Tag Archives: Transportation

A Close Shave

In honor of Black History Month, the Collections Department is eager to present the story of William Henry Watson – a Civil War veteran, Rockford barber, and important addition to the history of Rockford’s black community.  William was born sometime between 1840 and 1844 in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. His father, Thomas Watson, was born in Kentucky and his mother, Hannah, was born in Guyana, a British sugar-producing colony at the time. It is unknown whether his parents were born as slaves or free blacks, but William was born free.

William Henry Watson wearing the membership badge of the GAR, circa 1890s

William Henry Watson wearing the membership badge of the GAR, circa 1890s

On February 11, 1864, William enlisted in the army and served as a corporal in Company K of the 25th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Colored Troops. His military record states that at the time of his enlistment, William was 22 years old, 5 feet and 4.5 inches tall, had brown eyes and black hair, and worked as a barber. He was promoted to full corporal and then to full sergeant in less than two months.

Company E, 4th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops at Washington, D.C. (Library of Congress)

Company E, 4th Infantry, U.S. Colored Troops at Washington, D.C.
(Library of Congress)

William endured several hardships and fought the enemy multiple times. During a transport on the steamer Suwanee, William’s ship encountered a storm near the island of Hatteras and sprung a leak. The soldiers manned Suwannee’s pumps and used buckets to keep themselves afloat. After thirty-six hours of strenuous work, they entered the harbor of Beaufort, North Carolina. They received hardly any rest as the regiment was called to defend Little Washington, which was under siege by the Confederate Army. The siege lasted for a little more than two weeks when the Confederates pulled back. William’s regiment also defended both New Orleans, Louisiana and Pensacola, Florida from Confederate attack. During the spring and summer of 1865, the regiment found themselves without proper food and nutrition, and the men suffered from scurvy. About 150 died and many more were disabled for life. In December 1865, the regiment was ordered to return to Philadelphia where the soldiers were mustered out of service.

William Watson, who was also known as “Cap,” traveled to southern Illinois sometime afterwards with his wife Anna and their three sons. However, Anna preferred her home out east, and the couple separated. William arrived in Rockford in the early 1890s as a middle-aged gentleman. In 1892, he worked as a barber with James McCard, another African-American barber. He remarried and divorced somewhat quickly, and Anna came to Rockford in 1899 where she resumed her role as his wife. In that same year, William was running a barber shop at 116 South Main Street, located in the basement of what would become D.J. Stewart & Co. He was a member of the Grand Army of the Republic as well as the “lodge of colored Masons.”

The Stewart Building (right) next to the Chick House (left), c. 1893

The Stewart Building (right) next to the Chick House (left), c. 1893

Forty years after his service in the Civil War, William Watson again escaped from the hands of death when he witnessed a street car accident in June 1904. One of the cars had been left standing in front of the car shops on Kishwaukee Street. By some unknown force, it began moving down the tracks on its own accord, gaining speed as it went. Heading down the State Street grade, the empty streetcar crossed the bridge and attempted to follow the tracks as it turned the corner at Wyman Street. But the car was moving at such great speeds that it jumped off the tracks and crashed into several telephone poles and finally into the Harnett Shoe Store. William had been standing at that very corner with Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Boyd, whose barber shop was located in the building’s basement. William recounted what he saw to the Rockford Republic, stating that they witnessed the car race over the bridge at forty or fifty miles per hour, cutting the wires as it went. Mrs. Boyd turned and ran down the steps to the shop. Reuben was struck in the legs by the trolley pole as it rushed past and was knocked down. William helped up his friend as the car crashed into the shoe store. He told the Republic, “I was in de war and didn’t get scared when dey shot bullets at me, but when it comes to shooting cars at a fellow I just can’t stand for dat… I never want to see anything more like dat.” Several people were injured, including Mrs. Boyd who had been struck by a small iron tank that fell from the car as she rushed down the stairs to safety. She received a fractured elbow, smashed finger, and cut to the face. Luckily, no one was killed.

In this view, the street car came down the State Street Bridge, turned to the right, and crashed into the building on the corner, Harnett’s Shoe Store. In this image, an early automobile is parked in front of the building.

In this view, the street car came down the State Street Bridge, turned to the right, and crashed into the building on the corner, Harnett’s Shoe Store. In this image, an early automobile is parked in front of the building.

Rockford’s black population, including those of Beloit, Belvidere, and Elgin, celebrated a “Freedom’s Day” on New Year’s Day 1906. A parade led by the “Rockford colored band” was held in Rockford’s streets. It was followed by programs and exercises at Armory hall, and concluded with a dinner. William was “marshal of the day.”

William Henry Watson died on August 15, 1919. He was about 85 years old and had been working in his son Thomas’ barber shop at 215 South Wyman Street for several years. His funeral services were held at the Allen Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he had been a member. He was buried at West Side Cemetery, today known as Greenwood Cemetery.

William Henry Watson’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery

William Henry Watson’s grave at Greenwood Cemetery

William Watson’s life and his roles in the Civil War and Rockford businesses represent one of the limited stories from our collection on the history of Rockford’s black population. Several books on African-Americans in Rockford have been written, such as John L. Molyneaux’s African-Americans in Early Rockford, 1834-1871; however, our physical collection still lacks documents, photographs, and objects that chronicle their important histories in Winnebago County.

Want to celebrate Black History Month with hands-on activities? Come to our family-centered workshop on Saturday, February 21 and learn about “Jazz in Art History.” Hear about All-American Jazz legends past and present. Did you know that Jazz and painting go hand-in-hand? Paint your own Jazz poster and learn more about our black community in Rockford. Free with regular museum admission!! For more information, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=128

These workshops take place the third Saturday of each month with different ethnical themes.

To learn more about Rockford’s black community and its barber shops, visit our newest exhibit Many Faces, One Community.

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The Life and Times of Old Tramp, Rockford’s Most Famous Dog

In the early 1900s, the city of Rockford was home to a dog known as Old Tramp. Tramp was a beloved hound and considered an honored citizen. Belonging to no one and everyone, Tramp wandered the streets of downtown Rockford and made friends everywhere he went.  It is clear from his photo that Tramp did not want for food. He was fed often by the friends he made, and he loved when children shared their candy with him. The newspapers Rockford Morning Star, Daily Register-Gazette, and Rockford Republic were especially fond of the roly-poly lab-mix, who was known as a “mountain of meat.” This story comes straight from their sincere, albeit exaggerated, publications. This is Tramp’s tale.

Old Tramp, c. 1907-1908

Old Tramp, c. 1907-1908

The newspapers reported that Tramp’s journey to Rockford had been one of romance and tragedy. Owned by a loving mistress, Tramp lived happily on a farm in Latham Park, located north of what is now Machesney Park. Unfortunately, Tramp’s dear mistress was sick with consumption, and when she succumbed to the illness and passed away in 1901, Old Tramp was so filled with grief that he left the house immediately after the funeral service and never returned. The Rockford Morning Star asserted that his eyes were still filled with sorrow and his heart heavy with grief. It instructed the reader to “watch him the next time a funeral procession passes through the streets and he is near. He will immediately lay down with his head buried in his paws and remain there until the cortege has passed.”

Upon leaving the house, it was said that Tramp found his way to East Rockford and met some nice police officers. They took him to the west side, where he looked around at the buildings, rubbed up against the officers, and decided to stay. Rockford had also accepted him, as the Rockford Republic reported in 1902 that “’Tramp,’ a well known [sic] dog about town which has been making its home here, there and everywhere but was always welcome, was shot by an officer this morning as the animal was under the suspicion of having rabies.” Thankfully, this was a case of mistaken identity, and the Register-Gazette corrected: “After being mourned for several hours, ‘Tramp’ turned up much alive, greatly to the delight of his friends, both old and young.”

Tramp’s daily schedule went something like this:

Every morning at 7 o’clock, Tramp headed off to one of the meat markets to find his breakfast – a big delicious bone.

Carl August Ahlstrand’s meat market, located at 102 7th Street. August came to Rockford from Sweden in 1885 and operated a meat market for over forty years.

Carl August Ahlstrand’s meat market, located at 102 7th Street. August came to Rockford from Sweden in 1885 and operated a meat market for over forty years.

 

Tramp took his breakfast to the court house lawn to enjoy.

Winnebago County Court House, c. 1880s-1890s

Winnebago County Court House, c. 1880s-1890s

 

If the fire alarm sounded, Tramp lumbered his way to meet the engine on the street and heartily barked his encouragement.

Rockford Fire Engine Co. No. 6, early 1900s

Rockford Fire Engine Co. No. 6, early 1900s

 

He frequented the Rockford & Interurban Railway waiting room and often took a ride on the streetcar.

East and West side streetcar waiting rooms, c. 1910

East and West side streetcar waiting rooms, c. 1910

 

From noon to 2 o’clock, Tramp made his rounds of the saloons and cafes and enjoyed their samples, which were freely given. When the steamship Illinois blew its whistle, off he went to meet it.

Steamship Illinois, c.1910s

Steamship Illinois, c.1910s

 

After enjoying an afternoon cruise, he might have followed an officer on his beat and kept him company.

Policemen in front of City Hall, c. 1908

Policemen in front of City Hall, c. 1908

 

At 10 o’clock, Tramp retired to the Morning Star office where he fell asleep on a pile of exchanges.

Early linotype machines used for setting type for newspaper printing, believed to be at Rockford Morning Star, c. 1910s

Early linotype machines used for setting type for newspaper printing, believed to be at Rockford Morning Star, c. 1910s

 

There was one steamboat trip Tramp did not enjoy. One lovely day in June 1902, Tramp boarded the Illinois with the other patrons, who were off to delight in their picnics. A group of men belonging to the Grand Army of the Republic also boarded. One of these old veterans picked him up and threw him overboard as the steamboat left its port. Tramp paddled to the shore unhurt and walked home. The next year, the Republic reported, Tramp boarded the ship as usual and recognized the same man who had tossed him off the deck the year before. Tramp performed an about-face and walked back down the gang-plank to avoid another unpleasant confrontation.

Steamboat Illinois, June 4, 1914

Steamboat Illinois, June 4, 1914

 

In 1905, Tramp had an adventure that caused quite a stir in Rockford. On February 24, the Register-Gazette announced that “Tramp Is Missing” and the Morning Star cried “Tramp Was Taken Away.” Tramp had boarded the streetcar, being a dog who enjoyed a good ride, and stood in the front vestibule with the conductor, Floyd Knodle. At the crossing near Ridott, a lineman got off the car, and Tramp, in all likelihood, hopped off and began walking alongside the track. Floyd was in a hurry, and so the car continued on. However, upon returning without Tramp, many people were outraged and accused Floyd of pushing the lab out of the car and abandoning him in the snow. It was known that the railway officials were annoyed by Tramp’s presence in their waiting room, and this, argued the newspapers, was the reason poor Tramp had been abandoned.

Rockford & Interurban streetcar, c. 1890s

Rockford & Interurban streetcar, c. 1890s

The Morning Star felt very protective of Tramp, who had made their office his bedroom. It defended him, saying that he was not a nuisance and in fact was liked by hundreds of people. If Tramp was not produced, they threatened, the Humane Society would arrest whoever was responsible; in fact, they claimed, all of the officials of the company should be arrested for cruelty to this poor dog. They got their scapegoat the next day when conductor Floyd Knodle was arrested for abuse and brought into the court house for questioning. Even the judge was ready to fine him; however, the case was dismissed two days later. It was ruled that because the incident had occurred in Stephenson County, the judge had no jurisdiction in the case.

Meanwhile, Morning Star employee John Adams found Tramp enjoying himself at a friendly farm in the country. Tying a rope around the dog’s neck, he led Tramp back to Rockford where he was welcomed with joyous fanfare. A broad, red ribbon was tied around his neck. The Register-Gazette printed “Some Verses on Tramp” including:

“Why Tramp Got Lost”

There was an old dog named Tramp,

In some of his manners a ‘scamp,’

He would go out and fill up on fat

And just what he’d do after that

Is hardly fit for publication.

 

Although Tramp was an irritation to the streetcar officials, he was clearly loved by a great many. Shortly after this incident, a Rockford citizen wrote a letter to the editor of the Republic. He proclaimed that he would give $10 to punish any abuser of the dog, and $100 to convict anyone who threatened Tramp’s life with poison.

Tramp became a model in 1906 when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union sold photographs of him as a fundraiser. The Register-Gazette reported that the photos showed him “in various characteristic attitudes, in repose, in action, and on dress parade.” His picture also was the ornament on top of a daily calendar.

Tramp enjoying a good scratch from Captain John T. Buker of the steamboat Illinois, c. 1901-1906

Tramp enjoying a good scratch from Captain John T. Buker of the steamboat Illinois, c. 1901-1906

 

When Tramp passed away in November 1908, he was honored by Rockford’s newspapers with large obituaries that were truly a labor of love. They reported that Tramp had been visiting the Reigert home at 255 North Court Street, one of his regular spots. The fire alarm whistle blew, and he attempted to get up and bark as usual, but his hind legs were paralyzed. A police officer was notified, and when he arrived he offered to shoot Old Tramp to put him out of his misery. Mrs. Reigert intervened, exclaiming “The old dog has been kind to everyone and everyone has been kind to him. I will not see him killed violently if I can help it. I will be glad to pay for the services of a veterinary to chloroform him and make his passing easy.” Dr. W.R. Finely was summoned, and Old Tramp left the world in peace.

The Republic published tributes from Tramp’s many canine friends who praised him for his respectability and gentlemanly ways.  Sheriff Collier’s dog Dooley, who was reportedly reached by telephone, was Tramp’s bosom friend, and told of how Tramp had taught him not to snap at people’s heels or swallow rubber bands when he was a pup. Sport, the “dean of the Fox terrier class,” admired Tramp for his soul of honor. Zip on Seventh Street spoke of Tramp’s great mind. Mack, a red Irish settler, shed a tear. And even Jerry the cat of West State Street praised Tramp for his respectful attitude towards felines and honored Tramp with a quote from Omar: “Tomorrow I shall be myself with yesterday’s seven thousand years.”

These grand speeches, however fictional, give evidence to the adoration and admiration the people of Rockford had for this lovable Labrador. His epitaphs took up more space and were generally more praiseworthy than most humans’ obituaries. He was called the “best known canine in the United States, an honored resident… beloved by practically every man, woman and child in this city.” One month after Tramp’s death, a letter to the editor appeared in the Republic that included a poem written in his honor.

“Only a Tramp”

He was only a tramp, yet loved by all.

The rich, the lowly, the great, the small.

But death came stalking by one day,

And took our mutual friend away.

 

There’s mourning today in Rockford town,

For the wonderful Tramp of great renown,

But if tramps have souls we know that he

Is clothed with immortality.

 

He was the simple life indeed –

He worshipped not God, he knew no creed,

Though he heard not a sermon in all his life,

He never got drunk, nor scolded his wife.

 

He never forgot a worthy friend

From the days of his youth to his fatal end.

But some there were who treated him mean,

And where Tramp has gone they’ll ne’er be seen.

 

He came and went, hither and yon,

Today he is here, tomorrow gone –

A peripatetic dog was he –

Peace be to his ashes eternally.

 

Tramp’s part in Rockford’s history provides insight into the evolution of animal welfare and reminds current dog owners of the importance of proper care and healthy feeding of their pets. Today’s veterinarians and animal-enthusiasts know the medical dangers to over-weight pets and can offer treatments. Animal shelters and humane societies across the country work tirelessly to take in homeless pets that are exposed to dangerous elements when left on the streets and find them new, loving homes.

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Calling Rockford “Home”

After 14 years of planning, researching, designing, and constructing, Many Faces, One Community was finally completed in July.  This long-term exhibit presents the hows and whys of immigration to Rockford through the representation of 16 cultural groups.  The exhibit would not be possible without the first and second generation immigrants who shared their stories with us.

 

As you enter the train depot, you hear the train whistle and the conductor yell “Rockford Station!  End of the line!” and you know you have finally reached your destination after weeks of a long journey far from home.  As you heave your trunk from the baggage cart, you realize that Rockford – America – is your new home.  How will you fit in here?  Do you have a place to live, or a job to work at?  Where will your children go to school?  Will you find others like yourself, who know your customs and traditions?

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How will you furnish your home?  If you are Swedish, Seventh Street is the place to go!  You can find furniture, silverware, lamps, vases, shoes and clothing, and even have your photograph taken here.  Don’t forget to have your shoes shined by little Jimmy Sotos, the “Mayor of Seventh Street.”

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South Main Street carries goods and services for almost all ethnic groups who have found their way to Rockford.  You can do your grocery shopping, have a shave and a haircut, and enjoy authentic Mexican food.

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Come apply for a job at the furniture factory.  Show off your knowledge of tools as well as your skill at assembling panel doors.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen you come home from work, what are your rooms like?  Perhaps your parlor reminds you of home in the old country, much like Swedish immigrant Alma Peterson’s.  Is your kitchen traditional, like Italian immigrant Carmela Gaziano’s?  Or maybe you live at Mary Wood’s boarding house with men and women from different countries, where you share your stories and learn about each other’s way of life.

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Find your place in Rockford’s history as you tour the interactive exhibit Many Faces, One Community.  See 450 artifacts from the collection, many that have never before been on display.  For more information on hours and admission, please visit our website: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/planning-a-visit/admission/

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Trade in that SUV for a Spark!

If you look out your window, you may notice that Rockford appears to be inside a snow globe.  We’ve had a fairly mild winter thus far, but with Rockford schools, businesses, and other activities closed for the day, it’s best to stay indoors and avoid the perils of the road.  Unless you have a spark!

Norwegian kicksleds date back to at least 1870.  In Sweden and Norway, they are called sparktötting, or just spark (Norweigian for “kick”).  They were used first for transportation, and then for sport.  To ride the spark, one stands on the back footrest and kicks with the other foot.  The chair could be used to rest groceries or a small child.  The wooden handles steer the spark over hard, packed snow or ice.

Be safe out there, and happy sparking!

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The Mighty Rock

Rockford’s namesake could be found steaming the seas during WWII.  The patrol frigate USS Rockford was launched at Wilmington, CA on September 27, 1943.  She was christened by Mrs. Ella Crotzer of Rockford, who was the mother of five servicemen: Robert, Harry, Donald, Wayne, and William.  The crewmen aboard called the ship the “Mighty Rock.”

The USS Rockford was put through its paces outside of Los Angeles before reporting to the Pacific Fleet.  In June 1944, she headed for Cairns, Australia.  Along the way, she encountered an enemy submarine and attacked with depth charges, and is believed to have caused some damage.  A few days later, she attacked again with hedgehogs with no result.  Upon reaching Cairns, the Rockford performed convoy escort duty as well as antisubmarine patrol duty off the coast of New Guinea.  In October, 1944, on course to Pearl Harbor, she attacked a Japanese submarine, which is believed to have sunk.  The “Mighty Rock” earned two battle stars for her service.

Ensign W.A. Thompson, who was stationed on the frigate, told the Rockford Morning Star “Be assured that the Rockford is getting plenty salty.  She’s crossed the equator and the international dateline; she’s been active in three war zones, she’s been at sea as long as 21 days without sight of land or a friendly vessel.  She isn’t as pretty as when she left the States, but she’s all in one piece and, we believe, the most trim looking hull in any port.”

The USS Rockford was decommissioned on August 27, 1945, and loaned to the Soviet Union for the next four years.  In 1950, she was loaned to South Korea and renamed Apnok.  She was returned in 1952 when she was damaged by a collision, and sunk as a target the next year.  A model of the USS Rockford can be seen on display at City Hall.

 Upcoming Event!!!  WWII Days

Saturday, September 22  11am – 5pm

Sunday September 23  11am – 4pm

The largest World War II era re-enactment in the United States with over 1,000 uniformed re-enactors from 40 states representing soldiers from the United States, Great Britain, France, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Japan, Italy and Germany along with 70 to 80 vintage tanks, halftracks and other 1940s era military vehicles!

Admission: $12 Adults, $6 Children (ages 3-17), Members and World War II Veterans are free!

Two Day Passes: $18 Adults, $9 Children (ages 3-17)

For more details, click here: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/event-registration/?ee=27

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Bells and Whistles of the Steamboats on the Rock River

In 1900, the Rock River was alive with parties from Friday to Sunday evening.  From the riverbank, you would be able to hear music playing and see the silhouettes of dance partners wearing out the top decks of the steamboats.  These riverboats were used all summer long for fun leisure activities, like traveling to parks for a picnic, including Harlem Amusement Park.  The day-long excursions were grand events that were discussed for weeks.

The steamboat made a huge impact on the growth of the Midwest in early 1800.  It could cut travel time by half through the use of steam-power, rather than man-power and the natural flow of the river.  To travel by wagon from New York City to Rockford took six weeks.  In 1830, it only took three weeks by steamboat.  In 1810, flatboats travelled for three to four months on the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans.  In 1834, steamboats made the trip in only two weeks.  The shorter travel time and lower cost fueled economic growth and opportunity.

Handwritten Engine Room Signals from the Steamer Transit

In May 1838, the Gipsy became the first steamboat to enter Rockford on the Rock River.  It carried many early settlers, including Dr. George Haskell.  That June, Rockford had a visit from another steamboat: St. Louis’ Lighter.  To make way for other steamboats, a channel was excavated in the river during the fall and winter of 1845, which ultimately ruined the ford for which Rockford is named.  In this way, goods were shipped quickly to cities like St. Louis, New Orleans, and New York City by connecting the Rock River to the Mississippi River.  But when the railroad came to Rockford, these goods were more easily sent to Chicago and other cities, and the steamboats were used for pleasure.

Rockford launched its first steamboat, the Arrow, in 1885.  Unfortunately, it sank in 1900.

The Queen was built in 1891 and owned by Theodore O. Largent.  Its landing was one block north of the State Street Bridge on the east side of the Rock River.  For a quarter you could enjoy a 32 mile ride on the Rock River, which included stops at Harlem and Illinois Parks.  Largent owned a second steamboat in 1896, the May Lee, which he named after his daughter, May, and his son, Lee.  It was cut in two when the steamboat proved too small to keep up with the large demand, and a middle section was added, allowing it to carry up to 400 passengers.

After the Arrow sank, its owners John T. Buker and former mayor Amasa Hutchins had a new steamboat built.  The steamer Illinois quickly became the most locally known and popular steamboat on the Rock River.  Modeled after a Mississippi steamer, it was 125 feet long and 26 feet wide with a maximum speed was 10 mph.  Its baritone whistle was a familiar sound on the river as it travelled from Mulberry Street seven miles up the river.  Able to carry 1,000 passengers at once, it carried a record number of 50,000 passengers per year.  Its top deck could hold an orchestra and was used for dancing.

Concession sales on the steamboats included drinks and snacks.

Lantern from Steamboat Illinois

An accident on July 19, 1908 caused the Illinois to partially sink into the river.  The accident may have been caused by an excess of passengers.  In 1917, it was purchased by the Excursion Amusement Co., given a make-over, and renamed the City of Rockford.  It continued to make two trips a day with music, dancing, and “high-class amusements.”  Sadly, as automobiles grew in popularity, the steamboat was forgotten.  For years, it was tied up south of the Whitman Street Bridge, only to be visited by ruffian kids and drunkards.  The steamboat caught fire in March 1924.  There was no want or need to salvage it, so it was dragged up the river to the site of the current YMCA and sunk.  There it remained, forgotten.  In 1976, work on the Fordam Dam lowered the river to record shallowness and the rotted planks and cast iron pipes of the steamboat’s hull resurfaced.  Some parts of the boat were removed, but most of the hull still rests in the Rock River.

Steamboat City of Rockford

Just like the people of Rockford took trips to Harlem Park on a warm summer’s evening, you too can enjoy the park’s festivities here at Midway Village Museum at our annual fundraiser A Night in the Museum. 

Saturday, August 13 @ 7 pm  $40 advance tickets, $45 at the door

Click here for more information: http://www.midwayvillage.com/event_calendar.cfm?id=1067

To learn more about early Rockford, visit our Queen City of the Prairies exhibit!

Click here for hours and admission: http://www.midwayvillage.com/visit_hours.cfm

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