Haight Village Historic District, Rockford, Illinois

Haight Village

Historic District

Haight Village National Register Historic District — Rockford, IL

Maria Ludeke's History of Haight Village

12-year-old Maria Ludeke's photo display board that was used as a visual aid in presenting her History of Haight Village.

I live in an old house in an old neighborhood. We have found old bottles buried in the yard, a pistol from the 1880's hanging in a closet, and have even experienced some ghostly happenings. My house was built in 1882, about 50 years after the first white man settled in this region. His name is Daniel Shaw Haight and my neighborhood is named for him.

Haight's log cabin, the first structure on the East Side of the Rock River, was built early in the season of 1835 in regular pioneer style, without a nail1. Haight also built the first frame house, the first store, and the first hotel2. Haight's grove was the source of much of the timber used in the construction of these first buildings in Rockford3. Daniel Haight's family and other settlers would get their water from the Rock River4. In those days the river was clear to the bottom. Many years later my grandpa would say that the river is too thick to drink and too thin to walk on.

In 1839 Daniel Haight built the first brick house called the Daffodil cottage5. Over the years many people have lived in the Daffodil cottage, including Rockford's first mayor in 1852, a real estate investor in 1861, a deputy coroner and undertaker in 1921, a well known professor of mathematics and physics at Rockford college in 1945, and finally Paul and Sally Van Pernis in 19876. Dr. Paul Van Pernis was so interested in the history of the one hundred fifty-year-old house that he set off reading every newspaper published since 1840 in Rockford not to mention interviewing previous owners7.

John Thurston, who wrote a book on his life and early Rockford history, came from an eastern city to a frontier settlement at the age of thirteen. He was born at Glens Falls, N.Y. in 18248. On his way to Rockford, Thurston traveled though many miles of rolling trackless prairie in Northern IL. John wrote of the tall grasses and many rattlesnakes. Around 1835 there were very few white people in this area.

When he arrived in what is now Rockford he wrote, "The season of 1837 opened early, and as the earth became clothed in green it presented the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. Innumerable flowers dotted the scene in every direction. What is now the second ward was covered with tall, thrifty white oak timber."9 The fires had killed most of the underbrush and it was a magnificent park from Kishwaukee Street, west to the river, and from Walnut Street south to the bluffs at Keith's creek10.

John Erlander immigrated to Rockford at the age of 28 and soon became a community leader in the Haight Village neighborhood. A tailor by trade, he introduced the first sewing machine to Rockford and became a partner in a tailoring business11. The neighborhood around the Erlander home soon became the heart of the city's Swedish population and one of the largest Swedish centers in the Midwest12. In 1860 John Erlander led a group of forty-eight Swedish-Americans to cast a vote for Lincoln and against slavery13.

Mary Olivia Erlander was born October 16, 1870. She was one year old when the family moved into their new home at 404 South Third Street14. Mary played the melodeon, painted, sewed, and entertained guests with grace and enthusiasm. She also spoke English and Swedish fluently. Her artwork reflects a blending of her Swedish and American culture15.

Since Rockford College was located just blocks from her home, Mary decided to enroll in art classes. Mary enjoyed painting so much that she continued to take art classes the following year. In 1897, Mary won the blue ribbon for her artwork at the Winnabago county fair16. Mary, her three sisters and three brothers never married.

In 1948 Mary's brother, Alfred, passed away, making Mary the last surviving sibling of six children. After her brother died Mary had to sell many of her family's possessions due to the fact that she had very little money. All though this difficult time Mary remained a gracious hostess to her guests and very grateful to the many friends that helped her17. Mary lived in her home for almost eighty years, until 1951, when she sold the house to the Swedish Historical Society18.

Elizabeth Rogers was born in Rockford on South First Street in 1902 as an only child19. Elizabeth had a black maid that nicknamed her Bitty because of her very small size. Because Elisabeth was so little her maid would enjoy dressing her up like a doll20. Elizabeth remembers trying to trip Mr. Shumway who lived in a mansion down the street, because he would shuffle home from work. Elizabeth and other neighborhood kids would try to do this by laying sticks on the sidewalk21. Her parents owned a jewelry store on State Street. When she was old enough she also worked there22. She remembered Haight Village as being a most wonderful place to live, a beautiful neighborhood23.

Anthony Haines lived in my house one hundred years ago. In my basement he carved this: Anthony Haines, age, thirteen, weight, one hundred fifty-three pounds, height, five feet ten inches, grade, 8th, and the date, February 17, 1902. We also know that he had a dartboard hanging on a door in my basement from a circle of holes in the door. There were holy cards in the attic that might have been Anthony's. Although he lived around the same time Elizabeth Rogers was born she never knew him since his family moved to National Avenue shortly after.

Arthur Huenkemeier and his parents moved to Haight Village into his grandparent's house in 1934, and stayed there until 195624. The house had two living rooms and three floors since it was built for an extended family. Arthur lived on the third floor, which was later demolished. Arthur's grandmother wanted her house painted white but the color soon turned gray from the soot in the air that came from the Power Plant down by the river25. Arthur grew up during the depression years of tough times but was fortunate to have plenty of food. His mother never made less than two pies a day since people came to visit all the time. His mother would get all her groceries at the Shumway market on State Street, in downtown Rockford26.

Arthur remembers what a wonderful experience it was to live with his grandfather, his idol. The ROTC marching band from the Central High School would pass by Arthur's house on Grove Street, practicing marching and playing their music. Arthur remembers what a wonderful time he and he and his Grandpa had listening to it. Arthur's grandfather died when Arthur was eleven years old27.

Even though they didn't have television kids still found lots of ways to have fun. Arthur and other neighborhood kids would play baseball right next to Kishwaukee Street in an open lot. Every once in while they would break a window. Other games they played were hide and go seek on roller-skates and kick the can. They would play these games right up until they had to go to bed. The sidewalks were all made of slate and were very smooth. Arthur remembers how perfect they were to roller-skate on28. On rainy days Arthur would play on his porch with all the neighborhood kids. He said it was like an "outdoor living room."29 Another fun place to go was an old big barn located behind 320 South Third Street. It had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and on the lower floor it had room for six parked cars. Arthur and his friends would play there in a chassie of an electric car. In an old horse stall a staircase could fold down from the ceiling. They called it their "secret staircase."30

Arthur liked to go downtown whenever he got a dime or nickel and would buy miniature cars. Then he would set up towns and make Camp Grant using paper tents.31 On Saturdays Arthur went to see movies at the theater downtown. Today the Lutheran Center is where the theater used to be. The radio was one of the things Arthur loved most especially during the winter months. One of his favorite shows was the Lone Ranger.

Arthur remembers all the nice people and wonderful neighbors. Arthur remembers seeing Mary Erlander's brother in his eighties mowing the lawn with a push lawnmower. After that Arthur always helped mow their lawn. He also remembers a heavy man who would drive up and down in his buggy on South 3rd Street. His name was Mr. Reber and he owned a lumber store.32 Arthur recalls seeing the huge elm trees which made the streets like cathedrals all though Rockford.33

Bishop Doran lived in Haight Village from 1938 to 1955.34 Bishop Doran's father worked in a clothing store. He and his brother kept the store going though the depression. He then closed the store in 1964.35 During the war, there was rationing on shoes, meat, gas, and just about everything else. During the war they only had one car and would get five gallons of gas each week. Because everything was in walking distance they never really used the car. Another reason not to drive the car was that it was very hard to get rubber, which made it hard to get tires.36 Lead was very valuable during the war so Bishop Doran's dad took out all the lead pipes in the house and replaced them with steel pipes. He used a hot knife to cut though the lead.37

Every house was lived in and very well maintained. The big thing was wallpaper then. Bishop Doran remembered that his whole house had been wallpapered twice. Every window in the house had drapes, curtains, and shades to keep out the heat of the summer. Bishop Doran's basement had a large storm cellar and was always ten degrees cooler. His wrap around porch had outdoor furniture and was covered in grapevines. They only used one side of the porch and would go out in the evenings when it was the most comfortable.38 During the winter people used furnaces to keep their houses warm. Bishop Doran's family owned a Stoker furnace. Coal was shoveled into the machine to keep the house comfortable at around seventy degrees.39

Bishop Doran and his family never locked the doors unless everyone was gone since the neighbors were all very friendly. Bishop Doran's father only owned one weapon, a sword. Next door to Bishop Doran lived the Radcliffs who moved into my house when the Haines family out in 1902. The Radcliffs were a retired farm family from New Milford. The house across the street from Bishop Doran, Mr. Shumway's house, had a bad fire some time between 1941-1943. After that it was never fixed properly. The fire started from the inside of a chimney that hadn't been used in awhile. Bishop Doran remembers watching the fire from across the street from his bedroom window.40

When Bishop Doran was a little boy he would march with the ROTC band on Grove Street. Children used their imagination since television was not invented yet. He had a big fenced in yard with a swing set. During the summer his family went on vacation to Lake Geneva or Door County, in Wisconsin.41

The central high school was always called Rockford High. It was government operated and a large school of two thousand students. They were all taught academic classes with Latin and Greek too. Graduates from Rockford High could then teach at the grade schools. The president of Rockford College lived kitty corner to Bishop Doran and many professors lived nearby in the neighborhood too. Bishop Doran remembers Haight Village as a nice place to live.42

Hundreds of people have come and gone to form the history of Haight village. Some people have played a big role such as Daniel Haight, and many have played smaller roles such as Betty Rogers. However, everyone's contribution was vital to the history of the neighborhood.

Footnotes:

1 Thurston, John H., Reminiscences, Sporting and Otherwise, of Early Days in Rockford, IL, Rockford IL: Press of The Daily Republican. 1891 , 1
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2 Van Pernis, Paul, "A Little Bit of History by Paul Van Pernis", Haight Village Restoration Society, Jan.-Feb. 1991
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3 Ibid.
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4 Thurston, Early Days in Rockford, IL. 10-11
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5 "This Old House" Rockford Register Star , April 27, 1993
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6 Ibid.
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7 Ibid.
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8 Ibid., 4
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9 Ibid., 7
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10 Ibid.
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11 "The Erlander Museum"
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12 Ibid.
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13 Ibid.
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14 "Mary Erlander & The Gilded Age"
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15 Ibid.
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16 Ibid.
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17 Ibid.
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18 Ibid.
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19 Interview: Jeanne Ludeke 10/5/2003
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20 Ibid.
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21 Ibid.
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22 Ibid.
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23 Ibid.
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24 Interview: Huekemier, Arthur 10/18/2003
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25 Ibid.
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26 Ibid.
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27 Ibid.
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28 Ibid.
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29 Ibid.
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30 Ibid.
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31 Ibid.
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32 Ibid.
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33 Ibid.
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34 Interview: Bishop Thomas Doran 10/31/2003
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35 Ibid.
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36 Ibid.
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37 Ibid.
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38 Ibid.
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39 Ibid.
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40 Ibid.
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41 Ibid.
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42 Ibid.
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