Voices from the Grave: Rockford’s house of mystery
By Kathi Kresol
The November night in 1958 was cold, and the almost full moon cast shadows from the tree branches and the slight breeze caused them to shake. It created the illusion that the branches were reaching toward the group of teenagers as they walked through the woods.
The 12 teenagers were on an adventure. They must have been filled with excitement at the thought of visiting a spooky old house that had a reputation for being haunted. They probably felt that excitement right up until the police officers shone their flashlights on them.
The entire group was hauled down to the police station and charged with disorderly conduct. When questioned, the teens in the group all told the same story: The house had gained a reputation as a haunted house. The owners, Frank and Maude, had lived there in seclusion until Frank died and Maude was driven insane by the ghosts. All the kids in school spoke about the house but none were brave enough to check it out until now.
Usually, police officers shake their heads at these types of tales but even they had heard the stories of this particular house. By this time the house had earned the name, “Rockford’s House of Mystery.”
It was built by Thomas Swords, a well-known Rockford businessman. He moved to Rockford as a child when his father came to work as an engineer at the Water Works. Thomas worked his way up through the ranks at some of the largest companies. He and his wife, Katherine Frances had children and built a great life together. Thomas would eventually become the head of Swords Electric Company as well some of the biggest businesses in Rockford. He devoted countless hours to design and oversee the building of the grand home on Spring Creek.
The Sword fortunes changed after they moved into their dream home. Thomas died shortly after moving into the house in 1930 and the family lost everything during the depression. The couple had four children, three boys and a girl. By January of 1953 only their daughter survived. Katherine lived with her daughter in a small house miles away and worlds apart from their dream home on Spring Creek. Katherine died on January 16, 1953 in a horrible fire when she tragically fell asleep smoking a cigarette in bed. It seemed to some that the family was cursed.
The next owners of the luxurious home on Spring Creek were Frank and Maude Williams. Frank like Thomas before him was a well-known business man with a good reputation in real estate. By 1936, Frank became the president of the Pioneer Life Insurance Company. When the couple moved into the impressive mansion on the hill, people supposed they would be entertaining with lavish dinner parties.
Instead the couple became reclusive and did not allow anyone inside the house. They didn’t belong to any club or organizations. They had their groceries delivered and met the delivery men at the door. They also refused to see doctors of any kind. The property fell into disrepair and rumors started to spread about the couple and the house they inhabited.
One day in 1952, Frank fell and Maude couldn’t lift him by herself. She had no choice but to call for assistance. When paramedics arrived they were shocked when Maude led them into the basement. Frank was on the floor and his condition caused them to become very concerned. Maude fluttered around them, insisting that they just needed to lift Frank back onto the cot he had fallen from.
The men noticed that Frank was horribly thin and unconscious. They loaded him onto a stretcher and rushed him to Swedish American Hospital. The police were also called. They had questions for Maude about Frank’s condition. When doctors examined Frank they discovered he was suffering from malnutrition and anemia. He had broken his hip in a previous fall that had occurred approximately ten days prior to the call. When they asked Maude why Frank was in the basement, she stated simply that “He liked to sleep down there.” Frank never regained consciousness and died shortly after being admitted.
There was an inquest into Frank’s death but in the end, there was no evidence of foul play. Maude was so frail that it was completely conceivable that she just couldn’t care for Frank. That combined with their distrust for medical doctors created a recipe for disaster.
Maude stayed alone in the house as the years took its toll on the property. Rumors continued to spread until they trickled down to the students. Maude passed away in a nursing home in December 1961.
Many families have lived in the house over the years. Each one has improved the house and the property. If there was a curse or the house was haunted at one time, it seems that the loving care shown by the owners has cleared that away. It has once again been restored to its reputation as one of the finest homes in Rockford.
Kathi Kresol is a local author and historian who shares stories of the regions history through her column and presentations. The schedule for her upcoming presentations can be found at hauntedrockford.com.