Winnebago County, Illinois
Rockford -- The Village Incorporated
Three nearly contemporary events contributed to the progress of Rockford from the simple village to its more commanding position as a city. The advent of the railroad, the first in importance, the organization of the new water-power company and the incorporation of Rockford as a city. As early as 1851 the citizens realized that the local government was no longer adequate to meet the needs of the rapidly increasing population. In the autumn of that year steps were taken for the organization of a city government. In pursuance of a call, signed by Jason Marsh, G.A. Sanford William Wheeler, Isaiah Lynon, George Wyatt, Newton Crawford, C.I. Horsmen, W.A. Dickerman, W.P. Denis, Jesse Blinn and William Hulin, a meet was held a the court house November 29th. It was deemed advisable at this conference to submit the question of city organization to a vote of the citizens. The trustees of the town thereupon ordered and election for this purpose to be held January 3, 1852. There was no excitement to call out the voters, as the prospective change was generally accepted as a matter of course. One hundred and nine voters were cast for organizing under the general law of 1849. The city government of Springfield, Illinois, was adopted as a basis of organization. The first election under the new order was held April 19, 1852. The candidates for mayor were Willard Wheeler and E.H. Potter. The election resulted in the choice of Mr. Wheeler. The alderment elected were: Sumner Damon, First ward; E.H. Potter, Second ward; H.N. Spalding, Third was; C.N. Andrews, Fourth ward. The first meeting of the city council was held on Monday, April 26th, at the counting room of pointed city clerk. An ordinance was passed creating the following officers: Clerk of the council, attorney, treasurer, marshal, assessor, collector, engineer, and two street commissioners. These officers were to be appointed annually by the city council at its first regular meeting after the annual municipal election. At the second session of the council, held May 1st, the following city officers were appointed: William Lathrop, attorney; Hiram R. Maynard, treasurer; Duncan Fergusen, assessor; K.H. Milliken, collector; Duncan Fergusen, city engineer; Thatcher Blacker and William McKenney, street commissioners. An act of the legislation of June 18, 1852, authorized the city of Rockford to borrow money, not exceeding ten thousand dollars, for the purpose of constructing a bridge. Bonds were to be issued, in the sum of one hundred dollars each, bearing interest not exceeding ten percent, and were to be redeemed within twenty years from issue. The sum was evidently insufficient for the purpose; and an act of the legislature of February 3, 1853, authorized the city to borrow a maximum sum of fifteen thousand dollars. Bonds were to be issued in sums not exceeding one thousand dollars each, payable within twenty years, and to draw interest not exceeding ten percent. The act of 1852 was repealed. There is a tradition that Jason Marsh was sent east to negotiate the sale of the bonds, for which he charged a commission of ten percent. This fee was very reluctantly paid. Today Rockford can borrow money at a very low rate of interest, and command a liberal premium on her bonds. The second or covered bridge was build in 1854, with the funds derived from the sale of bonds the preceding year. This bridge stood until December, 1871, when it was torn and succeeded by the first iron bridge. There was some technical irregularity in the incorporation of the city; and an act of the legislature approved February 8, 1853, legalized the previous official acts of the mayor and the council. Section two of this lay provided: "That all official acts of the council and of the mayor or either of them, of said city, done or performed since their election as such, and prior to the period this act shall take effect, and which would have been valid in case the original incorporation as a city had been legal, be and the same is hereby legalized." A special charter was granted to the city by the legislature March 4, 1854. By this act the general law of 1849 was declared to be no longer in force, so far as Rockford was concerned, except for the purpose of supplementing proceeding had or commenced, so as not to impair the legal consequences of any past transaction. This charter was amended February 4, 1855, April 26, 1859, and February 22, 1861. " An act to reduce the charter of the city of Rockford, and the several act amendatory thereof into one act and to revise and amend the same" was approved February 15, 1865. Rockford was governed by this charter until the city was reorganized under the general law. This general law, enacted in 1872, repealed the general law of 1849, and abolished the system of special charters. Between these dates there appear to have been two methods for incorporation of cities in force at the same time: by a general law, and by a special charter. It may be presumed that a city generally obtained greater powers under a special charter than by a general law; and the corner method of incorporation was generally adopted by the cities of the State. In 1855 steps were taken for the organization of a fire department. Its need had daily become apparent. A committee, appointed by the city council, purchased four small engines, names Constantine, Alexander, Sevastopol, and Nicholas. The Sevastopol was received in the latter part of October, and February 21, 1856, a public trial was made of the engines, all of which had arrived. The result was not altogether satisfactory, and the "machines" with Russians names were discarded. In May and June, Winnebago Engine Company Number One, and Washington Number Two were organized, and nearly a year later the efficient engines bearing those names were received. Subsequently Union Engine Company Number Three was formed, and an engine procured. These three engines constituted the fire apparatus of the city as late as 1869. The first six chief engineers were Edward F.W. Ellis, Samuel I. Church, M.A. Bartlett, Howard D. Frost, A.G. Springsteen, Gardner S. Allen. The first four assistant engineers were Gardner S. Allen, James E.L. Southgate, Charles T. Jellerson, Hiram H. Waldo.
The tax levies for the first few years under the new regime were as follows: 1854, seven and one-half mills on each dollar of taxable property, both real and personal; 1855, ten mills on each dollar; 1856, one and three-quarters percent on each dollar; 1857, one and one-half percent; 1858, one and five-eighths percent; 1859, two and one-half percent; 1860, two percent; 1861, two percent. It will be observed that the rate increased each year up to 1859. [from Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois, Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]
The Settling of the Rock Ford
A history of Winnebago County and the City of Rockford
--(compiled by WORKERS OF THE WRITER'S PROGRAM of the WORK PROJECTS ADMINISTRATION in the State of Illinois--1941)
During June, 1834, two men from Galena, Germanicus Kent and Thatcher Blake, reached the west bank of the Rock River near the mouth of the small tributary now known as Kent Creek. The expulsion of Chief Black Hawk and his braves from lands east of the Mississippi in 1832 had removed the Indian menace from Illinois and Illinois had become the goal of settlers from eastern states. Kent and Blake selected the junction of Kent Creek and the Rock River as the site for their settlement and journeyed back to Galena, then the metropolis of Illinois, for supplies. On August 24 they returned and began building a sawmill for which they dammed the creek. Thus with little drama Germanicus Kent, owner of the sawmill, and Thatcher Blake, his $15-a-month employee and friend, founded the settlement which later became the city of Rockford. Kent, a brother of Aratus Kent, a Methodist minister of Galena, was a native of Suffield, Connecticut, and had spent some years in Alabama. His wife, an Alabaman, accompanied him to the site of Rockford. Blake, originally from Oxford County, Connecticut, had met Kent in Galena. Kent’s settlement was not long without a rival, for on April 9, 1835, Daniel Shaw Haight, a native of New York, set about to establish a town on the east bank of the river scarcely a half mile north of the ford. In the vicinity of what now is the intersection of East State and Madison Streets, Haight built a cabin and started constructing a store. Several other settlers were induced to locate at his town site, and thus began a rivalry that persisted long after the communities on each side of the river had ceased to be frontier settlements. In June, 1835, the population of both camps numbered eleven persons and by fall it had grown to twenty-seven. Log cabins dotted both banks of the river and farmhouses were being built in the surrounding countryside. Kent’s sawmill was producing lumber to replace the rough log structures. Blake had turned to farming and Haight, having completed his store, was planning to build a hotel. Within little more than a year after the first dwelling was erected, the residents of the vicinity petitioned the legislature to make provisions for the establishment of a local government. At that time the west side of the river in what is now downtown Rockford was lower than the east back and heavily wooded. Forest land extended as far north as present-day Fisher Avenue and west beyond Fairgrounds Park. Kent’s dam created a mill pond which covered the area now occupied by the railroad yards and during floods spread as far north as Cedar Street. The east bank of the river was described by one of the early arrivals, John H. Thurston, as “a magnificent park from Kishwaukee Street to the river and from Walnut Street south to Keith’s Creek.” The beauty of the countryside around the river bank settlements impressed travelers who crossed the stream at this point. The river was nine feet lower in its banks than at present and perhaps sixty feet narrower. The water was clear as crystal and bother shores were lines with trees. Since the banks were high, there was very little swampland. Indian trails extended along each side of the river through grass which in places grew six feet high. Wild flowers grew profusely throughout the region. One week the prairies would be white with blossoms; a fortnight later they would be blanketed in blue as another variety bloomed, and so on through a wide range of hues from early spring to fall. But pioneering was not conducive to nature study. To the setter the prairies meant tough, matted virgin soul to turn with the plow in the blaze of summer sun and, in autumn, the fear of grass fires which might destroy his cabin and all his belongings. Winter brought icy blasts that whistled through the chinks in his cabin and drifted the snow high about its eaves. Perhaps the most remarkable phase of settlement life was the willingness of the border people, most of whom had come from centers of culture and comfort in the East, to submit themselves to the extreme hardships which were the price of their new homeland. For many it meant giving up known values and relative security for a venture that was highly speculative. The homes were primitive beyond belief. Many were one-room cabins with dirt floors that gradually deepened from successive sweepings until table legs stood upon conical mounds of earth. Interstices of the log walls were plastered with mud and rare was the roof that did not leak during a heavy rainstorm. Large open hearths served the double purpose of cooking and heating; the cabins were iceboxes in winter and blast furnaces in summer. When the latter season came the housewife moved outdoors, or into “summer Kitchens” separated from the cabin, to prepare her meals. Fuel came from the near-by forest; the river was the only source of water. In winter, besides the inconvenience of carrying water from the stream, it was often necessary to cut through a foot or two of ice to obtain it. The only illumination in the frontier home was provided by tallow candles or lard oil lamps. Crude lanterns utilizing candles were carried when one ventured outdoors at night. Each backwoods home was a family manufacturing plant. The pioneer mother carded the wool from sheep shorn by the men folks. She spun the yarn and wove it into cloth which was used to garb the family. Within eight years after the settlement started, however, the pioneer housewife could purchase a wide variety of articles in the village. In the Winnebago County Forum, one of the county’s first newspapers, local stores advertised brass nails, bed ropes, iron and Britannia teaspoons, quill (for pens), “ink powders and waters,” cassimere, satins, buffalo cloth, Kentucky jeans, moleskin, muslin, cambric, “India rubber overshoes”, spinning wheels, itch ointment shoe varnish, brimstone, saleratus, scythes, and mill saws. Germanicus Kent was probably responsible for naming the river settlement Midway when, in a letter to a friend in Alabama late in 1834, he gave directions for reaching “Midway” from Galena. In spite of the fact that in 1835 Haight, Josiah C. Goodhue, and others renamed the settlement Rockford, the designation Midway clung for many months. To add to the diversity of nomenclature, that part of Rockford on the west side of the river was known locally as Kentville, while the section on the opposite bank was called Haightville. The rivalry between the communities was so pronounced that if a resident of one camp could be enticed to take up residence on the opposite bank it was an occasion for rejoicing. In June 1836, the general assembly made provisions for the organization of Winnebago County and the constructions through Rockford of a State Road between Galena and Chicago. To Kent’s chagrin, Haight succeeded in being named one of the three commissioners appointed by the assemble to designate the route of the State Road. Consequently the new highway was built past Haight’s dooryard, several blocks north of Kent’s place. Kent scored a victory in the same year, however, when his candidate, William E. Dunbar, was elected one of the three county commissioners. The commissioner’s court immediately gave Kent a concession to establish a ferry service at a point where the State Road reached the river. Winnebago County was established on January 16, 1836. At an election held in Haight’s house, Haight was chosen sheriff; Daniel H. Whitney, recorder; Eliphat Gregory, coroner; and Don Alonzo Spaulding, surveyor. The last-named was a government surveyor who had in the previous year begun the survey of Winnebago County. Then began a spirited contest for the location of the county seat. Ambitious farmers laid out town sites amid their cornfields and erected in some instances framework of buildings. One of the strongest contenders was Boilvin’s village of Winnebago, a speculative real estate development of Nicholas Boilvin, for Indian agent a Prairie du Chien, and Charles Reed of Joliet. Anticipating the formation of the new county these men had bought two sections of Indian land along the river near the site of the present Auburn Street Bridge. When the county was organized they laid out a town which on paper consisted of 2,436 lots fronting on wide streets. Actually, it comprised a lime kiln, a blacksmith shop, a two-story house, and a ferry landing. A road was built from Winnebago to join the State Road east of Rockford. Boilvin filed his plat in 1836 and deeded twelve blocks to the county for the county seat. The commissioners refused the gift on a technicality and the county seat contest was not finally settled until 1839 when a legislative act permitted the matter to be decided by the electorate. Winnebago receive 75 votes, Rockford, 320. Meanwhile, the rivalry between the east and west sides of Rockford has been manifested in the settlements’ street layout. In January, 1836, Kent hired Spaulding to survey three or four streets parallel to the river on the west side and divided by cross streets running to the stream’s edge. A few months later Haight engaged the surveyor to lay out streets on the east side of the river. When Spaulding’s preliminary survey revealed that the contour and condition of the land on the east side would prevent building streets there to correspond with the cross streets on the west bank of the river, Kent was requested to permit some minor changes on his side. This he refused to do. But though Kent and Haight could not agree on street alignment they showed a perverse harmony in selecting street names. Certain thoroughfares on each side of the river were given identical names despite the fact that they were unrelated segments. Each side had a “Main” Street paralleling the river. The resultant confusion was not dispelled until Rockford was incorporated as a city in 1852. Immigration to the Rock River Valley in 1837 and 1838 amounted virtually to a land rush. From the East came a steady stream of settlers traveling in all manner of conveyances, some of them carting household and personal effect and others bringing little more than the clothes on their backs. Winnebago County acquired a good proportion of this increase in popu
lation and Rockford began to boom, although other parts of the country were experiencing a depression. To John J. Thurston, who came here from New York with his father, Henry Thurston, in March 1837, at the age of thirteen, Rockford in indebted for the preservation of much of its early history. In reminiscences published in 1891, Thurston recalls that when he arrived Rockford consisted of a cluster of buildings at State and Main (no Madison) Streets. On the northeast corner was the framework of Daniel Haight’s new house and, directly east, the Haight log cabin. The Haight stable, former the Bundy and Goodhue General Store, stood on the southeast corner, and on the southwest corner was the new Bundy and Goodhue Store. The framework of the main part of Haight’s Rockford House stood on the northwest corner of the clearing. Other buildings were scattered throughout the woodland, including the blacksmith shop of William Penfield at the northwest corner of Market and Madison Streets; James Boswell’s log cabin at the southwest corner of First and Prairie Streets; Haight’s barn at the northwest corner of State and Third Streets; and the Haymarket on the east side of South First Street opposite the Vance General Store. On the west side of the river the majority of buildings were centered around the Kent sawmill, close to the present site of the Tinker Cottage. A log hut stood east of the mill and the Kent cabin was east of Main Street and south of the creek. Nat Loomis and his son, Henry, lived on the southeast corner of State and Main Streets; Loomis occasionally kept lodgers and his house was sometimes known as the Loomis Hotel. Abiram Morgan’s homestead was in the block now bounded by Mulberry, Winnebago, Jefferson, and Court Streets. The Rev. John Morrill lived in a cabin on the present site of the armory. The first social and civic event in the history of Rockford was a Fourth of July celebration held at the partly completed Rockford House in 1837. The day was ushered in by firing salutes with anvils from William Penfield’s blacksmith shop. After a patriotic program in Haight’s new barn, at which Attorney John C. Kemble, a new arrival, and Charles Horsman were the speakers, the entire countryside assembled at the Rockford House at noon for a dinner of boiled beef, bread, and coffee. New shingles from Kent’s sawmill served as plates and the diners provided their own cutlery. In the evening a dance was held at Haight’s new house, which was just ready for plastering. An orchestra of three fiddles led by Jake Miller, the town’s other lawyer, played the only dance tune in Jake’s repertoire, “Old Zip Coon”. The Rockford House was completed in the fall of 1837 and immediately became the center of much of the village’s social life. The tavern’s guest included trappers, traders, peddlers, cultured New Englanders, sober-faced farmers, debonair gamblers, unscrupulous land speculators, mechanics from eastern cities, and rough and ready prospectors en route to the lead mines of Galena. Lodging per night was at the rate of 12 ½ c per person, meals cost approximately 73c a day, and a glass of liquor could be bought for 6 ¼ c. Much of the currency in use was French, English, and Spanish coins of small denomination. Haight’s big barn, which had a threshing floor large enough to accommodate three horses abreast, was another social center in those days. Here religious services were held before a church was built and here assembled the villagers on Saturday afternoons to watch foot and horse races. In the fall and throughout the winter, spelling and singing bees, quilting parties, and candy pulls were held in the various log homes. In 1837 Andrew Lovejoy opened a dancing school and instructed the gayer settlers in the fandango and other popular steps of the time. On August 13, 1837, Haight was appointed postmaster and the post office was opened at 107 South Madison Street. Mail heretofore had been brought from post offices at Chicago, Galena, or Vandalia. On September 15, 1837, the first mail sack arrived from Chicago, but no key accompanied it and the bag had to be returned. On the second trip the key was sent along. The first mail was carried on horseback but in the following January stagecoach service between Chicago and Rockford was begun by Frink and Walter of Chicago. Several independent stagecoach operators continued the service west of Rockford to Galena. Haight’s barn was the stage stop. The trip from Chicago required one day and the fare was $5. Haight served as postmaster until 1840. In the Rockford House on the night of October 29, 1838, Joe Jefferson, the renowned “Rip Van Winkle” of later years, took part in the first theatrical performance in Rockford. Jefferson, then nine years ole, and his parents were members of the McKenzie-Jefferson troupe of players. The troupe was snowbound in Rockford, en route from Chicago to Galena. While the blizzard raged without, villagers gathered in the dining room of the hotel where, upon a makeshift stage with candles for footlights, the troupe gave a presentation of Wives As They Are and Maids As They Were. Between acts young Joes sang “Lord Lovell”, an ancient ballad that continued in popularity. Stagecoach service increased travel through Rockford to the lead mining county. The need for additional lodging facilities was felt immediately and three hotels were built in 1838. The Washington House, later known as the Rock River House, was erected by Jacob and Thomas Miller at 307 East State Street. The Log Tavern, known as the Stage House, was opened on the west side on the southeast corner of West State and Main Streets. Diagonally across the street from the Log Tavern, Dr. George Haskell built the first brick hotel, the Winnebago House, the ground floor of which was occupied by a store. This is said to have been the first brick store building on the Rock River above Rock Island. Dr. Haskell, for whom Haskell Park and Haskell Avenue are named, was one of the group of newcomers who arrived in Rockford late in April, 1838, aboard the “Gipsy”, a St. Louis steamboat, which was the first steam powered craft to ascend the Rock River and dock at Rockford. Dr. Haskell and his family had boarded the “Gipsy” at Alton and the vessel had made its regular run to Galena. On the return trip the doctor persuaded the captain to attempt an ascent of the Rock River. Dr. Haskell’s nephew, Samuel Haskell, William Hull, and R.H. Silsby, doubting that the boat could reach Rockford, left the “Gipsy” at Savanna and completed the journey over land. The day the “Gipsy” docked near the store of John Platt and G.A. Sanford on the west bank of the foot of Elm Street, Rockford’s inhabitants cheered until they were hoarse. Only after several attempts had the boat landed against the swift current. That night people gathered from all about the township to attend the dance held on deck while the boat steamed an excursion to Rockton and return. Dr. Haskell, originally from Harvard University, was a Dartmouth graduate who had become prominent in Alton. He was an ardent abolitionist and, following the murder of the Rev. Elijah Lovejoy by pro-slavers, he decided to settle in a locality where the slave question was not so bitterly contested. In his earlier days the schoolmaster of John Greenleaf Whittier at East Haverhill, Massachusetts, he is immortalized as the schoolmaster in Whittier’s poem, Snow-Bound. Among the prominent early citizens of Rockford who came to the settlement in 1838 and early in 1839 were James Madison Wright, Jason Marsh, Francis Burnap, Duncan Ferguson, Thos D. Robertson, Ira W. Baker, Edward H. Baker, Henry M. Baker, David S. Penfield, Shepard Leach, Willard Wheeler, Samuel, Isaac, William, and Benjamin Cunningham, Joel B. Potter, E.L. Herrick, Samuel Herrick, John, Charles, and Amos Catlin Spafford, Phineas Howe, William Worthington, Laomi Peake, Sr., William Hulin, Daniel Barnum, Harris Barnum, Horace Miller, Mr. and Mrs. John Benjamin, Mowry Brown, Isiah Lyon, and Caleb Blood. The last three named had arrived with Dr. Haskell on the “Gipsy”. Leach and Penfield opened a hardware store at 322 East State Street in 1838. Ephraim Wyman and Bethuel Houghton were operating a bakery, the first in the village, on South Main Street, West Rockford. There were between twenty and thirty buildings on the east side of the river at this time and a total of nineteen on the west side. The year 1839 brought several important changes. With a total population of 236, the twin settlements joined forces to incorporate as a town. At the first election, April 10, 1839, D.S. Haight, Ephraim Wyman, Josiah C. Goodhue, Samuel Little, and Isaiah Lyon were elected as members of the town board. Haight was chosen president. Of greater import to landholders in Rockford and Winnebago County was the congressional act of 1839 that provided for land purchases and ended the evil of claim jumping. Prior to this time settlers had not better than squatter’s rights to the land they occupied, hence disputes over claims were common. Among the first comers were many unscrupulous speculators who gained control of choice tracts by staking claims in the names of relatives or fictitious persons. The injustice of this trickery caused many honest settlers to disregard the speculator’s claims. There were also lawless persons who attempted, many times successfully, to coerce farmers into paying money to be allowed to live in peace on land they themselves had settled and cultivated. The practice, which in many respects was like a modern “protection racket”, caused disputes that often flared into open violence. In Rockford, the land problem was made increasingly acute by the so-called Polish Grant which Congress had given to a group of political refugees from Poland. By the terms of the grant, its beneficiaries were entitled to thirty-six sections of land in any part of Illinois or the territory of Michigan. Count Chlopicki, representing his fellow exiles, came to Rockford and Rockton Townships, each of which contained budding villages and improved farmsteads. The claim failed because Chlopicki neglected to select any land in the intervening township of Owen, thereby
violating a provision of the grant which stipulated that the thirty-six sections must be in contiguous townships. But it was not until 1843 that the title of lands in Rockford and Rockton townships was clears by a government sale at which settlers were permitted to purchase for nominal sums the lands they were occupying. Following the settlement of the land title questions, the locations of the county building gave fresh impetus to the rivalry between the east and west sides of Rockford. As early as 1836, Haight, in laying out his plat on the east side of the river, provided for a public square as a building site and selected a lot for the county jail just west of the present public library. Since the county was without funds, no buildings were erected. Consequently, when in 1841 a group of west side residents offered to provide suitable quarters for the county offices their proposal was accepted. Charles I. Horsman, George Haskell, Abiram Morgan, John W. Taylor, David Alling, Nathaniel Loomis, Ehpraim Wyman, Horation Nelson, Derastus Harper, and Isaiah Lyon, prominent citizens of the period who had settled of the west bank, provided a structure that stood on the site now occupied by the mead Build, Chestnut and Main Streets. The county offices were housed here for almost two years until Haight, realizing that the county was still without sufficient money to construct a building and fearing the loss of east side prestige, offered to erect a structure which would cost not less than $4,000 on his square. The offer was table by the commissioners, who a few days later accepted a similar proposal by west side citizens. The commissioners selected the present site of the courthouse. Elate west side residents promptly built a brick jail and a one-story frame courthouse of Greek Revival Style. By this time the influence of Germanicus Kent in Rockford affairs had begun to wane. Disheartened by heavy financial losses in the late 1830’s and convinced that Rockford held little promise of a prosperous future, Kent took his family to Virginia in 1843 and never returned. Before departing, he freed his Negro slave, Louis Lemon Kent, the only slave in Rockford.
Few of City’s Original Italian Settlers Remain
When Sam Capriola came here from Naples, Italy, in 1903, there were only about 30 Italian families in Rockford, and most of them lived on the east side of Rock River. Now, the Italian group claims 15 per cent of the city’s population and a majority reside in south Rockford, west of the river. Capriola is looked upon by fellow Italians as one of the old timers, along with Jasper St. Angel, Frank Sagona, the Ingrassias and others, who came here shortly after 1900. The influx of Italians began in about 1880, and few of the first settlers are still living. Most of them came her from cities in this country, notably Chicago, New York, and New Orleans. They fond work in such places as the Nelson knitting mills, the glucose plant on Seminary street, furniture factories, machine shops, and with railroad and traction companies With a flair for running their own businesses, they soon branched out to establish grocery stores, meat markets, contracting and real estate firms, shoe repair shops and barber shops.
Built Old Post Office
Jack Maffioli, who came to the United States from the province of Lombard in northern Italy, was the contractor for the old post office. Other large businesses were begun by the Salamones, Cacciatores, Zammutos, Scandrolis, and Morellis, to mention a few. Although the Italian business district is centered in the 1000 block of South Main street, where Sam Capriola has his grocery store and Joseph and Nunzio Ingrassia have hardware and furniture stores, there are Italians in business all over the city. Several Italians are well known professional men in the city. A little "provincialism" has been retained by the Italians, despite their long residence in this country. Socially, for example, many prefer to associate with families which originated in their particular provinces in Italy. Thus, although there is more than a score of Italian clubs in the city, some are by tradition restricted to persons from certain areas in Italy. "Provincial" clubs and the areas from which members originally came include St. Mary’s, for those from the town of Sambuca, Sicily; St. Joseph’s Roccomela, Sicily; Venetian, Venezia; Lombardi and Verdi, Lombard; and Aragona, for families from Aragona, Sicily. The Columbus club originally was designed to being all the Italians together. Members built a clubhouse on Kent street, but lost the building during the depression.
St. Anthony’s Takes Over
Successor to the Columbus club as a means of bringing Italians together socially was St. Anthony’s society, which is in a good position to accomplish this aim. St. Anthony’s society is an offshoot of the Italian church on Fergusen street. If Italians are separated socially, they are not from the standpoint of religion. Virtually all belong to the Catholic church and St. Anthony’s church serves the majority. This brings up the subject of the first church and Father Anthony V. Marchesano, its first pastor. Father Marchesano was a Chicagoan who studied in Rome for the priesthood. When the Rockford diocese was formed, he was names pastor of St. Anthony’s parish. Under his guidance, the Italians built their first church, which is now used as a rectory, and made plans for the $175,000 structure which is their present place of worship. St. Angel said last week that the foundation for the new church had been laid when the beloved Father Marchesano was stricken with a fatal illness. "Before he left for Mayo clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he died," St. Angel said, "Father Marchesano asked to be taken to the site of the new church. "He got out of the automobile, walked over to the foundation, and kissed the concrete."
Church Becomes Monument
It was the last time the Italian priest saw the site. The attractive church stands as a monument to him. Present pastor of St. Anthony’s is Father Maurice Bora. One of the religious customs of the Italians has been erection of St. Joseph’s day altars on March 19. Food is distributed by persons having altars in their homes. The observance is traced to Italy, where the poor were fed by charitable persons in honor of St. Joseph. This customs is not popular with all Rockford Italians. Some contend that the original purpose of the altars and distribution of food is no longer served. When the Italians first came to south Rockford. Irish moved predominated in the area. Gradually the Irish moved away, until the Italians were the principal residents. Now, there are signs that the old south Rockford settlement is being deserted by many of the younger Italians, who are buying homes in other sections of the city. Old world ties are strong, but the gradual scattering of nationality groups is another aspect of the "melting pot." [Rockford Morning Star, 04-07-1946]
Rockford--the Village Christened
Mr. Kent was in a sense the first proprietor of the colony. He gave it the name Midway. The name was suggested by the fact that the settlement was about half way from Chicago to Galena. "Midway, Rock River, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, June 17, 1835," is the name and date Mr. Kent gives in a letter to a friend. The law of 1836 which established the State road, noted in the last paragraph, referred to "Midway at the ford on Rock River." Under the date of October 17, 1837, Mr. Kent writes a letter from Rockford. The settlement was therefore known as Midway from one to three years. Authorities differ as to the origin of the name Rockford. One write says the place was known as Rockford by the Indians; and that this name was suggested to them by nature. Upon the site of the present dam was a solid rock bottom, where the water was usually so shallow as to afford early crossing with their ponies. Hence it was called by them the rock-ford.
John H. Thurston gives a somewhat different, thought not necessarily a conflicting version. He says Daniel S. Haight, Germanicus Kent, William H. Gilman, of Belvidere, John P. Chapin and a Ebenezer Peck, of Chicago, and Stephen Edgel, later of St. Louis, met at Dr. Goodhue’s office on Lake Street, in Chicago, to name the claim, or mill privilege, which they hoped at some time would become a town. "Midway", though an appropriate name, was not in favor. Various names were suggested and rejected, until Dr. Goodhue said: "Why not call it Rockford, from the splendid rock-bottom ford on the river there?" The suggestion seemed an inspiration, and was at once unanimously adopted; and from that day to this, Dr. Goodhue has been given the credit of the present name. The date of this christening is uncertain. Mr. Thurston says it occurred in the summer of 1835; but the statute of January, 1836, still designated it Midway. News traveled slowly, however, in those days; and possible the solons at Vandalia had not learned of the change. [from Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois, Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]
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