Rockford Illinois

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Date: 1834 [unknown]
Location: Rockford, Winnebago County Ilinoismap
Surname/tag: Illinois
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Rockford, Illinois

Basic Information

Rockford City Hall

Rockford is the county seat for Winnebago County, Illinois. A small portion of the city is located in Ogle County. It is the largest city in Illinois outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, and the third-largest city in the state. In 2017 the population was about 146,500. [1]


Coordinates: 42° 15′ 34″ N, 89° 3′ 52″ W
Google Map


Germanicus Kent came to Galena from Virginia in 1834 and along with Lewis Lemon, and Thatcher Blake, is credited with founding Rockford.

Daniel Haight Frane House

Daniel Shaw Haight arrived in April of 1835 and was the first to settle East Rockford.

Early Settlers

Cobblestone house built by Elijah Herrick Sr. in 1847
  • William E. Dunbar built a log cabin on the west side of town in the fall of 1835 and was one of the first 27 residents.
  • Elijah Herrick arrived from Vermont in 1836. In 1847 he built a cobblestone house in Rockford that is still in. use.
  • Thomas Lake, born in England, came to Rockford in 1836. He was a carpenter and built many of the earliest homes in Rockford.
Haskell Park
  • Dr. George Haskell and his family, originally from Massachusetts originally settled in Alton, Illinois. Abolitions, they left Alton after the murder of the Rev. Elijah Lovejoy in 1836 and settle in Rockford, arriving in 1838 on the Gypsy, the first Steamer to arrive in Rockford. He and his brother-in-law John Edwards] donated land to Rockford which became Haskell Park. [2]
  • Benjamin Kilburn came in 1836 to arrange for a house to be built. He retuned in 1837 with his wife and her brother Henry Maynard. They traveled from Massachusetts to Albany, New York by carriage then to Schenectady by railroad. They went on to Buffalo by canal boat and then to Chicago by stream boat. It took three days by wagon to get from Chicago to Rockford.
  • Ira Baker arrived in Rockford from Ohio on October 1, 1838 with his wife Mira, 72 year old mother-in-law, Lucy Noble and five children including a four month old infant who died later that year.
  • Williard Wheeler settled in Rockford in 1839 and served as its first Mayor from 1852-1853.
  • Loami Peake, born in New York, came to Rockford from Canada in 1839. He established the first harness making business in Rockford. In 1841 he owned the first iron foundry which he sold to James Fountain who moved it to New Milford. In 1852 he built the first public hall in Rockford. The block called “Peake’s Block” was destroyed in a fire in 1857.


John B. Anderson
  • John B. Anderson served in the United States House of Representative from 1961-1981 and was an Independent presidential candidate in 1880.
  • William Brown was Illinois State Representative for 55th District from 1864-1866.
  • John Buckbee was a U.S. Representative from Illinois from 1927-1936.
  • John Early was Illinois Lieutenant Governor from 1872-1875.
  • David Hunter was elected in 1922 to represent Winnebago and Ogle Counties in the Illinois House of Representatives. He served 19 consecutive terms until he retired in 1960.


Rockford School District

When Illinois passed a law requiring communities to establish public schools free of tuition in 1855, Rockford established two separate school districts for the east and west sides of the city. In 1884, the two districts were consolidated into a single citywide school district. The current district is designated Rockford Public Schools District 205. It is the 4th largest school district in Illinois. It consists of four high schools, six middle schools, and 29 elementary schools. It also operates early-childhood and alternative education centers.

Public High Schools
Rockford High School, 1895

The first public high school in Rockford, Rockford High School (also known as Central Rockford High School), opened in 1885. In 1840 it closed and was replaced with East Rockford and West Rockford High Schools. The building was demolished in 2015. [3] West High School closed as a High School in 1989 and now serves as West Middle School. The four current high schools are:

First Churches

First Congregational Church

First Congregational Church of Rockford, Illinois; built by Germanicus Kent and George W. Brinkerhoff.

In 1835 the first Christian worship service in Rockford was conducted at the First Congregational Church by Aratus Kent, the brother of Getmanicus. [4] In 1837 it was formally organized by the first pastor, Rev. John Morrill who came from New Hampshire as a home missionary.

Court Street United Methodist Church

Court Street Methodist Church

Court Street Methodist was organized in 1852. It’s first building was dedicated in 1854. [5]

St. James Catholic Church

St James was the first Roman Catholic Church in Rockford. The priests of St. Patrick, Hartland, began to serve the communities of Belvidere, Rockford and Marengo in the 1840s. The church itself was founded in 1853.

Construction on the current building began in 1861 and was completed in 1867. It served as the Rockford Diocese’s pro-cathedral before the Cathedral of St. Peter opened.[6][7]

First Presbyterian

First Presbyterian Church

The Presbyterians of early Rockford worshipped with the Congregationalists for several years. First Presbyterian was formed in 1854. George Haskell donated land for the church he had acquired by patent from the US Government in 1841. The current building was built in 1902. [8]

First Lutheran Church

First Lutheran Swedish Church

The First Lutheran Church was organized January 15, 1854, by Dr. Erland Carlson of Chicago with 77 charter members. The first name given to the Church was "The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation." [9] Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Church 1858

Westminster Presbyterian Church was organized in 1856 with 22 members. It was originally called the Second Presbyterian Church, and the name was subsequently changed to Westminster. The first building was dedicated in 1858. In 1946 the building was destroyed in a fire. The current building was dedicated in 1951. [10]


The first weekly newspaper was published in 1840 and the first successful daily newspaper appeared in 1877. Between 1890 and 1930 the city had three daily newspapers.


  • James Lamont, son of Scottish immigrants was editor and then owner of the Monitor, a Prohibitionist publication. He was elected to the General Assembly in 1886.


  • Iron Works
  • Furniture

Started in 1876, the Rockford Union Furniture Company was the first of 25 area furniture factories that were formed as cooperatives. By the 1880s the furniture industry was using the talents of Swedish born craftsmen and capitalists, and by the first half of the 20th century Rockford was the second largest furniture manufacturing center in the United States (behind Grand Rapids, Michigan). Many of the furniture companies were cooperatives, reflecting a different business approach from that of the old Yankee entrepreneur, with laborers and craftsmen holding significant power.

  • Knitting
Talcott Building built by Wait Talcott in 1928. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States of America
  • Machinery
First Reaper Combo, invented by John H. Manny
  • John Henry Manny developed a combined reaper mower in 1853 which he manufactured in Rockford. It was the first to successfully challenge the Cyrus McCormick Company's dominance in reaper manufacture.


Chapel at Greenwood Cemetery

The oldest and largest cemetery in Rockford is Greenwood, established in 1845. Most of the prominent and historically significant citizens of the city lie within its grounds. [11]

Rockford 1886

Resources for Rockford, Illinois

Books Online

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  1. Rockford City, US Census QuickFacts
  2. Rowland, Katherine E., C.G. The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties, Illinois, Who Came before 1841. Baltimore, MA: Gateway Press, 1990. Page 196.
  3. Wikipedia:Rockford Central High School
  4. Church, History of Rockford, pg. 36
  5. Church Histories Genealogy Trails
  6. St. James Catholic Church celebrates 160 years in Rockford RRSTAR, July 28, 2013
  7. St. James History
  8. First Presbyterian Church Records
  9. Church Histories of Winnebago County
  10. Our History
  11. Greenwood Cemetery

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