Haight Village Historic District, Rockford, Illinois

Haight Village

Historic District

Haight Village National Register Historic District — Rockford, IL

404 South Third Street — The John Erlander Museum

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Italianate style home built in 1871. In 1946, A. D. Erlander remembers teaching his then 1 year old sister, Miss Mary O. to walk. He also used to take her to visit their new home while it was under construction. The house was the first brick dwelling built for a Swedish family in Rockford.

John Erlander was born in Slatthog, Kronosbergs lan, Smaland, Sweden in 1826. He was a tailor in Sweden and was accompanied to the States by his brother, Peter Magnus, and sister Kajsa Jonsdotter. Erlander originally came to Chicago from Sweden. He remained in Chicago for a year and learned to use a sewing machine. After coming to Rockford as one of the first settlers from Sweden in 1856, he went to work for S. R. Franklin who convinced him to buy the first sewing machine in Rockford. Erlander was the machine's first operator. In 1862, he and Sven August Johnson, who came over in 1852, established the Erlander and Johnson tailor shop on the second floor of the Peacock building on East State St.

Upon his arrival in Rockford, Erlander's first home was a shanty located in the 300 block of S. Second St., for which he paid $100. Later he moved the shanty around the corner to the 400 block of Grove St. The second house the Erlander's lived in was built by his brother, Peter Magnus on North First Street. The North First home contained three plastered rooms and a summer kitchen lean-to and was located next to the parsonage of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. When he was ready to build a larger home, he bought three lots on S. Third Street along with S. A. Johnson. The Lutheran congregation was also looking for a new plot at about the same time and decided that Johnson and Erlander's lots were ideal. The church purchased the lots from the men and the First Lutheran Church was built on the site.

Erlander and Johnson then purchased the lots across the street from the church and were ready to settle down until the First Congregational Church persuaded them that their property would be an ideal site for their new church. The church was of course built on that property and the building that originally served as the Church is now the Masonic Cathedral. Johnson then bought a lot at the corner of Kishwaukee and Third Ave and Erlander finally purchased the lot on S. Third Street.

In 1946, The Erlander's owned several pieces of furniture from other furniture craftsmen including C.J. Lindholm, who had learned his trade in Sweden and had a shop in the rear of what is now 402 E. State St. Working alone, Lindholm made his furniture from the cutting down of the tree, to the finished piece, all based off designs he brought with him from Sweden.

Also in 1946, the Erlander home also had a number of pieces of furniture made by John Nelson. Nelson worked with wood and furniture before earning fame with the invention of a machine that knitted socks without a seam, thus resulting in Rockford's knitting industry. The Erlander home was also home to a kitchen cupboard by Nelson in the 1850s. The cupboard was purchased at an auction by John Erlander when Nelson temporarily moved to St. Charles. The chairs that the Erlander's used with that cupboard were from the home of Johannes Anderson, the first Swedish home in Rockford.

A.C. Johnson, John Nelson, and Gust Hollem, who had a shop in the waterpower area in which they made window sashes, blinds, and crude furniture, made the stair railing with posts and spindles. The blinds and doors on the house in 1946 were still the originals and made by the same three men. In 1946 the Erlander home was also home to a San Domingo crotch mahogany sofa and lyre case card table which were presented to the Rev. and Mrs. A Andreen at their wedding in 1855. Those pieces came into the Erlander's possession around 1900 after previously being owned by Mrs. John Bennett. Several parlor suite chairs, still with their original hair covering were purchased in 1871 from the Burpee furniture store.

The Union Furniture company, the first co-operative furniture factory in Rockford and the forerunner of the city's furniture industry, was organized there in 1876. John Erlander was named president and P.A. Peterson was elected secretary. They named Jonas Peters manager and treasurer and Alexander Johanson was chosen as the foreman. Erlander was also the organizer of other business ventures.

Into the Erlander home came nearly all of the Augustana Synod Church dignitaries as well as other noted Swedish visitors to Rockford.

Except for the building of an additional room, which became the kitchen, the Erlander home has not been changed since it was built. Gas conduits were installed in the house but never used and in 1946, electric lights had never yet been installed.

No architect was called in to design the Erlander home, it was just built. The mason was H.F. Peterson, who also built the First Lutheran Church and the First Congregational Church, which is now, of course, the Masonic Cathedral. Peterson's grandson, Irving F. Pearson of Springfield went on to become the executive secretary of the Illinois Teacher's Association. Most of the interior work on the first floor was done by Petter Svensson-Rask. John Erlander's brother, Peter Magnus, completed the second floor.

In 1951, the Erlander home was purchased from Mary O. Erlander, who had lived there for over 80 years, by the Swedish Historical Society. The Swedish Historical Society then renovated the building maintaining the original contents of the house were included in the sale. The Society opened the Erlander home to the public as a museum in 1952. The museum's opening was dedicated by Swedish Prime Minister, Tage Erlander. The home, among many other items, still contains a chest made by John Erlander in the 1850s in Sweden that was used by the Erlander in their trip to the United States.

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