Chronological History

Rockford (1818-1900)


Dec. 3, 1818 -- Illinois formally admitted as 21st State.

1814 -- First white settlement in Northern Illinois is at La Pointe, now Galena, Il, in the northwestern corner of the state.

1828 --- President Adams opens the mouth of the Rock River to settlements.

1829 --- Stephen Mack, a native of vermont and the son of a retired Army officer, is the first white man to make a permanent settlement in the area that is now Winnebago County. Mack builds a cabin in a grove about a half-mile above the mouth of the Pecatonica River at a site subsequently called "Bird's Grove" and "Macktown". Mack is married to an Indian woman named Ho-no-ne-gah, daughter of a chief.

Aug. 1, 1829 --- At Prairie du Chien, Winnebagos cede land to Illinois that includes what is now Winnebago County.

1832 -- Black Hawk and his Indian army are chased north along the Rock River into Wisconsin.

Aug. 27, 1832 --- Black Hawk surrenders to the white armies.

1833 --- Germanicus Kent, with his family and servant Lewis Lemon, move into Galena, where Kent's brother, Rev. Aratus Kent, is practicing as a Presbyterian minister. Kent learns of the beauty of the Rock River country and vows to visit it at the earliest chance.

Aug. 24, 1834 -- Kent and Blake arrive from Galena to live on the west side of the Rock River, at a point now in the City of Rockford. Kent builds a sawmill, an enterprise that meets with many setbacks. Blake selects a site and begins farming.

1834-1835 --- Rock River and Kishwaukee Creek begin to receive thousands of industrious and prosperous persons who will have moved into the area well before the turn of the century.

April 9, 1835 -- Daniel Shaw Haight and two or three others arrive as the first settlers of Rockford's east side.

May, 1835 --- Haight brings, in addition to his wife and child, his wife's sister, Miss Carey, and a hired man. Mrs. Haight and her sister are the first white women to visit and become settlers of Rockford.

June, 1835 -- Harlem Township settled.

July, 1835 -- Cherry Valley settled. Rockton settled the same month.

Aug., 1835 -- Burritt Township settled; first settlement of Roscoe on Aug. 3.

Sept. 1835 -- Guilford Township is settled.

Oct., 1835 --New Milford and Winnebago settled. Pecatonica settled on Oct. 19. Immigration to area increases rapidly and it becomes apparent some kind of local government is needed. Steps are taken to organize Winnebago County.

Oct. 17, 1835 -- Rockford's permanent name inspired by the rocky ford across the Rock River. "Rockford" first suggested by Dr. J.C. Goodhue, meeting with Kent and Haight.

April 4, 1836 -- Dispute over where to establish the Winnebago County seat is settled through an election with the following results: Rockford, 320 votes, Winnebago 72, Roscoe 2.

Mid-1836 --- Germanicus Kent is authorized to establish a ferry across the Rock River.

July 15, 1836 -- Winnebago County authorized to conduct its first election, by order of Judge Thomas H. Ford.

Aug 1, 1836 -- First election held. Poll books shows 120 votes cast, all at one precinct balloting site. Winners are William L. May, for member of Congress; John Turner, for representative to the State Legislature; Daniel S. Haight, for sheriff; Eliphalet Gregory, for coroner; Thomas B. Talcott, Simon P. Doty, and William E. Dunbar, for county commissioners; D.A. Spaulding, for county surveyor, and Daniel M. Whitney, for county recorder.

Oct. 18, 1836 -- Seward settled.

1837 - Depression wipes out Kent who, seeing no future for the Rockford he had helped found, moves to Virginia in 1844 and lives there until his death in 1862. Blake remains on his farm until 1851, moves into town to engage in real estate and dies in 1880 in Wisconsin.

Aug. 31, 1837 --- Daniel S. Haight commissioned as Rockford's first postmaster. Serves until May, 1841.

Jan. 1, 1838 --- First stagecoach arrives in Rockford from Chicago.

Oct. 29, 1838 -- First theatrical performance in the Rockford House by a theater group.

Dec. 22, 1838 -- First Baptist church is organized.

April 1, 1839 -- The two villages of East Rockford and West Rockford, split by the Rock River, are formally incorporated into one community with a total population of 235.

May 5, 1840 -- First issue of the Rock River Express, first newspaper published in the county.

Fall, 1840 --- Rockford Star formed. Strongly Democratic, the new newspaper competes with the Express, backing Van Buren and Johnson while the older paper supports Harrison and Tyler in the presidential election. Disgruntled readers storm the Star office in July, 1841, throw its type into the middle of the room and pour ink over it. Rockford Pilot succeeds Star and is printed on the same press. Other early newspapers in the county are the Forum, the Democrat, the Republican and the Free Press.

Winter, 1842-1843 --- Rough weather; snow averages 30 inches deep, and many cattle starve.

Jan. 22, 1844 -- Contracts are awarded to Derastes and Harper to build the first bridge on State Street across the Rock River.

Nov. 3, 1845 -- Meeting is held to consider establishment of a women's college in Rockford. In 1844, a convention of Congregational and Presbyterian clergymen in Northern Illinois and Southern Wisconsin had decided that a college should be built in Beloit and a seminary in Rockford.

1846 -- Iron Foundry, first industry-like factory, built in Rockford.

Feb. 25, 1847 -- Charter is issued for Rockford Female Seminary.

1850 --- First formal census gives village of Rockford population of 2,563.

Jan. 3, 1852 ---- Birth of the city of Rockford. Residents vote to graduate from the village designation to the status of city.

April 19, 1852 --- First election of city officials. First mayor of Rockford is Willard Wheeler.

July 15, 1852 --- Cornerstone for the first building, Middle Hall, is laid on the Rockford College campus, just south of the city's downtown core. Anna Peck Sill is named principal of the "Rockford Female Seminary", and Rev. Aratus Kent as president of the Board of Trustees, gives the dedication speech.

Aug. 2, 1852 --- First train of the Galena and Chicago Union Railway arrives. It is pulled by a Pioneer engine.

Aug., 1852 --- First Swedish settlers arrive by train to make their permanent homes in Rockford.

1853 --- Rockford is given the name "The Forest City" in a New York Tribune article.

Jan. 27, 1853 ---- First Swedish pastor, Rev. Gustaf Unonius, visits the city.

1854 -- D. Forbes and Son begin a foundry that eventually becomes Gunite Foundries; Covered bridge is completed connecting East and West State Streets, and it serves the city until it is torn down for the first iron bridge in 1871. Ulysses M. Warner, a Democrat, is elected mayor of Rockford, to succeed Hiram R. Maynard; Warner is the city's third mayor. City is divided into five wards.

Jan. 15, 1854 --- First Lutheran Church is organized; this is the young city's first Lutheran and first Swedish Church.

Summer, 1854 --- Cholera epidemic hits Rockford. 14 persons die in July and are buried in one long row of graves in Cedar Bluff Cemetary.

Feb. 15, 1855 --- Rockford Register, predecessor of today's Rockford Register Star is founded.

Summer, 1855 --- Attorney Abraham Lincoln visits the city as a representative for John H. Manny in his patent suit against Cyrus H. Mccormick. In January, 1856, Manny is upheld in his fight against McCormick for patent rights to the Manny Reaper. Rockford becomes known as "The Reaper City. James L. Loop takes office in 1856 as the fourth Rockford mayor.

1856-1857 -- Rockford builds its first two public schools at the cost of $15,000 each.

Nov. 2, 1859 --- Railroad completed between Rockford and Kenosha, Wisconsin.

April 12, 1861 --- News reaches Rockford by telegraph of the firing on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina, by southern rebels, touching off the War Between the States.

July 16, 1862 --- Rockford is chosen as the site of a temporary Civil War training camp, named Camp Fuller in honor of Adj. Gen. Curtis Fuller, who selected the location.

1865 ---- General Grant visits Rockford on his return to Galena. Grant carries Winnebago County in the presidential race against Democrat Horace Seymor.

1865-1869 --- Forest City Nine professional baseball brings fame to Rockford. A.G. Spaulding is a pitcher on the team, which breaks up in 1869 after a short, but historic, career. Spaulding and others join a Boston team in 1870.

April 9, 1865 --- Civil War ends.

April 19, 1865 --- Day of fasting and prayer in the Rockford area for Abraham Lincoln, fatally wounded by an assassin's bullet in Washington theater four days earlier.

1866 --- Health code adopted. Hall School established. Ellis School opens in 1868. Edward H. Baker elected mayor, re-elected in 1868. Fowler serves a second term in 1867. Other one-term mayors were Seymor G. Bronson, 1869; Gilbert Woodruff, 1873; Robert H. Tinker, 1875; Levi Rhoades, 1876; Duncan Ferguson, 1877; William Watson, 1878; and Sylvester B. Wilkins, 1879.

1870 --- Rockford population is 11,049.

May 31, 1870 ---- Amos W. Woodward is issued his first patent; from this beginning is to spring the Woodward Governor Company.

Sept. 11, 1871 --- Council approves contract for third bridge to span the Rock River at State St.

Oct. 1875---- Andrew C. Johnson organizes the city's first furniture factory, Forest City Furniture Company.

Feb. 15, 1876 --- Rockford Union Furniture Company is formed as a cooperative association of 25 members. Swedish workmen pooled their resources to organize the company.

May 11, 1877 --- Courthouse dome collapses. Seven workmen are killed outright, two more are injured fatally, and 12 are hurt seriously.

Aug. 10, 1878 --- New Winnebago County Courthouse is completed, contract price $211,000.

1880 --- Census figure for Rockford is 13,129.

June 27, 1881 ---- Rockford Street Railway Company is granted a 99-year franchise to provide streetcar service. Horses supplant mules on city transportation scene.

Nov., 1881 ---- Grand Opera House is opened.

Dec. 5, 1882 --- Rockford Hospital Association is formed.

April, 1883 ---- Forest City Electric and Power Company opens plant on N. Madison Street. First electric service is provided.

Oct. 4, 1884 ---- Mendelssohn Club organized to promote music appreciation.

1885 ---- Rockford High School - a central high school to serve the entire community- is erected on South Madison St.

1886 -- City begins development of own sewer system.

1887 ---- Rockford Standard Furniture Co. is established. Skandia Furniture Co. follows it by one year. By 1888, 1,055 persons are employed in furniture factories along Railroad Ave.

March 20, 1888 ---- First issue of the Rockford Morning Star newspaper.

Aug. 5, 1888 ---- First passenger train on the Illinois Central line pulls into the city.

Aug. 16, 1889 ---- Contract is awarded for paving E. State Street from the bridge. This is the first street to be paved in the city.

Aug. 24-25, 1889 ---- Fire destroys Union Furniture Company plant and kills Ralph Emerson, Jr. The disaster, brings about the removal of the union plant to 18th Ave. and starts the southeast-end industrial boom.

1890 ---- Census figure 23,534.

June 13, 1890 ---- Deluge of rain sweeps away every bridge on Kent Creek and Keith Creek, knocking out electric lights, raising Rock River a foot within a few minutes, halting train service in Winnebago County, and causing "the most terrible night ever known in Rockford", according to the Morning Star newspaper the next day.

1891 ----- A year of industrial growth: Ingersol Milling Machine Co. moves to the city. Barber-Colman Co. is organized. Mechanics Machine Co. is born as forerunner to Mechanics Universal Joint Division of Borg-Warner Corporation.

1893 ---- Nelson Hotel completed at S. Main and Chestnut St. at a cost of $250,000.

March, 1893 ----- Financial panic hits Rockford; 27 industries go into the hands of receivers in a single day.

June, 1895 ----- C.C. Smith creates a paint business partnership with his son Ernst; this is the start of the Smith Oil and Refining Co.

Oct. 1, 1895 --- First Federal buidling and post office opened on S. Main and Green Streets.

April 21, 1898 ---- Factory whistles in industrial Rockford announce the start of the Spanish-American War. Companies H and K leave the city April 23 and return Nov. 11.

Aug., 1899 ----- Rockford's second large hospital, St. Anthony Hospital, opens its doors.

1900 ------ Rockford opens the new century with a census figure of 31,051.

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