Death of a neighborhood

Last Friday Oct. 8, I stood in front of a house on Elm Street. Half of it was rubble, and the interior was exposed, pieces of broken lathe sticking out like teeth on the sides. On the inside of one of the rooms was a border with a sports theme, once the room of someone’s little boy. Amongst the rubble was a child’s stuffed animal and a basketball, still inflated.

I had just been inside one of these houses the evening before. The wrecking crew had told my husband we could go in and salvage whatever we wanted before they were torn down. We were hoping they wouldn’t tear them down before the weekend, but when we arrived Friday late afternoon, one house was in splinters, and the other stood gaping before me (a third had been torn down a few days before). I asked my husband how old the houses were, and he estimated well more than 100 years.

No one from the city bothered to salvage the 100-plus-year-old oak trim and solid doors, nor the huge limestone foundation stones. Or the oak staircases and railings, antique doorknob plates or scrolled metal brackets. My husband and I were aghast that they wouldn’t at least have a salvage company come in and auction the stuff off and use it for charity, or put it back into the city funds (maybe to help offset that jail sales tax a smidgeon). I’m sure had people known, there would have been plenty of volunteers to assist in salvaging, especially if they gave the proceeds to charity.

Behind the homes stood the old Rescue Mission, also a huge pile of rubble. We’d pulled into the parking lot the previous evening, and I’d sat and stared at the arched windows, thinking what a nice building it was. It was such a shock to see the old bricks in a huge pile the next day. All I have been able to find out is that it used to be the Poole Hotel, and the Rescue Mission purchased it in 1979. Some of the houses on Elm Street were used for staff housing, according to the Rescue Mission’s Web site.

I got a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched huge old trees being plucked out of the ground and dropped into the growing pile of rubble, to be taken away like yesterday’s trash by dump trucks. The next day, the cavity of the foundation yawned like an empty grave. I threw some wildflowers into the hole at one point, and when the machine dropped a huge piece of cement and rubble into it, I shuddered.

I don’t know much about the history of Elm Street, but now it’s covered with sand and one cannot tell there used to be houses there—finely built homes that many people lived in over the years; homes that held memories and examples of craftmanship that you just don’t find anymore. The only things saved out of those houses were bits of metal taken by scrap people after the wrecking crew left for the day. I saw a beautiful old metal radiator from the Rescue Mission thrown on the back of a trailer to be melted down for scrap.

If anyone knows about the history of this neighborhood and/or the Poole Hotel, please write and share your memories. The least we can do is give Elm Street a proper eulogy and show a little respect for Rockford’s past.

Jennifer Marek is a Rockford resident.

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!