Book Review: ‘Images of America’ series profiles Rockford

By Susan Johnson
Copy Editor

Many years ago, people used to enjoy looking through a device called a stereopticon. By peering through the glass, people were able to view photos of beautiful scenery, historic sites or famous people. It was like taking a little trip back in time.

Author Don Swanson has accomplished this feat in print in his book Rockford, part of the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing. But he has much more depth, many more pictures, and has supplied the background information to go with the pictorial review.

Beginning with “Rockford’s Pioneer Founders” (Chapter 1) up to the present day, Swanson traces the city’s development from its earliest roots to the modern age. See magnificent photos of the 1880’s Winnebago County Courthouse, the Ralph Emerson home, the Howard Colman home, Tinker Cottage, and the beginning of Sinnissippi Park. Some of the names familiar to Rockford’s industrial history stand out: the founder of the Nelson Knitting Company, Elmer Woodward, David Sundstrand and John Manny.

Entrepreneurial ingenuity blended with altruistic goals as many of the Swedish immigrants such as P.A. Peterson and his contemporaries saw the need for another hospital and rose to the occasion. From humble beginnings, SwedishAmerican has continued to grow with the city. Still others, influenced by European progress, made lasting contributions to the city’s architecture and environmental preservation. Robert Tinker and his wife, after a trip abroad, decided to build their home in the Swiss style, and added beautiful gardens to their estate. The Erlander Home and the Graham-Ginestra Ethnic Heritage Museum also paid tribute to other cultures whose immigrants made Rockford their home.

Rockford’s manufacturing and machine tool industries, which played a major part in the city’s growth, are discussed in detail. As economic conditions changed, some companies went out of business while others expanded, changed their focus, or moved away.

Illinois Central’s passenger train took shoppers to Chicago, and both diesel and steam trains served Rockford in the 1930s and 1940s.

Recreation also played a part in the lives of Rockford citizens. From 1919 to 1921, Rockford had its own zoo, located in Blackhawk Park; its main attraction was Babe, the elephant. Other popular diversions were ice skating, croquet, parades, the Cole Circus train that stopped here in 1949, and in more recent times, the Midway Village Museum and the Nicholas Conservatory.

To see how far we’ve come and how we got here, check out this fascinating book about the town on the banks of the Rock River. The softcover book is priced at $21.99 from Arcadia Publishing, available at area bookstores, independent and online retailers, or through the publisher at (888) 313-2665 or online at

From the Dec. 12-18, 2012, issue

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