Swedes played an important role in the founding of Rockford, Ill. How the first settlers ended up here is an interesting story. Originally planning to settle in the Chicago area, they were forced to continue on to the end of the rail line by a cholera epidemic. This was very lucky for the future city of Rockford. At their peak, native born Swedes made up 22 percent of the population and even today, about 9% of the population is at least partly Swedish.
The Erhlander Home Museum, maintained by the Swedish Historical Society, is an excellent example of how an immigrant prospered in the city of Rockford. John Erhlander, along with other Swedes, owned or managed 90 furniture factories which were instrumental in the growing prosperity of Rockford. After living in Rockford for 20 years, he was able to build a large brick Italianate style home in the popular neighborhood of Haight Village where the mayor was one of his neighbors.
The house remained in the Erhlander family until 1951 when John’s daughter Mary, no longer able to maintain the house herself, moved out. She allowed the Swedish Historical Society to hold meetings at the house. They opened it to visitors in 1953 and the Prime Minister of Sweden was one of the first people to visit. After Mary’s death in 1968, murals that she had painted on the walls were discovered and they are visible to visitors today. She was a well-known local artist.
The first floor of the house has many pieces of original furniture and looks as if the family still loves there. Upstairs there is a bedroom that looks like Mary just stepped out but there are also other rooms set up like a museum.
One of the rooms tells the story of Swedish immigration to the United States and to Rockford in particular. There is also a collection of Swedish dolls in the costumes of their particular area of Sweden. Also on display is a collection of wood carvings by Axel Farb and Oscar Frisk as well as clocks and watches that were made in Rockford.
One interesting fact that you will learn here is about the “sock monkey”. While they are not manufactured here or even invented here, the iconic sock with the red toe was and Rockford is very proud of the part they play.