The Rock River's History

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Over the next two weeks, 23 News will be examining issues in area communities as part of our coverage and stories for "Our Town." In the coming week our emphasis will be on Rockford and some of the things and people which make it special.

We kick off the first "Our Town" segment with the most central part of the city, the Rock River.

This body of water is why we are here. It has been the focal point of the city's history. Back in 1834, Germanicus Kent settled on the west side of the river. Daniel Haight decided to create a town on the east side of the rock. Back in 1837, the two decided to merge and call our town Rockford. From there the community began to boom.

Midway Village Historian Dan Bartlett says, "The river and water power was an important factor in development of Rockford's earliest industries."

A water power district was established and a huge dam was built across the river, but the river soon became a major obstacle. The river hindered Swedish immigrants from traveling farther west.

Bartlett said, "Swedish people in Chicago were told to get on the rail due to so much illness and head to Rockford."

But once they got to Rockford in 1852 they could not travel any farther. Rockford had no bridge for the railroad to cross the Rock River. A year later the connection from east to west was made.

Bartlett tells 23 News, "Rockford was not unique in the fact that it has a dividing line between communities. My hope as a citizen is that we won't see a dividing line instead we'll see it as a resource to build a community around."

The river continues to be a very important consideration now and will certainly be in the future of not only Rockford but the entire region.

In the coming week we will present “Our Town” segments on Rockford's downtown, tourist attractions, efforts to rejuvenate the MidTown area, transportation plans and businesses opportunities.