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Rockford, Illinois's Swedish Heritage

Rockford Illinois's Erlander House Museum

Rockford, Illinois has the third largest concentration of Swedish people per capita in the United States. Erlander Museum in Rockford preserves Rockford's Swedish roots. It's named for John Erlander and his daughter Mary. The Englander family is typical of many Swedish immigrants to Rockford. John emigrated from Sweden to Chicago, Illinois and then Rockford. He worked as a tailor and later opened a furniture store in partnership with other Swedish men.

Parlor in Erlander House Museum

Mary was John's youngest daughter. She moved into Rockford's first brick single-family home, now the Erlanger Museum, as a toddler and lived in it most of her life. Karen Hammarbert, The Swedish Historical Society representative explained why the home is so unique, "There were no brick homes in Sweden so John Erlanger decided to build a brick home to show that Swedish people can come here to American and become successful."

In 1951, she sold it to Swedish Historical Society of Rockford. Mary was a skilled painter and the museum parlor still contains the borders she painted. Many of her watercolors are also displayed.

The home has much of the family furnishing still preserved so you can see how a middle-class Swedish family lived. The wood stove in the parlor is a marvel. It almost makes you want to forgo central heating in favor of this beauty. Almost. The museum is much more than a tribute to one family however. It contains such varied items as a bust of a bust of Per Henrik Ling, the inventor of the Swedish massage, Swedish folk art, a collection of Swedish dolls, the Sock Monkey exhibit and so much more.

The doll collection features 46 Charlotte Weibull dolls dressed in native folk costumes from all of the Swedish provinces. There is also an exhibit about The Pleasant Company, creators of the American Girl Dolls, and its series of books on Kirsten, a Swedish immigrant girl who settles with her family in Minnesota.

Swedish doll in the folk art collection in Erlander House Museum in Rockford, Illinois

Some of the folk art

The Sock Monkey has become such a part of American culture we sometimes forget their Swedish origins. The display at the Erlander Museum recreates the story. The Sock Monkeys began in Rockford with John Nelson, a Swedish immigrant. Nelson patented his sock-knitting machine in 1869, and began manufacturing work socks in Rockford. To show his socks were actually made by his machines, he devised a red heel trade mark. According to Karen Hammarbert, "Around the 1930s, someone just got creative. 'Oh lets attach a tail.' and the Sock Monkey was born."

A spinning wheel at the Erlander Museum

Midway Village holds an annual event, The Sock Monkey Madness Festival, commemorating this iconic toy. The Sock Monkey Festival was awarded a national 2009 Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association for State and Local History for excellence in educational programming

Another spot that commemorates Rockford's Swedish heritage is the newly opened Roland and Gladys Olson Swedish Heritage Park on the 83 acre farm donated by the Olsons in their will. The 28-acre, first phase contains a recreation path, playground, a Swedish-influenced pavilion, and green spaces suitable for playing the Swedish lawn games Kubb, bocce ball or other lawn sports. The park also includes a five-acre dog park.

About the art: In honor of Mary Erlander, I decided to do something different with my photos. I turned them into faux pencil drawings. Hope you like them.

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Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.