Q. JUST HOW BIG IS ROCKFORD, ANYWAY?
A. Big enough to have lots of attractions and culture, but small enough to be inexpensive and uncomplicated. Rockford's population is more than 150,000, making it Illinois "Second City"...smaller than Chicago, but bigger than Peoria or Springfield. Rockford's the county seat of Winnebago County, population more than 278,000. The city encompasses 56 square miles, while the county covers 519 square miles. The metro area population is more than 400,000. Rockford boosters say "Second in size, but second to none!"
Q. WHERE'S ROCKFORD? A. In north central Illinois, just south of Wisconsin, halfway between Galena and Chicago.
Q. HOW FAR AWAY IS ROCKFORD BY CAR?
A. Just a 60-minute drive west of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and only 90 minutes, more or less, from downtown Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison. Peoria, Bloomington, Galena, the Quad Cities and Wisconsin Dells are only a few minutes more, and it's an easy drive from Des Moines, Waterloo, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Springfield, Minneapolis and Detroit.
Q. HOW'D ROCKFORD GET ITS NAME? A. In 1834, New Englanders settled on both banks of a shallow, rocky stretch of the Rock River, where there was a natural ford. They named their settlement "Midway Village," because it was halfway between Chicago and Galena (then a mining boomtown). By 1837, the settlement had grown and was re-named "Rockford." (The original ford is just south of where U.S. Business Highway 20 [State Street] crosses the river at Founders Landing in Davis Park.)
Q. HOW'D WINNEBAGo COUNTY GET ITS NAME?
A. The Winnebago was a tribe of Native Americans living in Illinois and Wisconsin. They spoke a Siouan language and shared traditions of both the Eastern Woodlands and Plains cultures. In 1832 they formed an alliance with the Sac and Fox, under the leadership of Black Hawk, to drive white settlers off Indian lands. They were defeated in the infamous Bad Axe Massacre near LaCrosse, WI.
Q. WHAT ARE ROCKFORD'S NICKNAMES? A. Early settlers called it "Forest City" because of the river valley's verdant woods. Today, it's being called "City of Gardens." Rockford has 7,000 acres of parkland, tree-lined streets, an exceptionally green downtown, a riverside trail and several magnificent public gardens. Look in the phone book...you'll discover two whole columns of businesses named "Forest City," "Forest Hills" or "Forest View." o Because it's so large, Rockford's also known as Illinois' "Second City;" Chicago's the largest. o Finally, much to Rockford's chagrin, it was once known as the "Screw Capital of the World" because of the billions of screws, bolts and fasteners its factories produced for the manufacturers of the world.
Q. WHAT'S ROCKFORD'S ETHNIC HERITAGE?
A. Thousands of Swedish immigrants settled in Rockford between 1835 and the early 1900's. Immigrants arriving in Chicago from New York encountered a cholera epidemic, so they rode the trains west to the end of the line at Rockford. The Swedes' metal and woodworking craftsmanship made Rockford a leading furniture center, with more than 90 furniture companies in existence between 1835 and 1960. Their descendants remained at the forefront of Rockford industry, adapting to changing needs and technologies. o Italians came to Rockford by the thousands between 1878 and 1912, establishing businesses that still bear their names and social clubs that reflect Italy's various regions. (That's also why Rockford has so many terrific Italian restaurants and markets.) o Germans, Irish, Poles and other Eastern Europeans also immigrated to Rockford in significant numbers. o Today, Rockford is a vital, multicultural community of people with roots in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas. Rockford's landmarks, restaurants and shops reflect the city's rich ethnic heritage.
Q. WHAT MAKES ROCKFORD TICK TODAY? A. Just as in the 1800's, manufacturing is the Rockford Region's largest industry. Rockford companies supply the world with precision cutting tools, fasteners (nuts, bolts, screws, nails, etc.), aerospace components, machine parts and automobiles, among other things. Rockford is a regional shopping center, and the city's hospitals and clinics make it a regional medical center as well. o In 2004, Rockford was recipient of the Presidents' Arts Friend Community Award, presented by the Illinois Arts Alliance Foundation and the Illinois Municipal League, recognizing Rockford as a model for how mayors and other municipal leaders can work with artists, arts organizations and volunteers to improve the quality of life for residents. o Also in 2004, Sports Illustrated Magazine and the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) with named Rockford as Sportstown USA for the state of Illinois. o Long known as The City of Gardens, Rockford placed first in the America In Bloom national competition in Cleveland in 2005, being awarded "four blooms" at the awards ceremony in Cleveland.
Q. WHAT'S DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE?
A. Rockford life centers around the Rock River. It may divide the east side from the west, but it brings people together for events such as the Illinois Snow Sculpting Competition; Fourth of July Festival; Ski Broncs Water Ski Shows; Rockford Art Museum Greenwich Village Art Fair and Rockford Art Guild's Artists' Fair; Rockin' Summer concerts at Davis Park; On the Waterfront, Illinois' largest outdoor music festival; Music in the Park and Holiday Festival of Lights, plus the Forest City Queen excursion boat and Rockford Trolley Car.
Several museums cluster in Riverfront Museum Park on the west bank; Sinnissippi Gardens and Park stretch along the east bank; SportsCore One has river access on the north; a trail network links them all. Rockford continues to develop its waterfront by converting industrial sites into parks and public areas, such as Davis Park at Founder's Landing.
Q. HOTELS? A. More than 3,000 rooms at a couple of dozen hotels, motels, resorts and a handful of bed-and-breakfasts. Most of the major chains are present, and many of the properties are relatively new, built since 1994. The four largest are Best Western Clock Tower Resort & Conference Center, Cliffbreakers Comfort Suites & Conference Center, Holiday Inn of Rockford and Ramada Plaza Hotel.
Q. RESTAURANTS? A. Hundreds! A host of Rockford Originals plus plenty of chains create an exciting collection of eclectic ethnic and gourmet eateries…from elegant places such as Cliffbreakers to trendy bistros such as Brio, Octane Interlounge and Paragon.
A. Four shopping malls; a bustling East State Street "strip" of discount chains, off-price outlets and "big box" stores; interesting specialty shops scattered all over town.
Q. ANTIQUES? A. And you thought the market was dominated by quaint villages like Galena and St. Charles! With three huge antique malls, more than 40 individual shops and several annual antique markets, this is where other antique dealers get their stuff!
Q. BASEBALL, ANYONE?
A. In 1879, Rockford joined baseball's first professional minor league, along with Dubuque, Davenport and Omaha. o In 1943, Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley formed the Rockford Peaches, a top-flight women's baseball team for 12 years. (The team was featured in the movie A League of Their Own starring Tom Hanks, Madonna, Geena Davis and Rosie O'Donnell.) o Today, the league-champion Rockford Riverhawks have a brand new field at Riverside Blvd. and I-90, while Midway Village & Museum Center hosts "vintage" baseball games--baseball played the way it was when gloves were for sissies.
Q. THE ARTS?
A. Rockford is big enough to offer oodles of cultural events, but small enough to make them affordable. For performing arts, there is theatre, a symphony orchestra, chamber music group, dance company, outdoor concerts and two venues for big-name shows: the MetroCentre and restored Coronado Theatre. In 2003, Starlight Theatre added a retractable star-shaped roof, so that outdoor performances could go on, rain or shine. The visual arts are represented by a major art museum, plus storefront and loft galleries. In fact, the Rockford Art Museum is Illinois' second-largest, after the Chicago Art Institute.
Q. MUSEUMS? A. Rockford has metro-quality museums, too. Burpee Museum of Natural History, host to the annual celebration of dinosaurs, PaleoFest, has created a stir among paleontolgists by unearthing a rare new dinosaur, a one-of-a-kind member of the tyrannus family that they named "Jane." Child Magazine rated Discovery Center Museum as one of the top four children's museums in America. Midway Village & Museum Center has a charming 1899 village with 24 life-sized buildings. Add to the mix Rockford Art Museum, Ethnic Heritage Museum and several historic homes: Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum, Macktown Living History Center at Macktown Forest Preserve, Erlander Home Museum and Graham Ginestra House.
A. You could spend a whole weekend touring the "City of Gardens." Anderson Japanese Gardens is considered one of the top two Japanese gardens in the Western World; the other one's in Portland, Oregon. Sinnissippi Gardens & Greenhouse is in a linear park on the Rock River and admission is free. Klehm Arboretum & Botanic Garden has so many rare and unusual trees and shrubs, botanists say there's only one comparable site...and it's in France. There's a year-round schedule of garden tours, flower shows, garden concerts and gardening workshops, too.
Q. OUTDOOR RECREATION? A. With 10,000+ acres of parks and forest preserves, there's plenty of outdoor fun in and around Rockford. You can bike, hike, roller-blade, swim, boat, sail, picnic, camp, fish, bird-watch, ride horses, play miniature golf. The Rockford Area has 25 miles of interconnecting trails and a dozen golf courses. Enjoy the 35-acre Magic Waters Waterpark and the two huge SportsCores One and Two. Watch the world-class water ski team Ski Broncs ply the Rock River in free weekly shows during the summer. Ride a trolley or a riverboat. Attend car and motorcycle races at Rockford Speedway and Blackhawk Farms Raceway. Click this link, Checklist, for a downloadable list of birds seen in Winnebago County's excellent birdwatching spots, available in the General Downloads section of this website.
Q. GOLF? A. With a more than a dozen courses, we suspect Rockford has more golf holes per capita than any place in the world. That's why we call it "Illinois' Holiest City"…and why Golf Digest and Fodor's chose it as "Best Mid-Sized City for Golf" in 1998, 1999 and again in 2000. The Aldeen Golf Course and Practice Centre, operated by the Rockford Park District, has been awarded a 4-1/2 star rating by Golf Digest, putting it along side such great courses as Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass and Spyglass Hill in Pebble Beach!
Q. WINTER RECREATION?
A. You can ice-skate indoors or out, cross-country ski, sled, snowmobile, ice-fish and bowl. The IceHogs, a United Hockey League team, plays at the MetroCentre and the Rockford Raptors, members of the United Indoor Football League, hit the field there in 2006.
Q. DID ANYONE FAMOUS COME FROM ROCKFORD?
A. You bet! Kevin Uliassi, the balloonist who set the world record in 2000 for the longest solo flight, launched his balloon from a quarry in Loves Park. o Jane Addams, Nobel Laureate and founder of Chicago's Hull House, was in Rockford College's first graduating class. o John B. Anderson, who ran for US President as a third-party candidate, was a multi-term Rockford Congressman. o Admiral George Dufek, an Antarctic explorer, founded a base on the icy continent in 1958 and named it "Little Rockford." o Barbara Hale, an actress who played Perry Mason's secretary Della Street on the long-running TV series, graduated from Rockford High School. o Actor Aidan Quinn and his theatrical siblings are Rockford natives. o Former US Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin taught school in Rockford and was a Congresswoman. o Rock 'n' roll superstars Cheap Trick started as a garage band in Rockford and still live here. o Olympic athletes include: skaters Janet Lynn, Kathy Malmberg, Sandy Lenz and Gordy McKellen; divers Ron Merriott and Rob Bollinger; boxer Kenny Gould; luger Deb Genovese. o The Rockford Peaches, a top-flight women's baseball team formed in 1943 by Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, started a run which lasted for 12 years. (The team was featured in the movie A League of Their Own starring Tom Hanks, Madonna, Geena Davis and Rosie O'Donnell.) o Other sports stars include: world heavy weight kickboxing champion Brad Hefton, trampolinist Alexandra Nicholson, power tumbler Jill Hollenbeak, golfer Mark Taylor.
Q. WHY Do PEOPLE VISIT ROCKFORD? A. Thousands of athletes flock to Rockford during the warm-weather months. Why? Rockford's has lots of terrific facilities for soccer, volleyball and softball. In fact, international teams often use Rockford as a practice facility, prior to competitions such as World Cup Soccer. o Meeting planners book Rockford because it has urban appeal, but is more affordable and less chaotic than Chicago. At the same time, Rockford is centrally located and easily accessible, with a CVB that "makes smiles" with its high level of professional services. o Shoppers are drawn to Rockford's critical mass. o Families visit Rockford because there are so many inexpensive indoor and outdoor attractions, plus affordable family packages at hotels and motels. o Big-name entertainment and mega-events at The Coronado Theatre and the MetroCentre draw audiences from a 100-mile radius.
Q. HOW Do YOU GET To ROCKFORD?
A. Rockford is easily accessible by car from either I-90, I-39 or US Highway 20. o There are 17 daily shuttle bus runs between Rockford and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, seven to Midway Airport, and four daily shuttles to Chicago's Union Station and downtown Chicago. o Rockford is served by Greyhound Bus Lines and five rental car firms: Avis, Enterprise, Hertz and National/Alamo. o Rockford's international airport, Chicago/Rockford International Airport (RFD), offers flights to Orlando, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Denver, plus popular Caribbean vacation hotspots, with new service being added regularly.
Click here to visit our Location and Transportation page containing specific travel information, mileage and links.
Q. VISITOR TAXES? A. Hotel tax is 12% to 13%; food and beverage tax is 7.25%; retail sales tax is 8.25%.