Rockford, Illinois facts for kids
Downtown Rockford including the Rock River and the Jefferson Street Bridge
|Motto: "The Government Closest To The People"|
|Nickname: The Forest City|
|Elevation||728 ft (222 m)|
|Area||61.95 sq mi (160 km²)|
|- land||61.08 sq mi (158 km²)|
|- water||0.87 sq mi (2 km²)|
|Density||2,502.8 /sq mi (966 /km²)|
|Incorporated||1839 (as a town), 1852 (as a city)|
|Mayor||Larry J. Morrissey (I)|
|- summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|Postal code||61101-61110, 61112, 61114, 61125, 61126|
|Area code||815, 779|
Rockford is the third largest city in the U.S. state of Illinois, the 171st most populous city in the United States, the largest city in Illinois outside of the Chicago metropolitan area, and the city of the 148th most populous metropolitan area in the United States. It is the county seat of Winnebago County and is located on both banks of the Rock River in far northern Illinois. According to 2010 census data, the City of Rockford had a population of 152,871, with an outlying metropolitan area population of 348,360, which was estimated to have decreased to 150,251 and 344,623, respectively, by July 2013.
Settled between 1834 and 1835, Rockford was strategically positioned between Chicago and Galena and thus became suitable for industrial development. Rockford was notable for its output of heavy machinery and tools; by the twentieth century, it was the second leading center of furniture manufacturing in the nation, and 94th largest city. Its decline, emblematic of other cities in the Rust Belt, led to economic diversification into automotive, aerospace, and healthcare industries, as well as the undertaking of various tourism and downtown revitalization efforts.
Referred to as the Forest City, Rockford is known for various venues of cultural or historical significance, including Anderson Japanese Gardens, Klehm Arboretum, Tinker Swiss Cottage, the BMO Harris Bank Center, the Coronado Theatre, the Laurent House, and the Burpee Museum of Natural History. Its contributions to music are noted in the Mendelssohn Club, the oldest music club in the nation, and performers such as Phantom Regiment and Cheap Trick.
Settlement and development
Rockford was founded by New Englanders in 1834 as separate settlements (commonly known as Kentville and Haightville, for the founders of each) on each side of the river and originally called Midway. At the time Rockford was founded its inhabitants consisted almost entirely of New Englanders and New England transplants from upstate New York. These were "Yankee" settlers, meaning they were descended from the English Puritans who settled New England during the early 1600s. They made up virtually all of Winnebego County's inhabitants during the first several decades of its history. In this regard the county was similar to most of the northern portion of the state of Illinois, and almost all of the neighboring state of Wisconsin. After the conclusion of the Black Hawk War there was an additional surge of immigration from New England. As a result of this heritage the inhabitants of Winnebego County considered themselves, and functioned as, a cultural expansion of early New England culture. In the Presidential election of 1860, Abraham Lincoln won 3,985 votes in Winnebago County, whereas Steven Douglas only won 817 votes.
Galena resident Germanicus Kent, his associate Thatcher Blake, and his slave Lewis Lemon are credited as the original settlers of Midway along the west bank of the Rock River; in addition, Daniel Shaw Haight is credited for completing the same task along the east bank. It was established as the county seat over rivaling communities, Winnebago and Roscoe in 1836. Due to the area's proximity to a ford across the Rock River, the village of Midway was renamed Rockford in 1837 by arriving New Englanders.
Rockford was chartered as a city in 1852, following the establishment of a post office in 1837 (of which Shaw Height served in as the first postmaster) and a weekly newspaper in 1840. Growth was fueled by the charter of Rockford Female Seminary in 1847 and a connection to the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad in 1852. The New York Tribune inspired the metonym The Forest City for Rockford in 1853.
The decision of John Henry Manny to locate production of his horse-powered combine harvester in Rockford attributed to a local rise in agricultural machinery manufacturing. Swedish furniture cooperatives did the same for their respective industry. The Rockford Union Furniture Company, under John Erlander, spearheaded these cooperatives; today, Erlander's home is a Rockford museum, demonstrating his efforts in elevating Rockford to second in furniture manufacturing in the nation, behind Grand Rapids.
In the antebellum period, Rockford shared abolitionist leanings, lending considerable support to the Free Soil Party. In 1848, 42 percent of voters in Winnebago County, which Rockford dominated as the county seat, voted for Martin Van Buren. Four years later, John P. Hale became the first presidential candidate to visit the burgeoning city, although the returns on that visit were minimal, given that he received only 28 percent of the vote. During the Civil War, one of the first Illinois regiments to be mobilized, the Zouaves, were from Rockford, which served as the site for Camp Fuller, a training site for four other infantry regiments.
The Rockford Female Seminary became the alma mater of Jane Addams in 1881. This move accompanied the Seminary's transition into a more complete curriculum, which was represented by its renaming to Rockford College in 1892. Culture flourished with the founding of the Mendelssohn Club in 1884, which became the oldest operating music club in the United States. This was complemented by the construction of a Carnegie library in 1902, which became the first building of Rockford's public library system. 1903 saw the dedication of the Winnebago County Veterans Memorial Hall in the presence of sitting President Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt returned to Rockford during his campaign in 1912 and later to address the soldiers at Camp Grant, a training site for World War I soldiers.
The twentieth century saw demographic changes to Rockford. An influx of Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, and African Americans replaced the previously dominant Irish and Swedes. The city was also no stranger to contemporary political issues. Electorally divided between wets and drys on the subject of prohibition, Rockford featured a coalition of labor unionists and socialists that elected numerous aldermen and carried 25 to 40 percent in mayoral elections. During World War I, an antiwar protest by the International Workers of the World led to 118 arrests. In 1920, the city was a target of the Palmer Raids. While its congressional district favored Republicans, Rockford itself continuously elected former Socialists as mayor between 1921 and 1955.
Prior to World War II, Rockford became home to Kegel Harley-Davidson, which became the oldest family-owned Harley-Davidson dealership in existence. One of its contemporary attractions, the Coronado Theatre, was opened in 1927. Notable for its atmospheric styling, the Coronado rivaled its counterparts in Chicago and was later added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Camp Grant was turned over to the Illinois National Guard. During the war, it reopened as an induction center and POW detention camp. The USS Rockford, a Tacoma-class frigate named for the city, was commissioned in March 1944 and earned two service stars.
In the September 1949 issue of Life magazine, postwar Rockford was described as "nearly typical of the U.S. as any city can be." Due to this archetypal nature, sociologists like W. Lloyd Warner warned of the necessity to "understand the realities of their system." Heavily dependent on manufacturing and experiencing a shift in economic development toward its eastern borders, Rockford began to suffer irrevocable decline. Impetuses for this shift in economic development include the construction of the Northwest Tollway in 1958, the new campus for Rockford College in 1964, and the campus of Rock Valley College and the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant in 1965 near the eastern periphery of the city rather than downtown.
Efforts to revitalize the downtown were made in the 1970s with the construction of a pedestrian mall and a ten thousand-seat multipurpose arena. The former sectioned off Rockford's Main Street, impeding vehicle traffic, to the criticism of nearby business owners. The latter, the MetroCentre, opened in 1981 to performances by Dionne Warwick and The Rolling Stones. State grants were also consulted to reverse the trend, such as those that funded an Alexander Liberman sculpture placed at a downtown intersection in 1978. However, further decay occurred in the 1980s, such as the end of Amtrak service on the Black Hawk rail route from Chicago in 1981 and the closure of the Coronado Theatre due to declining revenues in 1984.
Economic diversification has been difficult but ongoing for the area. The aerospace industry, represented by Woodward and UTC Aerospace Systems, is dominant in Rockford. Loves Park, a suburb, was selected by Woodward for a $200 million manufacturing campus toward its energy control and optimization systems in 2012. Boeing included Rockford in a list of five finalists to manufacture the 777X during union disputes in 2014. The healthcare industry, represented by OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center and SwedishAmerican Hospital, is also involved. SwedishAmerican, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, opened a $39 million Regional Cancer Center in 2013.
Downtown improvements became more evident in the first decade. The Coronado Theatre reopened after an $18.5 million renovation in 2001. The controversial pedestrian mall was removed, returning Main Street to a two-lane thoroughfare complete with cafe-style seating and wind-powered streetlights. The MetroCentre underwent a $20 million renovation, prompting interest in the purchasing of its naming rights; the arena was subsequently renamed the BMO Harris Bank Center. An open-air amphitheatre and a riverwalk were constructed to tie the Discovery Center Museum and the Burpee Museum of National History together. Most significantly, the Stanley J. Roszkowski U.S. Courthouse was constructed for $100 million and the restoration of daily Black Hawk rail service began, scheduled for completion in 2015, for $223 million.
Even before the Great Recession had an effect on Rockford, the city was impacted by flooding of its Keith Creek in both 2006 and 2007. Grants were won from FEMA to widen the creek and demolish over one hundred homes to stem the severity of future floods. Since the crisis set in, population has only declined. Thirty two percent of the area's mortgages were underwater by 2013; Forbes rated Rockford number three on its America's Most Miserable Cities list in the same year. In the first four months of 2014, the unemployment rate of Rockford declined from 12.9 percent to 9.2 percent, but these figures remained well above the national average.
The emphasis given to eastern areas in Rockford have rendered their western counterparts with blighted neighborhoods. In 2002, Rockford's public school system was court-ordered to spend $250 million on upgrades to western schools after it was found culpable for discrimination against residents served by them, many of whom were African American.
According to the 2010 census, Rockford has a total area of 61.949 square miles (160.45 km2), of which 61.08 square miles (158.20 km2) (or 98.6%) is land and 0.869 square miles (2.25 km2) (or 1.4%) is water. Neighboring communities that border Rockford, and are considered an integral part of the Rockford metro area, are the cities of Loves Park, Machesney Park, Belvidere, and the villages of Winnebago, Roscoe, Rockton, Poplar Grove, New Milford, and Cherry Valley. The Rock River is the traditional center of the Rockford area and is its most recognizable natural feature. Also of note, South Beloit, Illinois and Beloit, Wisconsin are part of this continuous urban area that stretches for approximately 30 miles along the Rock River from the Chicago Rockford International Airport north to the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.
Due to its location in the Midwest, naturally a deciduous forest, Rockford's climate contains four clearly defined seasons. Summers are usually hot with the average high temperature in July, the hottest month, being 84.5 °F (29.2 °C). The winter months can bring bitterly cold air masses from Canada. The average high temperature in January, the coldest month, is 29.5 °F (−1.4 °C). June is Rockford's wettest month while January is the driest. During a typical year, Rockford receives 36.2 inches (919.6 mm) of precipitation.
Rockford and surrounding areas are prone to violent thunderstorms during the months of March, April, May, and June. On April 21, 1967, the neighboring town of Belvidere was struck by a violent F4 tornado, in which twenty-four people were killed and hundreds more injured at Belvidere's High School. Other severe weather events, such as hail and strong winds are common in these storms. On July 5, 2003 at 04:13, supercells produced tornadoes causing widespread damage on both the east and west sides of Rockford. Approximately 70,000 people were without power, with many on the west side suffering in the heat without electricity for a week. It took months for the damage to be completely cleared, but because the storm struck so early in the morning there were no injuries or fatalities. However, these sometimes violent storms bring the majority of summer rainfall.
The city is also prone to severe snowstorms in winter, and blizzards are frequent winter occurrences. On January 13, 1979 over 9 inches (23 cm) of snow fell on Rockford in just a few hours during one of the strongest blizzards in the city's history. The city averages approximately 36 inches (91.4 cm) of snowfall in a normal winter, but greater amounts are common. The snowiest winter in the history of the city was the winter of 1978–1979, when 75 inches (191 cm) of snow fell.
The record high temperature is 112 °F (44 °C), set on July 14, 1936 during the Dust Bowl, and the record low temperature is −27 °F (−33 °C), set on January 10, 1982, though a low of −25 °F (−32 °C) has occurred as recently as January 16, 2009.
|Climate data for Rockford, Illinois (Chicago Rockford International Airport), 1981−2010 normals & extremes|
|Record high °F (°C)||63
|Average high °F (°C)||29.5
|Average low °F (°C)||13.5
|Record low °F (°C)||−27
|Precipitation inches (mm)||1.37
|Snowfall inches (cm)||10.2
|Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||9.4||8.2||10.5||11.3||12.2||10.4||9.4||9.7||8.3||9.4||10.2||10.2||119.2|
|Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||8.2||5.8||4.1||1.0||0||0||0||0||0||0.1||1.8||7.7||28.7|
|Source: NOAA (extremes 1893–present)|
As of the 2010 census, there were 152,871 people and 66,700 households. Rockford is in the center of its namesake metropolitan area. The racial makeup of the city was 65.1% White (58.4% Non-Hispanic white), 20.5% African American, 0.4% Native American, 2.9% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 7.5% from other races, and 3.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 15.8% of the population.
The median income for a household in the city was $55,667, and the median income for a family was $65,465. Males had a median income of $37,098 versus $25,421 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,781. 14.0% of the population and 10.5% of families were below the poverty line. 19.6% of those under the age of 18 and 8.0% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.
In the late 1950s, Rockford surpassed Peoria as the second largest city in Illinois by population, holding onto that position into the 21st century. In 2003, the status was changed as it was overtaken by Aurora after the results of a special census held by the latter city (as the two cities were not counted together, a direct comparison was not possible until the national census in 2010).
As is with many other Rust Belt and midwestern cities, Catholics make up Rockford's largest religious group. According to 2010 figures, 20% of Winnebago County residents are Catholic, 19% are Evangelical, 10% are Mainline Protestant and 48% are belongs to a non-listed faith or has no religion. . Rockford's religious community is served by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockford, several large evangelical and non-denominational churches, and several Lutheran and other Mainline Protestant congregations. Rockford's Jewish community is served by a synagogue, the Muslim community by a mosque, the Sikhs by a temple, and its Buddhist community is served by two houses of worship as well.
Roads and highways
Rockford is linked by highway to Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Madison, Wisconsin; and Dubuque, Iowa. In recent decades, the city's location has worked to its advantage in attracting jobs in the logistics and transportation industries. Public transportation in the city is provided by the Rockford Mass Transit District (RMTD); however, public transit infrastructure in Rockford is not at the level of comparably sized communities.
- Interstate 90
- The Jane Addams Memorial Tollway links the Rockford area both to Madison, Wisconsin and the northwest Chicago suburbs. From Rockford north, I-90 replaced U.S. Route 51 in Illinois. I-90 also links the city with Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as I-43 joins it 2 miles north of the state line. The tollway was partially responsible in the city's rapid growth eastward from the 1960s to the late 1990s.
- U.S. Route 20
- U.S. Route 20 goes through Rockford twice. The original highway is now an east-west business route (State Street) that divides the city to the north and south. From the 1970s to the late 1990s, the area was core to commercial development in the city. Rockford also marks the point where U.S. 20 and Interstate 90 no longer parallel each other.
- In 1965, a US 20 bypass around the southern end of the city was completed, joining the Northwest Tollway near Cherry Valley. The bypass, known as "Bypass 20", joins State Street west of the city near the village of Winnebago, Illinois. East of Interstate 90, U.S. 20 is a 4-lane divided highway parallelling I-90. From the west, U.S. 20 provides a link to Freeport, Galena, and Dubuque, Iowa. However, much of the highway west of Freeport is a winding two-lane road that discourages truck traffic.
- Interstate 39 and U.S. Route 51
- Interstate 39 serves as a replacement for U.S. 51 south of the city. Starting from the U.S. 20 bypass, the highway directly links Rockford to Bloomington and Normal, Illinois. Its construction allowed better access to Chicago from the south via Interstate 80 and Interstate 88, also allowing for a bypass around the city of Chicago to Wisconsin. U.S. Route 51 overlaps Interstate 39 throughout the Rockford area.
- Other roads/highways
- Illinois Route 2 (South/North Main Street)
- Illinois Route 70 (Kilburn Avenue)
- Illinois Route 251 (North Second Street, Kishwaukee Street, Harrison Avenue, 11th Street)
- Raoul Wallenberg Expressway (proposed, never built)
- The Veterans Memorial Beltway consists of four-lane surface roads that create a continuous outer loop around the city. The roads that make up the beltway include Perryville Road, Harrison Avenue, Springfield Avenue, and Riverside Boulevard.
The Rockford Mass Transit District provides Fixed Route and Para-transit Service to the cities of Rockford and Loves Park and the Village of Machesney Park. The 40 fixed route buses operate over 17 routes Monday thru Saturday, 6 night routes and 5 routes on Sundays.
In 1946, after Camp Grant was permanently closed, the Greater Rockford Airport was built on the western portion of the property. Rockford's airport is the Chicago Rockford International Airport (formerly Greater Rockford Airport). Built on the western end of the former Camp Grant U.S. Army training camp, it is located in the southern end of the city. The Greater Rockford Airport was opened in 1946; the current passenger terminal was completed in 1987. The airport is currently home to United Parcel Service's second largest air hub. It is presently ranked as the twenty-second largest cargo airport in the nation when measured by landed weight. Passenger service is currently offered by Allegiant Air along with several other charter operations. The airport markets itself as an alternative to Chicago airports for leisure travelers, particularly emphasizing its free long-term parking.
Machesney Airport, located north of the city, was opened in 1927 as a private airport serving the Rockford area. During World War II, the airport was utilized by the Army Air Corps. After the war, it again served as municipal airport, closing in 1974. After its closure, the Machesney Airport became the site of the Machesney Park Mall, built in 1980.
As of 2017, the Rockford region is not currently served by passenger rail service. From 1974 to 1981, Rockford was served by Amtrak via its Black Hawk route, a daily train service from Dubuque, Iowa to Union Station in Chicago with a stop in Rockford. The Black Hawk was discontinued in September 1981 as part of funding cuts to Amtrak.
During the 2000s, interest increased in relinking the Rockford and Chicago regions together by rail. In 2006, the Northern Illinois Commuter Transportation Initiative proposed extending Metra train service from the western Chicago suburbs to Rockford. While Metra service has yet to be proposed on an official level, during the early 2010s, design work on a planned 2015 revival of a the Black Hawk route on Canadian National rails., with Rockford as the initial terminus. As part of the ongoing Illinois financial crisis, state funding for the Black Hawk revival ended in February 2015, effectively ending the project.
Rockford is served by several different freight railroad lines, the Union Pacific, the Canadian National, the Iowa, Chicago & Eastern (Canadian Pacific), and the Illinois Railway. The Union Pacific line from West Chicago terminates in Rockford, at a small yard. Canadian National line from Elgin enters from the South-East, and leaves in the North-West. They have a small yard, where they interchange with the Illinois Railway. The Illinois Railway Rockford Line comes from the South, joins the Canadian National line, where they continue on trackage rights to the Canadian National yard. Canadian Pacific (Iowa, Chicago, and Eastern) runs on Illinois Railway trackage rights from Davis Junction, and leaves on their own trackage to the North. All of the railroads interchange at a yard off of Main Street. The Union Pacific Railroad's Global III Intermodal Facility is located approximately 25 miles (40 km) south of Rockford in Rochelle, Illinois, a community of 10,000. The complex is one of the largest intermodal facilities in the world. Construction on the state-of-the-art facility was completed in 2003 in Rochelle due to the close proximity to four interstate highways (I-39, I-88, I-80, and I-90) and rail routes.
Culture and tourism
The attractions of Rockford are often of architectural significance. The Lake-Peterson House, constructed by alderman John Lake in 1873 and preserved by Swedish industrialist Pehr August Peterson, is a notable example of Gothic Revival. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it is contemporarily used for the School of Medical Technology of the Rockford-based Swedish American Hospital. Further Swedish influence on Rockford during the Victorian era is represented in the Erlander Home Museum, the base of the Swedish Historical Society. Swiss influence can be seen in the Tinker Swiss Cottage, which was opened as a museum under the park district in 1943 and was featured in an episode of Ghost Hunters in 2012.
Modern architectural movements, like Art Deco and Prairie School, are also integral to Rockford. Most renowned is the Coronado Theatre, a civic and entertainment center that was named one of 150 Great Places in Illinois by the American Institute of Architects. The theatre is known for its blend of Art Deco with Spanish Baroque Revival and has hosted numerous performers over its lifetime, including the Marx Brothers, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Dylan. The 186-foot tall Faust Hotel complements the Coronado; constructed in 1929, it endures as Rockford's tallest building, albeit as apartments for the elderly and disabled. The Laurent House, a single-story Usonian home constructed in 1952 by Frank Lloyd Wright, is the only Wright building designed for a person with disabilities. Acquired by a private foundation from its commissioners, it was renovated into a museum in 2014.
The area is often regarded as an outdoor destination. Rock Cut State Park is located to the northeast of the city. Once home to various Scots, Canadians, and New Englanders, as well as a railroad line to Kenosha, the park's 3,092 acres are now utilized for camping, hiking, fishing and boating, and hunting. Anderson Japanese Gardens, modeled after the Portland Japanese Garden and landscaped by Hoichi Kurisu, is 10 acres in size and features a teahouse and guesthouse in the sukiya-zukuri style. John Anderson, the commissioner of the gardens, was presented with a commemorative silver cup by Japan for his efforts in the mutual understanding of cultures in 1992; he donated the gardens to a nonprofit organization later in 1998. Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is 155 acres in size and is noted for its selection of both indigenous and foreign plant species.
The city's park district is particularly active. It operates Aldeen Golf Course, which was rated the best municipal golf course in Illinois by Golf Digest and one of the top fifty golf courses in the nation that cost under $50 to play by Golf Magazine. In addition to Tinker Swiss Cottage, the park district maintains four other museums. The Burpee Museum of Natural History is home to the world's most complete juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex, Jane, as well as a triceratops, Homer. The Discovery Center Museum, a children's museum featuring over 250 hands-on exhibits including a planetarium, is on the 12 Best Children's Museums In The U.S. list by Forbes. The Burpee Museum and the Discovery Center Museum, along with the Rockford Art Museum and the bases for Northern Public Radio, the Rockford Dance Company, and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra compose the downtown Riverfront Museum Park complex. The last museum under the park district's authority is Midway Village and Museum Center, a recreation of a Victorian era village. However, it also maintains the third largest conservatory in Illinois, the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, on the city's eastern riverwalk. The conservatory is adjacent to the Symbol, a Alexander Liberman sculpture that was moved from downtown during the 1980s and is now one of Rockford's most recognizable features.
Surrounding communities and suburbs
- Brovary, Ukraine since 1995
- Changzhou, Jiangsu, China since 1999
- Borgholm, Sweden since 2002
- Cluj-Napoca, Romania since 2005
- Ferentino, Italy since 2006
- Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan
- Taszár, Hungary
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