Tinker Swiss Cottage in Rockford, Ill. is designed to look as if it were in Switzerland. As a matter of fact, it is one of the few houses of Swiss style still in existence in the United States. Robert Tinker became enamored with the design style on a trip to Switzerland and decided to create one in of all places, Rockford. In his own words, "I only wanted to build a home that would give Rockford a name." The location of the gardens is historic, it belonged to one of the founders of the city of Rockford, Germanicus Kent. The house itself is located on a bluff overlooking Kent Creek.
Robert is an interesting man. He was born in Hawaii, his parents were missionaries and he came to Rockford to work for the company that John Manny had built in Rockford. He married Mary Door Manny, the rich widow of John, 8 years his senior. She had a mansion that had belonged to her first husband but he wanted to have a place that he created. The Tinkers had no children of their own but they raised Mrs. Tinker's two nieces. After Mrs. Tinker and one of the nieces died, Robert married the other niece, Jessie, and together they adopted a child. He became a father at the ripe old age of 72.
The 20 room cottage was donated by the second Mrs. Tinker to the Rockford Park District. It opened as a museum in 1943. It is a time capsule of the Victorian age. The Tinkers were the only people to ever live in the house (75 years) and it is filled with original furnishings, portraits, and diaries. It almost feels as if the family is out for the day and will be back at any moment.
The house must be visited on a guided tour. All tours begin in the barn. The first room you enter into is the conservatory. It was the last addition that the Tinkers made to the home. Of particular interest is the library with its soaring ceiling. A railing running around the second level is created from carved wood. A gorgeous wood staircase connects the library to the second-floor balcony. Surprisingly, there are very few books in the library but the Tinker book collection does contain some rare first additions.
On most days, there would not be two busloads of people visiting but that was the reality the day that we visited. It did affect our ability to move from room to room and also to get our guide to answer questions. In spite of that, it was an amazing experience.
Many special details around the house are special including painted ceilings and wonderful fireplaces. Look for the portrait of Robert Tinker in the formal parlor.
You can visit two levels of Swiss Cottage and also the gardens. The museum is open every day except Monday. Check the website for hours and prices. A variety of special events take place at the museum seasonally as well as exhibits.