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Tyrannosaurus rex Jane and companion at the Burpee Museum of Natural History, Rockford

Rockford, Illinois

getaway-chicago logo Their ’09 and ’10 visits to “The Forest City” were inspired by a reader who wrote to the Getaway Guys about his discoveries in and around Rockford. Many years had passed since either Guy had thought about (or visited) Rockford, Illinois, but always keen to explore the forgotten and overlooked Neil and Alan asked, “why not?”

Inspired by their reader’s suggestion, Neil and Alan went looking for the elusive (former) Camp Grant, a 5,460 acre area once used to train infantry for World Wars I & II, but finding Camp Grant (presently Seth Atwood Park) was easier said than done. rock1Located off IL 251 south of US 20, signage to this hub of former military activity and/or Seth Atwood Park is somewhere between non-existent and wanting. Nevertheless, the Getaway Guys found it. Now devoted to recreation and almost totally devoid of evidence of its association with rifle and mortar practice, vestiges of trenches and pill boxes can nevertheless be found (complete with warnings about possible unexploded ordinance). Although Neil and Alan weren’t “blown away” by their Camp Grant/Atwood Park tour, they enjoyed their hike and the adventure of possibly of stepping on a mortar round. “Just like Verdun,” Neil muttered!

rock6Barely surviving their brush with trench warfare, the Guys headed to the Rockford Art Museum, the Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Discovery Center Museum, all conveniently located next to one another on North Main Street in downtown Rockford. Visitors are in for a very pleasant surprise. Unknown to the intrepid travelers, the Rockford Art Museum is the largest museum (outside Chicago) devoted to art in Illinois. With an impressive permanent collection and an active exhibition schedule,rock7 RAM was a Rockford game-changer for Neil and Alan. With permanent works by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), Ernest Lawson (1873-1939), Lorado Taft (1860-1936), Ed Paschke (1939-2004) and Phyllis Bramson (1941- ) and a mega Hollis Sigler (1948-2001) exhibition seen during their Rockford visit # 1, RAM is a standout. While Neil was keen on Lorado Taft and Reginald Marsh, Alan was engrossed with the penetrating Sigler works, an exhibition organized by Gregg Knight, a former Chicago Cultural Center curator and Patty Rhea, RAM curator.

rock3A known natural history “nut,” Alan was thrilled with the Burpee Museum of Natural History where he could show off his extensive knowledge (a roll reversal -- Neil being the art know-it-all). Fascinating and well organized, this is another must-visit Rockford destination. On the first floor, The Ordovician Sea, The Coal Forest and The Diary of a Dinosaur exhibits are superb. On the second and third floors, The Geo Science, The First People and Windows to Wilderness exhibits are equally outstanding. Even Neil “got it.” Leaving the Burpee, the Guys hopped over to the Discovery Center Museum for a quick look. Too old to be parents of rambunctious preschoolers (but not a grandparent -- Alan), the Getaway Guys got a kick out of the din and happy chaos. Both were impressed with the excellence of this interactive institution.

rock4Having spent an inordinate amount of time finding Camp Grant/Seth Atwood Park, the Getaway road warriors arrived at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in time to witness its closing, thereby necessitating another pleasant Rockford trip on April 30, 2010. Along with Holly Clayson (Neil’s wife), they first indulged in a delicious and cost effective lunch (Alan’s litmus test) in the Seasons Restaurant and then toured the premises accompanied by insightful Kathy Boyd, the Tour, Volunteer and Office Manager. Established in 1978 by Linda and John Anderson and designed by Hoichi Kurisu, the Anderson Japanese Gardens, with endless nooks and crannies, are less crowded (2009 attendance 40,000) than the Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden. According to Ms. Boyd, the Gardens were designed to be more therapeutic than tourist attraction and is dedicated to opportunities for personal reflection and contemplation. Much larger than a typical Japanese garden, the Anderson accommodates a fair number of visitors but remains tranquil, reflective and contemplative. The Anderson is another “must see to appreciate” Rockford attraction.

rock5With an hour to spare before closing, the Guys and Holly visited the Midway Village Museum, not far from the Anderson. On 137 acres, the Midway features 26 authentic period buildings from the late 19th to the early 20th centuries and a museum dedicated to the history of Rockford. The buildings are a cross representation of small town commercial structures and residences of consequence to the growth of Rockford. The Midway Village is open to the public between May 1 and August 1. The Museum proper is open all year round.

rock10Rockford is familiar with good times and bad. A hub of industrial activity, until the Great Depression brought widespread unemployment and shuttered factories, the Forest City bounced back during and after World War II only to fall victim to a globalized economy and the transference of labor to cheaper markets during the last quarter century. Currently re-inventing itself, Rockford has embarked upon an admirable effort to make itself a hub of cultural activities, an endeavor that seems to be working very well.

Due to time constraints a visit to the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum at 411 Kent Street wasn’t possible. The Tinker is open Tuesday thru Sunday and tours are given at 1, 2 & 3 pm. From all accounts this house-museum should be included on a Rockford visit. June 2010


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