In 2013 Forbes magazine ranked Rockford as #3 of America’s Most Miserable Cities. This was in reference to high unemployment, but is still not the way a town would like to be classified.
The tourism board, however describes it’s city as “a beautiful city located in northern Illinois, often referred to as ‘The Forest City’ because of its abundant trees and furniture-manufacturing heritage.”
They go on to say it is a 90 minute drive from Chicago, an hour from both Madison, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, making it a convenient spot for a getaway weekend.
To me Rockford was just a run-of-the-mill city we passed through often on our way to visit my folks who lived near Galena. So miserable or beautiful? I never gave it much thought, until a recent weekend.
My husband and I decided at the last minute to go away for our wedding anniversary, which was the following day. After finding the popular spots like Lake Geneva completely booked, I turned to Rockford. I knew my parents had been to the Japanese Gardens recently and seemed to like it. Upon further research I found several other things I knew we would enjoy there as well, and next thing we knew, we were on our way to Rockford.
Did you know the rock band “Cheap Trick” originated in Rockford? The band is one of Rockford’s claims to fame. This statue is found in the Midway Village Museum.
We weren’t far from home when our GPS directed us a to a new road, providing our first unexpected, yet pleasant surprise:
We had been driving back and forth past Rockford for 25 years, yet were unaware of the scenic drive route option not far from our original route. I enjoyed the views of rural farm country, flowers, and trees, while the miles flew by.
One hour later, our first stop of the day was to Anderson’s Japanese Gardens.
Rated as one of the country’s highest quality Japanese Gardens, this 12 acre garden of peaceful serenity is filled with vegetation, lakes, bridges, waterfalls, and gently flowing streams. You can hear the trickling of water as it gently flows down rocky paths, which makes you feel like you want to lay down in the grass and meditate before moving on. According to their brochure, the moving water calms the spirit.
Seeing the gardens is self-guided so you can go at your own pace.
Even the washrooms had a quiet serenity to them, with sinks where the water somehow flowed out without making a sound.
The on site restaurant, Fresco at the Gardens, overlooking the property, offers fresh, organic, locally grown dishes that did not disappoint. Here’s mine: healthy start waffles with greek yogurt, granola and fresh fruit. Mmmmm
After the Japanese Gardens we went on a tour of the Laurent House, a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This was the only house Mr. Wright designed for someone in a wheelchair. Ken, a disabled world war II veteran and his wife Phyllis lived here in this custom designed house for 60 years until their death in 2012, when it was purchased by the Laurent House Foundation.
I am not including photos of the house because you really can’t appreciate it’s engineering and beauty without the guided tour. On it you learn fascinating facts about Ken and Phyllis Laurent, how the house came to be, and tidbits about the years he and his wife lived there.
The house has only been open to the public since summer of 2014, with tours available on selected weekends. Even if you are not a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright, I would high recommend this tour.
The bus to and from the Laurent House started from the Midway Village Museum. Inside the museum were displays and interesting artifacts about Rockford’s history. Outside were historic buildings and gardens. Did you know Rockford was the original home of the sock monkey?
Below, also at the Midway Village Museum: In 1928 Bert Hassell attempted to fly his airplane, The Greater Rockford, from Rockford to Stockholm, Sweden by way of a shorter, northern route. Although he ran out of gas in Greenland, Hassell is nonetheless credited with pioneering the “Great Circle Route” between the U.S. and Europe. After the Midway Museum, our next stop was a boat ride on the Rock River on the Forest City Queen.
Sponsored by the Rockford Park District, this 49 seat riverboat cruises up and down the Rock River as a narrator points out places of interest in Rockford’s history as well as mansions of some of its rich and/or famous residents. Relaxing in comfy chairs enjoying a gentle breeze, this was a perfect activity for 3 in the afternoon after a day of walking and standing. There is also a trolley tour sponsored by the park district that we didn’t do.
We sat in the air conditioned bar drinking a “Nikolob”, (one of their brews), enjoyed some nachos, and the largest soft pretzel I have ever seen.
With the temperature hovering around 90 the day we were there, this was quite possibly the best beer I have ever tasted.
In honor of our anniversary we opted to stay over night in Rockford, even though we were only an hour from home.
Rockford was definitely a bargain. Not including food, we only spent $82.00 for the entire day of activities. Where else can you take a boat ride for $8 each?
I found Rockford to be beautiful, as well as interesting. Next time you are looking for a different type of getaway, check out a neighboring town near you. You may discover some little known gems that have been there all along, just waiting for you to discover them.
Far from miserable I found Rockford, the Forest City, to be quite beautiful and the perfect getaway weekend spot.