Rockford – At The Top in Illinois

I grew up in Rockford, Illinois in the seventies. I lived what would now be considered a pretty rough existence. I ate hot dogs a lot, all of my “new” clothes came from the Salvation Army, our house was perpetually cold in the winter since we couldn’t afford to turn up the thermostat too high, etc. etc. But we all understood what we had to do, and I was never wanting.

I sincerely feel that growing up in that sort of environment prepared me very well for my later life. Through a lot of hard work, I have become relatively successful, but remain rooted in reality – I would say that I am frugal, but not cheap. I hate waste.

My parents sacrificed a lot to send me to a private Baptist school, and I later attended a private Assembly of God school. In the seventies and early eighties, certain areas of Rockford were very rough. I saw the neighborhood I grew up in transform from one that would be considered your typical All American Neighborhood, to one that had half torn down houses, open air drug dealing and all the rest. We left that area for a better one out by the airport. When much of the heavy manufacturing base left, so did many of the good things that came with it in Rockford. But the people didn’t really change that much.

Boy was I in for an awakening when I moved just 70 miles to the north to Madison, Wisconsin. Completely different deal to be sure. It was really quite the culture shock. I still laugh to myself when I see things in Madison that I consider strange. But I digress.

The video below talks about some of the old manufacturing base in Rockford and even shows the (still) beautiful Sinnissippi Gardens, along with some of the hotels and other buildings that I recognized from my youth that were repurposed by the time I was growing up, and have been repurposed again since. My wife and I had our first real date at the Sinnissippi gardens where I bought her a – hot dog – for lunch. Rockford wasn’t all bad. I made it work.

14 thoughts on “Rockford – At The Top in Illinois”

  1. “I saw the neighborhood I grew up in transform from one that would be considered your typical All American Neighborhood, to one that had half torn down houses, open air drug dealing and all the rest.”

    I grew up in South Shore, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Chicago. We lived about 8 blocks from the beach. South Shore Country Club was nearby. Jackson Park harbor was a pretty yacht harbor. Our next door neighbors had a small sailboat and every fall would tear down the back fence to store the boat in the side yard of the house. It had a full keel and looked like a miniature 12 meter.

    South Shore is now the most violent area of Chicago.

  2. I didn’t realize Rockford was so big. Years ago worked with someone from there. I’m glad to turned your adversity into a strength – it’s too easy for many to blame their circumstances on this or that…

  3. Dan, this is a great video. Thanks for posting.

    The peak years of industrial era America, America 2.0.

    “An industrial city, with no tenement districts.”

    Look how small the houses are by modern standards.

    “Hundreds participate in the many and various singing societies.”

    “Not satisfied with industrial progress alone, the have constructed for themselves places of worship … ”

    “Five modern hospitals.”

    “Second machine tool center of the United States, first producer of high grade furniture … ” (Grand Rapids might dispute that …)

    “First came the New Englanders, then the Scandinavians, all fine craftsmen … .”

    “The sun never sets on the label ‘Made in Rockford’ that goes around the world … ”

    “On the more than 29,000 farms … which average 157 acres in size” — there was a lot of America 1.0 left, too.

    “It’s no wonder Rockfordites love to go on picnics.”

    Wow. At the end there is a hymn to American freedom:

    Where in 1835 there dwelt 27 persons today there is the marching skyline of a progressive community exceeding 100,000 in population. Yes, this is Rockford, built by its citizens, a truly American city, yesterday a saw mill, today an industrial capital, this within the lifespan of only two generations, completely demonstrating that our basic American philosophy of individual freedom fully releases the inventive and productive capacities of our people, and that free men with full freedom of enterprise and abiding faith can provide for themselves, their families and their community, security and all those things that make for a happy living. Yes, this is America. This is Rockford, at the top in Illinois.

    That is beautiful.

    It was a great country.

    And it will be again.

  4. That is a great post and also the one about the South Shore neighborhood. Very sad what has happened to that neighborhood. Since it is close to the lake likely someday when it is completely dilapidated they will just bulldoze the whole thing and start over. Lake front property has value. Maybe not for twenty years, but someday…

  5. Nonsense. Please feel free to crosspost liberally. Those Chicago posts of yours are gold and I’m sure that a lot of the readers here would enjoy them.

  6. My brother was married in Rockford at Holy Family church. I’ve only been around town for a few visits but have met many good people there and only have good memories.

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