, also known as Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall
and the Winnebago County War Memorial
, is located in Rockford, Illinois
. It was built from 1901 to 1903, and originally dedicated to those who served in the Civil War
and the Spanish American War
. It is said to be the first of its kind in the United States. It is located on the west side of Rockford, one block from the Rock River
, across the street from the Rockford Public Library, formerly the Carnegie Library
. Although it was initially conceived to honor just those from Winnebago County, Illinois
who served in the American Civil War, supporters added a listing of county Spanish-American War
veterans before building was begun. Other war veterans were later memorialized inside and outside the Hall. The War Memorial is one of the few war memorials that is not a monument. The building is administered by the Winnebago County Board through the Memorial Hall Board of Trustees, and was dedicated on June 3
by President Theodore Roosevelt
The War Memorial is a two story building with a basement. The Hall's west facade (front) and the east side facade are identical, except for the words 'Memorial Hall' and the year '1902' engraved on front of the building. The first floor functions as a museum and has rooms lined with 18 plaques containing the names of area individuals who served with the Union during the American Civil War. The plaques also list the names of those who died in the war. The second floor has an auditorium with a stage, and the basement has space for offices and storage. Offices for the Disabled American Veterans
and the Veterans of Foreign Wars
are located in the basement. All three floors are serviced by an elevator. On the building's east lawn sits a Howitzer
and a memorial plaque for the Blue Star Highway
. A large flagpole graces the front entrance and a smaller flag pole is found in the rear.
The interior was elaborately painted with symbols and names associated with the Grand Army of the Republic and the Civil War. In the main hall, along the top of the walls, are listed the names of over 20 battles that involved citizens from Winnebago County.
The idea of a war memorial in Winnebago County was brought up as early as 1866 when W.P. Kinney, minister of the Second Congregational Church, proposed some sort of monument to honor the memory of the 2,109 soldiers and sailors from Winnebago County that served in the American Civil War
. In March 1877 John D. Jackson made a proposal to the Winnebago County Board seeking $25,000 for the construction of a soldier’s monument.
In 1900 the question of a Memorial Hall was put to voters of Winnebago County; the vote ended in favor of a memorial, at 6,021 to 2,757. In December of that year, Thomas G. Lawler, commander of the Garrett L. Nevius Post #1 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), presented a petition with signatures from than 200 veterans requesting the county build a Memorial Hall. The petition asked that the hall not only act as a memorial for veterans of the county but also be used for other county purposes.
Construction on the Greek revival style War Memorial began in early 1901. The facades were built with Indiana or Bedford limestone quarried from the Bedford, Indiana quarry. Construction of Memorial Hall was completed in 18 months for a total cost of $59,136.
In February 1903, Mr. J.B. Whitehead, representing the hall and the County Board, extended an invitation to dedicate the building to the sitting President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. On June 3
the president arrived in Rockford via train, which was met by a reception committee of leading citizens from Winnebago County and Rockford. He and his party were transported by open carriages
to Memorial Hall. Entering from the east side of the building, facing the Carnegie Library and the Rock River, Roosevelt took a moment to inspect and admire the interior of the building before exiting to deliver his dedication speech.
The president told his listeners that, "No more fitting memorial could be erected to the memory of the men who fought, than a hall such as this - a hall beautiful because of the uses to which it is consecrated." Afterward. he raised a flag which had been flown on the Milwaukee-class vessel USS Winnebago during the Civil War.
With the ceremony concluded, the presidential party returned to their carriages and took a roundabout way back to the train to wave and greet children that were lining the streets before departing Rockford 51 minutes after his arrival. Roosevelt returned to Rockford two more times; once on April 6, 1912 and again on September 26, 1917, when he addressed the troops at nearby Camp Grant during World War I.
On the same day that Roosevelt dedicated Memorial Hall, the Nevius Post #1 of the GAR held its first meeting in the building. Over the hundred plus years of its existence, Memorial Hall has hosted a total of over 60 different veterans or associated military groups for various events and meetings. The Hall was threatened with demolition in the 1960s when the County Board proposed to demolish the hall in favor of building a parking ramp in order to extend the parking lot located next to it. In the 1980s, to help offset the costs of its upkeep, the Winnebago County Board rented the first floor offices to the Rockford Convention and Visitor's Bureau until early 2004. The Hall's future was further assured when in 1974 the building was named an Illinois Historical Landmark. In 1976, Memorial Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places
in time for the United States Bicentennial
In 1988 a four year, $1.5 million restoration project began in response to the parking garage attempt and the fact the building had started to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. In 1973 a garden dedicated to the veterans of the Vietnam War was dedicated and in 1966 a large stone marker commemorating the Hall’s dedication was placed on the west side of the building in front of the entrance.
Exhibits include the 18 bronze plaques containing the names of those from Winnebago County who fought and died in the Civil War, memorabilia extending from the Revolutionary War to the current Iraq War. Some unique articles on display include a Word War One Chauchat light machine gun, a commemorative plaque cast of metal from the wreck of the USS Maine, items from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War on display with other artifacts from 20th & 21st century wars, as well as several artifacts handled and used by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Elaborate paintings were initially part of the interior however some have been covered up or painted over or were irreparablly lost due to the lack of maintenance and pollution. In November 2001 the Memorial Hall Board of Trustees was formed to oversee the Hall, its maintenance and its exhibits as well as to author a report on future operations. In January 2005 Memorial Hall was officially reopened to the public for guided tours. Since then many veterans, political and military-associated groups have taken advantage of the facilities.
The 100th Anniversary of the dedication of the War Memorial was celebrated in 2003. An invitation was sent to President George W. Bush. He declined, but sent a congratulatory letter which was converted into a plaque, now displayed along with the Roosevelt dedication remarks next to the east(rear) entrance. The celebration ceremonies included a Theodore Roosevelt imitator who gave the same speech that President Roosevelt gave at the original dedication.