ROCKFORD, Ill. — Strolling through Midway Village Museum
takes visitors back to the Victorian period of the early 1900s, as well as
provides a vast amount of historical information about the Rockford area.
“This is an open-air museum, and there aren’t many like this
in the U.S.,” said Lonna Converso, director of marketing at Midway Village
The museum initially was started with a donation of land by
the Severin Family, and next year will mark the museum’s 40th anniversary.
“The museum was organized by three historical societies —
Swedish, Harlem and Rockford Historical Societies for the mission of
preservation, collection and interpretation of the history of the Rockford
area,” Converso said.
“We have 148 acres here, and the main Museum Center features
permanent and temporary exhibits of local history,” she said. “Our 13-acre
village depicts 1900s America, and as visitors enter the village, they are
greeted by interpreters dressed in period clothing.”
A common area is surrounded by several homes, a 1905 barn,
an 1850 barn and a three-quarter scale Rockford Hospital.
“Some of these buildings were moved here after they were
donated to the museum,” Converso said. “We have different styles of homes so
visitors have an understanding of different lifestyles of the people.”
In the Main Street area, a variety of buildings line both
sides of the street. Visitors can tour a police station, fire station, print
shop, hardware store, general store, bank and several others that are filled
“At our blacksmith shop, we have a group of dedicated
volunteers that demonstrate the trade that was so important to the community,”
Converso said. “They give visitors a real good feel for what blacksmiths
A menu of options is available for school programs at the
Old Stone School.
“Students learn what it was like to go to school in a
one-room schoolhouse,” Converso said. “They have their own slates to use, and
many times students will come dressed up in period clothing.”
Eight heritage gardens are located throughout the village
that feature plants and flowers that are representative of the period.
“Visitors will see heirloom varieties in these gardens,”
Converso said. “We have about 88,000 people and 30,000 school children visit our
museum each year.”
In the Museum Center, the permanent exhibits begin with the
Queen City of the Prairies exhibit which highlights the beginning of Rockford by
the first residents in 1834.
“Our newest exhibit is Many Faces, One Community, which is
about the immigrant experience of those who came to Rockford from the early
years through today,” Converso said. “You enter through this train depot façade,
and by picking up one of these phones, you can learn about immigrants who came
to Rockford in their own voices and from their own stories.”
Other portions of the exhibit include a display of items of
importance that immigrants brought with them and the impact of manufacturing on
the community especially furniture companies.
“After the Chicago Fire, many furniture manufacturers ended
up rebuilding in Rockford because it was economically advantageous.” Converso
said. “In 1892, there were more than 100 furniture factories in the southeastern
part of Rockford.”
Phase 1 of the Many Faces, One Community is complete, and
the next phase is expected to be finished by 2014.
“The new area will feature an immigrant home and
streetscapes of early Rockford,” Converso said. “And there will be a Swedish
parlor and Italian kitchen and a boarding house.”
John Nelson, the inventor of the knitting machine, opened
Nelson Knitting Co. in 1880 and started producing red heel work socks in
Rockford. In this exhibit, visitors also learn about how these socks were turned
into sock monkeys.
Throughout the year, Midway Village Museum also hosts a
variety of special events, including the Scarecrow Harvest Festival, set for
noon to 5 p.m. Oct. 5-6.
Along with the opportunity to make a scarecrow, the festival
will feature a variety of activities, including demonstrations of rare antique
threshing and baling machinery, square dancing in the 1905 barn, horse drawn
wagon rides around the village and corning shelling.
World War II Days are held every September.
“This draws over 1,000 re-enactors from 35 states and 8,000
visitors,” Converso said. “There are two battles on Saturday and one battle on
Sunday, and they are narrated so the audience understands the strategic moves
and the equipment that is used.”
For the first time in 2013, the Great War World War I event
was held in April. The 2014 event will mark the 100 th anniversary of this war.
“This will also feature re-enactors who will do battles and
skirmishes, as well as collectors who will showcase uniforms, artillery,
photographs and artifacts,” Converso said. “It is amazing to see people’s
personal belongings that are 100 years old.”
Midway Village Museum is located at 6799 Guilford Road,
Rockford. The village is open May through August and by appointment from
September through April.
The Museum Center is open year-round. Admission is $7 for
adults and $5 for children ages 3 to 17.
For more information, call (815) 397-9112 or visit