ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — On July 3rd, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt made the trip from Washington here to the Forest City. His travels brought him to the grand opening of Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum.
It was Winnebago County’s first building solely dedicated to service members. Now, nearly 120 years later, the museum still welcomes visitors for the same purpose.
“There’s a lot of connections that happen, you know in a building like this,” said Museum Director Scott Lewandowski.
If you take around downtown Rockford you’ll find Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum on Main Street.
“The building was built in 1903 at the request of Civil War veterans,” said Lewandowski.
The first-of-its-kind building for Winnebago County was no easy feat to create.
“What makes this building unique is that prior to Memorial Hall and the state of Illinois, the Civil War veterans were able to build memorials and monuments and put little things in parks and things like that, but they never had a building that they could build. So, it took a legislator from Rockford to go down to Springfield and get a law changed that allowed a government body to collect tax dollars and build a building,” said Lewandowski.
Thanks to just 25 cents from your property tax bill, the museum welcomes visitors from across the Stateline and the county–all eager to catch a glimpse at moments frozen in time.
“We were built to house and display the relics of the veterans in service. We are not a war memorial, we don’t glamorize war. We’re here to honor the veterans of Winnebago County,” Lewandowski explained.
With more than 40 exhibits to browse and new artifacts frequently being donated, a trip to Veterans Memorial Hall could last an hour or an entire day.
“We have old musket rifles, we have swords, we have the Cosper pistol is a good one. But it’s more about the stories, sort of the intangible things. The artifacts help tell the story, but it’s the story to me that is the most valuable,” Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski says one of the museum’s greatest artifacts is its own bones.
“The building is built out of Bedford, Indiana limestone, the same limestone as the Pentagon and other federal buildings. It’s a clean building, its architecture is strong and to me anyways with the columns and all that,” he explained.
Lewandowski says stopping by is a great way to honor the sacrifices of local veterans.
“When you’re out in public and maybe you see a guy with a hat on that says “Korea” or “Iraq” or something, and you think “well, that’s a veteran.” But you really don’t know what that person went through,” Lewandowski added.
“It does take a special type of person to sacrifice their time to serve our country. And, you know they might not make it back, you know? And that’s something that it’s kind of hard to, you know, imagine.”