Tag Archives: Children

Second Star to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning!

Our next event is sure to bring out all of the spooks and ghouls – Saturday, October 25 is All Hallow’s Eve at Midway Village! This year, J.M. Barrie’s classic characters in Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up come to life in our haunted woods!

The stage play was first performed on December 27, 1904 at Duke of York’s Theatre in London. Nina Boucicault was first cast to play Peter Pan, and Maude Adams famously played the impish boy in the 1905 Broadway production. This tradition of an adult woman starring as Peter has continued for over one hundred years. The play introduced its audiences to the name ‘Wendy,’ as well as to children’s literature which was still in its infancy.

Peter Pan’s adventures in Never Land take us back to our childhood fantasies of pirates, mermaids, Indians, and fairies. Over time, these figures have evolved in their meaning and place within our culture.  Today, many recognize Peter Pan as the red-headed boy in the 1953 Disney animated film. Fairies are also associated with Disney-inspired design, although Tinker Bell was first represented as a flash of light and tinkle of a bell.  What kinds of ephemera would people have associated with the characters of Peter Pan one hundred years ago? How were fairies, pirates, and Native Americans depicted?

This 1870s teddy bear is much like the one Michael carries to Never Land.

This 1870s teddy bear is much like the one Michael carries to Never Land.

This Rockford-made collapsible top hat is similar to what John wears as he pretends to be his father. “A little less noise there!"

This Rockford-made collapsible top hat is similar to what John wears as he pretends to be his father.
“A little less noise there!”

This thimble is representative of the kiss that Wendy tries to give Peter. Thimbles are a must in any good sewing kit, especially at a time when most people made their own clothes.

This thimble is representative of the kiss that Wendy tries to give Peter. Thimbles are a must in any good sewing kit, especially at a time when most people made their own clothes.

This charming book may have been a favorite bedtime story for a child who loved whimsical tales. Published in 1903, it tells the story of a star fairy prince who falls in love with a princess on Earth.

This charming book may have been a favorite bedtime story for a child who loved whimsical tales. Published in 1903, it tells the story of a star fairy prince who falls in love with a princess on Earth.

Fairy Wings c. 1920s-30s


This handmade fairy costume, complete with wings, may have been a little girl’s Halloween costume or, more likely, costume for a play or recital in the 1920s-1930s.

This handmade fairy costume, complete with wings, may have been a little girl’s Halloween costume or, more likely, costume for a play or recital in the 1920s-1930s.

For the adventurous, only a pirate book will do! G.A. Henty’s historical fiction Among Malay Pirates, published in 1899, contains short stories set in Malaysia and Indonesia. During a time when travel was limited to the wealthy, this book could take any person across the seas and among the pirates!

For the adventurous, only a pirate book will do! G.A. Henty’s historical fiction Among Malay Pirates, published in 1899, contains short stories set in Malaysia and Indonesia. During a time when travel was limited to the wealthy, this book could take any person across the seas and among the pirates!

Children dressed as Native Americans during Rockford parade, c. 1905.

Children dressed as Native Americans during Rockford parade, c. 1905.

Child’s colorful, handmade headdress.

Child’s colorful, handmade headdress.

What of the crocodile, who took Captain Hook’s hand? Well, he’s become a pair of lady’s pumps. Made in Rockford in the 1960s. (Not real crocodile!)

What of the crocodile, who took Captain Hook’s hand? Well, he’s become a pair of lady’s pumps.
Made in Rockford in the 1960s. (Not real crocodile!)


All Hallow’s Eve at Midway Village Museum, 2014

Sat. October 25  2pm – 8pm

Admission: $6 for adults and children. Museum members and children under 3 are free!

Bring your family to “trick-or-treat” in safety at the charming Victorian Village.  Additional children’s activities and crafts will also be offered throughout the day.  The Woods opens at 4:30 pm.

All Hallow's Eve


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Teasing Out Family History, or, Sheets to the Wind (Nautically Speaking)

As caretakers of history, it is understandable that curators, collections staff, and other museum professionals come to regard their collections personally. Through spending time with artifacts and photographs and learning about the stories of a community, a family, or an individual, we feel a connection to these objects. We are tasked with their interpretation through exhibition and even here on this blog. When we make meaning for the public, we must keep our personal feelings out of it.  Is this always easy? Unfortunately, it’s not.

I began my training here by cataloging new donations. This means giving each new item, whether it is a photograph, jacket, book, or chair, a tracking number.  Then details about each item are recorded by hand.  In addition to the description of each individual item, we record its history. Did it come from Rockford? How old is it? What is its story?

Think about it this way: on display in our gallery is a black top hat. It seems like nothing too special, besides looking very old, until you learn that it was worn by Germanicus Kent, an early Rockford settler. This kind of provenance – its history, its background – is what makes these objects distinctive to Rockford.

The first large collection that I cataloged unfortunately came in with little information attached to it. In the box of photographs and newspaper clippings were some pictures of a young boy named Raymond Sheets. One of the photos was on thick matboard cut into an oval shape.

Raymond Warde Sheets was born in Kansas to Frank D. and Mary Sheets on June 28, 1889. Rev. Frank Sheets was pastor of Court Street Methodist Church from 1902-1910. In this 1902 photo, Raymond is thirteen years old.

Raymond Warde Sheets was born in Kansas to Frank D. and Mary Sheets on June 28, 1889. Rev. Frank Sheets was a pastor at Court Street Methodist Church from 1902-1910. In this 1902 photo, Raymond is thirteen years old.

The next photographs were of Raymond as a husband and father, Raymond in his WWI uniform, and suddenly he is a gray-haired senior, standing with his three sons. I looked through the photos for the missing years and finally found the young family. There were several images of their home at 113 Lawn Place, which is located on the Rock River off of Harlem Boulevard.

Sheets Family

Raymond Sheets, his wife Charlotte, and their two youngest sons, Brice and Jerry (seated).

From these, I gleaned that Raymond and his wife had three sons: Roger, Brice, and Jerome (Jerry). Jerry appears in many of the photos, like this one where he is dawdling on the lawn with the family puppy.

Jerry Sheets

Then I hit a chunk of photographs that were much older. Many were of a young girl, and the pencil on the back identified her simply as “Aileen.” Who is she? It became clear that I was entering a new story, as the photos included images of her father, C.F. Henry, a wealthy clothier. He owned the Henry block at Mulberry and North Main Streets. In the photo below, Aileen is holding a lit candle and standing on a table.

Aileen Sheets

Aileen was born to Christian F. and Fannie Skinner Henry in Rockford around 1888. The Skinners were early Rockford pioneers.

The family lived in a grand home at 112 Glenn Road on the Rock River. The house was designed by architect Lawrence Buck, a colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright. There were several photos of the home, and I recorded the details for each – the living room, the dining room – until I came to a photo of a bedroom. I recognized a tiny, oval picture that was framed and sitting on top of the desk.

112 Glenn Rd bedroom

Grasping a magnifying glass in my hand, I hovered over the picture and recognized the young man. I pulled out the oval photo of Raymond. They were one and the same! Flipping over the bedroom photo, the words “N.E. bedroom (Mine)” confirmed that this bedroom was indeed Aileen’s. Were the two married? Was the little girl in these other photographs the same wife of Raymond Sheets and the mother of his three sons?

Using Ancestry, I was able to find out so much more about these two families who became one when Raymond Sheets married Charlotte Aileen Henry in 1912. Finally, these two big puzzle pieces came together.  I then ruthlessly searched Ancestry for everything I could find about the family. The two oldest Sheets boys married and had children. Raymond purchased Rockford Silver Plate Co. in 1925 and was also president of the Rockford Paper Box Co. Both Raymond and Aileen attended Rockford High School.  In the 1905 yearbook, Raymond’s senior year, I found this gem:

1905 RHS yearbook Sheets

I felt swept away with romantic notions of these apparent high school sweethearts – the girl who cherishes the picture of her young beau on her desk, and the boy whose past, present, and future is filled with her.

Pressing onward through the box of photographs, I noticed that there were scarcely any from the 1930s because little Jerry suddenly appeared as a man in uniform. Seen above with his puppy, Jerry was 22 years old in this photo with his parents, taken November  1, 1943. Jerry had enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and served as a Second Lieutenant.

Sheets Family

Jerry Sheets with his parents Raymond and Charlotte Aileen Sheets, Nov. 1, 1943.

One Rockford newspaper article gushed about Jerry, who attended the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, majored in economics, and was a member of the senior honorary society as well as senior track manager of the track team, not to mention the treasurer and house manager of Theta Delta Chi. His photo smiled serenely at me, this young soldier in uniform, hair pristinely parted and slicked back, and I thought of the toddler in the sailor suit in the yard at 113 Lawn Place. I felt a strange connection to this family, one that began with just of box of unsorted pictures. Another article boasts that Jerry was the youngest officer on an American destroyer during the invasion of Normandy. With this clipping is a note from Raymond to his brother Harold, saying “thought you would like to see clipping on Jerry. The kid sure did a swell job.”

I picked up the next article and felt my stomach drop as I read the title: “Presidential Citation Discloses How Lt. Sheets Died on Destroyer.”

Jerry was serving as assistant damage control officer on the U.S.S. Laffey off the coast of Okinawa. On April 16, 1945, the ship was hit by a kamikaze attack that started raging fires and trigged the explosion of ammunition onboard the ship. Jerry organized volunteer parties of firefighters to bring the blaze under control. When the ship was hit again by suicide bombers, Jerry was killed. He was one of 31 crewmembers killed or missing in action. Because of his efforts to control the fires, he helped to save the Laffey, which limped back to Seattle, Washington “a tangled mass of steel” that was “unbelievably afloat.” He was awarded the bronze star for his heroic efforts posthumous.  He was only 24 years old.

Unfortunately, this is where most of the story ends.  Records tell us that Fannie Henry, Aileen’s mother, died in 1925 of a stroke. C.F. Henry, Aileen’s father, died in 1942, and Aileen died in 1957. Raymond Sheets died in 1986 as did his second youngest son, Brice.  Roger died four years later.

I admittedly know very little about this family, about what the people were really like.  Their personal lives are hidden, and photographs tell us little.  A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it would take many more to describe each of us.  It is easy to fall in love with adorable or striking or thought-provoking photographs and their subjects; however, as historians, we need to be somewhat skeptical with our admiration. It is easy to let our bias guide our interpretation of facts and events because we want to focus on virtue rather than vice. I can only speculate that Raymond’s yearbook suggested his whole world revolved around Aileen because they were madly in love. But it is only one theory and we cannot take this for fact. In any case, it is usually more fun to present what we know and then let others speculate themselves on the hows and whys. It adds to the conversation and debate, and opens up new worlds of possibilities.



Upcoming Event: WWII Days 2014

Sat September 20: 11am-5pm

Sun September 21: 11am-4pm

$14 Adult, $7 Child (3-17)

Members are always free!

World War II Days includes elaborate and realistic battles complete with tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, and exciting pyrotechnic displays. Saturday the battle shows are featured at 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm. Sunday the battle time is 2:30 pm.

The largest World War II Days in the Midwest boasts more than 1,000 re-enactors representing the soldiers of the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, Italy and Japan.  Authentic military vehicles, wood encampments, and the ambiance of the beautiful venue add to the quality experience for the visitors.

For more information, click here: WWII Days Event


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The Welfare Pioneer

This year, women in Illinois are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the expansion of their voting rights.  Recall that Illinois women could only vote in school elections in a segregated ballot box, a law that was passed in 1891.  After years of lobbying in Springfield, the suffragists rejoiced when the General Assembly passed the Illinois Municipal Voting Act.  The bill was signed by Governor Dunne on June 26, 1913.  This act allowed women to vote for Presidential electors and for all local Illinois offices not specified by the Constitution.  However, women could still not vote for state representative, congressman, or governor, and they were still required to have segregated ballots and ballot boxes.  The voting act was radical in that it was the first of its kind to be passed east of the Mississippi River.

Julia Lathrop

Julia Lathrop, a Rockford native, is considered a welfare pioneer.  She was a founding member of the League of Women Voters of Greater Rockford in 1922 and was its first vice president.  Not only did she believe in equal rights for women, but she advocated for the mentally ill, immigrants, social reform, and child welfare.

Born in 1858, Julia attended Rockford Female Seminary (now Rockford College, soon to be Rockford University) and completed her education at Vassar College.  Upon graduation in 1880, she went to work for her father, William Lathrop, a lawyer and congressman, as a secretary and assistant.

Julia worked at Hull House in Chicago with fellow Rockford College attendee Jane Addams.  She was a resident there when it first opened in 1889.  She kept records on the conditions of insane asylums and poorhouses.  She also served on the first Illinois State Board of Charities.

Between 1912 and 1921, Julia was the chief of the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor.  She was the first woman to head a U.S. bureau.  In 1925, she was appointed to the Child Welfare Committee of the League of Nations.   Julia passed away in 1932.

Children's Year Official Seal

Children’s Year Official Seal

From April 6, 1918 to April 6, 1919, the Children’s Bureau ran a national campaign to raise awareness about child welfare and persuade state governments to set up their own programs.  This campaign, known as the Children’s Year, held the slogan “Save 100,000 Babies.”  The Bureau sought to reduce the infant mortality rate by one third.  The primary goals of the campaign were to record the weight and measurements of infants and toddlers, encourage healthy play and recreation, and emphasize the importance of schooling.  Child labor was a concern of the Bureau, and keeping children in school meant that they were not a part of the workforce.  The year-long campaign concluded with new standards for the health, education, and work of children.

For an in-depth look at the Children’s Year campaign, follow this link to the Children’s Bureau’s 1920 publication “Children’s Year: A brief summary for work done and suggestions for follow-up work.”  http://www.mchlibrary.info/history/chbu/20439.PDF

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School Days, School Days…

Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate
“I love you so”
When we were a couple of kids.

“School Days,” Will D. Cobb, 1907

It’s that time of year again when the school buses are out, making their rounds to pick up students.  Your wallet feels a little lighter because your child’s backpack is that much heavier.  Summer lasts for another month yet, but the kids are back in school.

The first known school in Rockford began in 1837.  Miss Eunice Brown taught six students in a log house 110 South Second Street.  From about 1837 to 1855, most schools were private, and parents paid the teacher directly.  Rockford’s City Council began considering free ‘common schools,’ with two school districts on either side of the Rock River.  In August 1857, these first public schools opened to students with Adams School on the west and Lincoln School on the east.  The two schools had a combined enrollment of 900 students.

Turner School – located at Alpine Rd. and East State St.

With Rockford growing and expanding, the two districts quickly became three, and by 1880, Winnebago County was made up of 120 districts.  One-room school houses were not uncommon.  These buildings typically had two doors, one for boys and the other for girls, and the two groups sat on either side of the room.  Generally comprising of grades 1 through 8, classrooms were full of siblings and cousins.  Children brought with them their slate boards, slate pencils, and their book called a reader.  Their studies mainly consisted of the three r’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but also included geography, history, music, and even agriculture.

Naughty children had their knuckles rapped with a switch, or were made to balance on a one-legged stool or stand on their tippy toes with their noses on the blackboard.  While these practices are not done in today’s classrooms, certificates of achievement that are awarded to good children today have been in practice for over one hundred years.

Rewards of Merit – Presented to Eva Bruce – Circa 1890


While the size of the schools grew throughout the decades, the interior of the classroom remained mostly unchanged.  Here is a classroom at Whig Hill School in 1926.  Everett C. Sarver, a fifth grader, is the boy with the wide-eyed expression sitting in the first row from the right, second from front.  You may remember him as Captain’s Talker aboard the U.S.S. Minotaur

Everett used this slate board to practice writing.  Because note preservation was impossible with the slate board, memorization was greatly emphasized through recitation.

Everett’s Report Card – Grade 8 – 1907

Continuous updates to technology have not evaded the schools.  Today, students use school computers, laptops, and the internet to complete assignments.  Online classes are now preferred by students with hectic schedules.  The differences between today and the 1800s seem to be stark, while the similarities sometimes remain subtle, such as report cards and certificates of achievement.  What kind of similarities to you think we’ll see by the 22nd century?  What practices will change?

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Bonus Blog!

The Collections Blog has reached 5000 views!  In celebration, we bring you a fun ‘grab bag’ of Rockford memories from our collection.

The Kold Krunch Ice Cream Bar was invented by Bert “Fish” Hassell, pilot of the Greater Rockford airplane seen on display in the Museum Center (photo at the right).  Bert wanted to create a product that would ensure his family’s financial stability during the Depression.  His daughter recalled how her mother woke one night to hear Bert in the kitchen, making chocolate sauce and caramel corn.  And after consulting several ice cream companies about how to keep the ice cream from gelling, he came up with the first ice cream bar with a cracker jack-like confection.  It sold for a nickel, and kept his family from the bread lines.

The destruction of the tornado that struck Rockford on September 14, 1928 can be seen in this photograph.  The house has slid off of it’s foundation and rests in the middle of the street.  The worst of its kind to hit Rockford, the tornado resulted in the death of 14 people with over 100 injured and 200 buildings damaged or destroyed.

All new parents are eager to capture their little one on film.  But if babies were too squirmy, their picture would end up blurry.  To keep infants still, many parents would hold their child and the photographer would hide them with a blanket or curtain.  In this example, the parent is seated with blanket covering him or her.  While it may appear to be the back of the chair, the parent’s arms are clearly seen on either side of “Irving.”

Meet Waring, Fire Dog of the Rockford Fire Department.  Waring was a member of Engine Two.  He responded to fires, delighted children in outreach programs, and, according to the plaque on his photo’s frame, “performed station duties as required.”  This photograph was taken in 1950.

Want to learn more about Rockford history?  Come visit us at Midway Village Museum!  Explore our exhibitions, including 100 Years of Girl Scouting and our newest addition Many Faces, One Community.  Take a tour of the Victorian Village, which includes 26 buildings and gardens.

Open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4pm

Admission: $7 Adults, $4 Children (3 and under are free!)  Members are free!

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Letters to Santa

When writing a letter to the jolly old elf up North, we usually begin with “Dear Santa” and then explain how good we’ve been all year.  Maybe we entice St. Nick to our house with promises of chocolate chip cookies and ice cold milk.  And a courteous greeting to Mrs. Claus and the reindeer is a nice touch.  But eventually we get to the object of our letter, and Santa finds our wish list of toys.

The modern tradition of writing letters to Santa began around 1871 when Thomas Nast published a cartoon of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly.  The caricature shows Santa at his desk reading letters from children’s parents.  Notice how the pile of letters from naughty children is much taller than those from nice children!

Perhaps to simplify Christmas shopping, catalogues advertised stockings for children that included different toys, such as this page from the 1927 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue.  Parents could choose the stocking’s size and whether it was for a boy or girl.  (Clicking on the picture will show you larger view of all of the goodies in the stockings!)

Here are just a few examples from our collection of what children might have written Santa Claus for in the first half of the twentieth century.  Most of them appeared in catalogues like Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Marshall Fields & Co.  Maybe we’ll give you some gift ideas for the little ones if you still have some shopping left to do!

Late 1800s Stuffed Bear

The stuffed bear is a timeless toy for any child.  Many gifts were handmade by the child’s loved ones.  Stuffed animals continue to be loved and favorited toys by children.

1890s Doll

Another classic toy, dolls have been loved by children since ancient times.  Jointed dolls like this one were advertised in the 1892 Marshall Fields & Co. catalogue.  Her knees and elbows bend, making her more lifelike.  Doll companies endeavored to make the doll that looked most like a live baby.

Early 1900s Velocipede - Tricycle

A velocipede is a human powered land vehicle that has more than one wheel.  Made by the Gendron Wheel Co. of Toledo, Ohio, this tricycle was featured in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue.  In 1919, Sears refers to this velocipede as a “girl’s tricycle.”

1910s Schoenhut Piano

This toy piano made by Schoenhut has ten wooden keys.  Albert Schoenhut made a new piano in 1872 that replaced fragile glass sounding bars with steel plates.  Pianos like this were made until 1935, but based on the stencil design of dancers and cherubim, it is believed to be from the 1910s.

1914 Panama Pile Driver

The Panama Pile Driver is a mechanical toy that uses marbles to operate.  Marbles are loaded into the top tray.  When the string is pulled, the marbles drop one at a time into the bucket, driving it down.  To see this toy in action, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNV4t37gQKo

1920s Electric Train Set

Pictured here is an American Flyer O gauge passenger train set.  It was first introduced by the American Flyer Manufacturing Company in 1918.  The wind-up motor of the earlier clockwork trains were replaced with an electric motor.  These electric trains were enjoyed by boys and girls alike during the 1920s.

1927 Skeezix and Pal Dolls

These two dolls, made of imitation leather, are characters in the comic strip Gasoline Alley, created by Frank King in 1918.  Still in publication, the comic is the second-longest running strip.  It is unique in that the characters age in real-time and experience major life events such as marriage and children, as well as growing old.  Skeezix made his appearance in the comic in 1921 as a baby left on the doorstep of bachelor Walt Wallet.  These dolls were featured in the 1927 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue, Skeezix for 39 cents and Pal for 59 cents.

1936 Parker Brothers Fianance and Fortune Board Game

Monopoly’s predecessor, Finance and Fortune was first issued by L.S. Ayers & Co. in 1932 and was later reissued by Parker Brothers.  It is similar to Monopoly in that lots can be purchased and Chance cards are played; however, there are no monopolies, and instead of going to jail, you’ve unfortunately missed the train and must pay $10 to take a rowboat to “Soak’Em Wharf.”  If you look closely at the picture on the game’s box cover, you can see Mr. Monopoly, or maybe his brother.

1930-40s Sled

What would Christmas morning in the Midwest be without fresh powdered snow and a new sled?

1940 Erector Set

The Erector Set that boasted to be “the boy builder” was first produced by A.C. Gilbert in 1911.  A very popular toy throughout the decades, this set can be found in the 1940 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue.  In 1918, the Council of National Defense considered stopping toy production so that those factories could produce materials needed for the war effort.  A.C. Gilbert spoke to the Council and convinced them not to cancel Santa.  The media called Gilbert “the man who saved Christmas.”

1946-49 Nylint "Amazing Car"

This wind-up car was the first toy produced by Rockford’s own Nylint Corporation.  It was called the “Amazing Car” because it could drive forwards, backwards, start, stop, and make turns all on its own.  The box, unique because it pictured the product, gives detailed instructions on how the car operates.  The selector on the bottom of the car determines the path, the wind-up key determines the distance, and the stop prong will stop the car.  It became popular at the 1946 Toy Fair in New York City where 100,000 orders were placed.

1950s Push Down Cat

Evolved from the early pull toys, spring toys like this were introduced in 1895, but did not become popular until WWI.  By pushing down the tail of the cat, it springs forward across the floor or table.  Many toys such as this did not go out of style or change much over the decades aside from modernizing the look of the toy.

Happy Holidays from Midway Village Museum!


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With Baby in Tow

(Tobacco farm, 1890s)

Imagine that you are a farmer living in Rockford one hundred years ago.  You, your spouse, and your several children are starting another day on the farm.  Everyone does their part to help with the harvest, which means there is no one left in the house to watch over your 3 month old infant.  What do you do?

You take little Johnny with you in the field cradle, of course!

This hickory bentwood cradle was used by farmers to carry their infants with them into the fields while they worked.  It could be pulled along behind them by its curved handle.  The wood slats curve down and create a flat bottom.  The cradle is suspended with two rings that hook on each end.  It sways back and forth to keep baby calm and happy while mom and dad work in the field.

The cradle has original red paint with gold stenciling.  It was manufactured by Ford Johnson & Company in Michigan City, Indiana, and was patented by Abner Woodward on October 17, 1876.  The patent can be viewed here: http://www.google.com/patents?id=Y1xeAAAAEBAJ&printsec =abstract&zoom=4&source=gbs_overview_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false

Cradles similar to this may have been used by slave women as they worked on the plantation.  Many online sellers of these cradles claim that their 1870s cradle was used by slaves; however, this is not true due to the 8th Amendment declaring slavery to be unconstitutional in 1865.  Rockford was lucky in that it squelched slavery within the first few years of its inhabitance.  In 1834, Germanicus Kent brought with him his slave Lewis, a boy of seventeen, who he purchased in Alabama for $400.  Kent told Lewis that he could purchase his freedom for $800.  In 1839, Lewis earned his freedom and took on the surname of Lemon.  While Kent eventually left Rockford, Lewis stayed in Rockford growing and selling vegetables.  He died a free and respected man in 1877.  The field cradles were never used by slaves in Rockford.

This cradle was donated to the museum in 1975 by four grandchildren of George W. Marsh, the same family that built and lived in one of the houses that is located in our historic village.  George W.’s grandparents Russell and Abigail Marsh were pioneers of Rockford who arrived in the winter of 1838.  Their son George purchased land near them at North Alpine Road.  When he passed in 1888, his nephew George W. purchased the land.  It is believed that the house was built in the 1860s by one of the two men.  The house is on display in the village, although at this time it is not open to the public.

In its early days, Rockford farms grew wheat which were milled into flour and packed in barrels to be sold at market.  By 1870, Rockford was growing into a city with a population of 11,049.  Within the decade, Rockford’s courthouse was built, the first library opened, and the knitting and furniture industries boomed.  Between 1870 and 1900, area farmland doubled as wheat production tapered off and farmers began growing corn and oats, as well as raising livestock.

(1890 farm)

Being outside and working hard was a part of daily life.  As a member of the family, everyone pitched in to keep the farm running and to put food on the table.  In cradles like this one, farm kids were in the fields before they could even walk.

Many thanks to Keith and Roxann Hardy for their assistance with the research on this item!


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