, but that distinction was erased since the turn of the century. Aurora is the current and reigning No. 2 with an estimated population of 199,932, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau estimate. City officials there contend they’ve even topped 200,000. Rockford is third at 150,843 persons last year, down 1.3 percent from 152,891 persons counted in the 2010 Census. But even the third-largest is threatened with No. 4 Joliet (148,268) and Naperville (143,684) closing in.

—U.S. Census Bureau

Economic struggles—The recent recession hit Rockford hard, but a decline in manufacturing and industrial sectors has been a long-term concern. The October 2013 unemployment rate stands at 10.9 percent, representing 17,502 jobless. That’s down from the peak of 19.1 percent (28,809 persons) recorded in January 2010 but still above the state’s latest 8.9 percent unemployment rate and a 7.3 percent U.S. rate. There are currently 144,500 persons employed in the region out of a total potential workforce of 161,500. The median household income in Rockford is currently $38,864 compared to the state average of $56,576 while 24.7 percent of residents are ranked below the federal poverty level. The state average is 13.1 percent. Nearly one-third of city households have an income below $25,000 and 18.6 percent have been on supplemental food assistance (formerly called food stamps) according to most recent Census data. 

—U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey, U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Ethnic mix —The Swedes started it all, with thousands of immigrants settling in Rockford between 1835 and the 1900s. Swedish talents helped make Rockford a leading furniture center with more than 90 companies in operation between 1835 and 1960 and their descendants remain community leaders. Italians came by the thousands between 1878 and 1912, followed by Germans, Irish, Poles and other Eastern Europeans.  Today Rockford is a rich, diverse multicultural community with roots from around the world.



When Teddy came to town—Theodore Roosevelt came to Rockford not once or twice but five times between 1900 and 1917. But his most notable trip won in June 1903 when the 25th U.S. president helped dedicate the new downtown Memorial Hall, built to honor Rockford citizens who have served in the Armed Forces. Theodore Roosevelt Junior High was built in 1922 and served as a junior high school until closing in 1981. The Building reopened in 1989 to house Rockford’s alternative high school. 

—gorockford.com, rps205.com


Garden Mecca — Chicago’s motto may be  “City in a Garden” but Rockford has turned the phrase around as Illinois’ “City of Gardens”. There’s plenty to see starting with the Anderson Japanese Gardens, considered one of the Western World’s top two Japanese Gardens. The Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens at Sinnissippi Gardens, a linear Rock River park, brings the tropics to the cold and snowy Midwest. And Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden has so many rare and unusual trees and shrubs, botanists say there's only one comparable site —in France. There’s a year-round schedule of garden tours, flower shows, garden concerts and gardening workshops, too. In addition to the inside attractions, Rockford offers more than 7,000 acres of parkland, tree-lined streets and riverside trails.



You’re in the Army now — Camp Grant was a U.S. Army facility that operated on Rockford’s borders between 1917 through the late 1940s as a training center, artillery range and induction center. Part of the former site is now occupied by Chicago-Rockford International Airport, while other acreage makes up the present Seth Atwood Park and used for recreation and outdoor education activities. It’s named after noted Illinoisan Ulysses S. Grant, Union Army commander during the Civil War and later U.S. president. 

—wikipedia.com, rockfordparkdistrict.com


John B. Anderson — The Rockford native and former congressman turns 92 on Feb. 15, 2014. He’s been a fixture in Rockford area politics as U.S. representative and later ran for president of the United States. Anderson returned from World War II service to earn a law degree from the University of Illinois, was elected Winnebago County State’s Attorney in 1956 and then ran for Congress in 1960. He narrowly won a Republican nomination (by 5,900 votes) and election by 45,000 votes. Anderson went on to serve nine terms from 1961 to 1981. He unsuccessfully ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1980 and then jumped into the fall race as an independent against incumbent Jimmy Carter and GOP challenger Ronald Reagan. He finished with seven percent of the vote and didn’t carry a single precinct in the country. Still that was the best run by an independent presidential candidate since George Wallace collected 14 percent in 1968. Following the election he became a visiting professor at a number of universities and continued to be active in political, social and progressive causes.



Home of history—Home of history—Rockford’s Midway Village serves as repository and interpreter of local history through exhibitions and research opportunities on a 137-acre campus on Guilford Road near Interstate 90. Open year-round, Midway Village features a 52,700 square foot exhibition center that features seven galleries, storage and classrooms and offices and a museum store.  There’s also 26 historic structures — including a police station, general store, school and barber shop —filled with artifacts of life in the region between 1890 and 1910. The center was organized by the Swedish, Harlem and Rockford Historical Societies in 1968 to collect, preserve and interpret the region’s history. The Severin Family donated the original 11 acres. In 1974 the Museum Center opened and the Old Doll’s House Museum joined it in 1988 along with galleries devoted to aviation and education. Permanent exhibits include: Queen City of the Prairies, The Girls of Summer, The Missing Link: Socks, Monkeys and Rockford’s Industrial Past, the Flight Gallery and Many Faces, One Community exhibit that opened in 2012 and features interactive learning stations and highlights the immigrant experience to the Rockford region. The village is open year-round and draws up to 30,000 students annual plus thousands of other visitors. 



“Our Towns” was compiled from various local, regional and historical sources by Jack McCarthy.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 10:43
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