Friday, July 13, 2018

The 1890's General Store

By Kathryn Albright

Rockford, Illinois is a twenty-minute drive through the country from my front door. One of my favorite places to visit there is Midway Village.

Photos by Jim Phillip

Before Rockford became known as Rockford, it was called Midway Village. Travelers would stop here on their trip between Chicago and Galena. (Galena is on the Mississippi River.)  Here the Rock River had a rocky bottom which made passage (fording) easier than in other areas. Hence the second name, and the one that stuck for the growing town, Rockford.

That is why Rockford calls its living history museum Midway Village. The small town is made up of several original buildings along with a few replicas that portray life in the 1890’s. There is law office, sheriff’s office, blacksmith, hotel, newspaper office, fire station, school and hospital in the town. A short walk away, there are several homes and two farms. Many fascinating events are hosted – the nation’s largest WWII reenactment, a WWI reenactment, school programs, weddings, and garden tours. The docents are a wealth of information about life in earlier times. In a recent tour of the general store, I learned of a few sayings that have lasted until our time.

For instance, I thought the phrase “The whole nine yards” had something to do with football, although why ten yards wouldn’t be better, I’m not sure … sigh. (Laugh if you must.) What it means is that a woman wants to purchase the entire bolt of fabric for sewing.

What about “Get down to brass tacks?” The docent pointed out a row of brass tacks that were placed every six inches on the counter’s edge near the cash register. They were used to measure fabric, ribbons, and string before cutting. You can barely see them in the picture above.

“Cash on the barrel-head.” The pickle barrel that is. Can you see the large pickle barrel in the picture above? Nothing was ever stored on the pickle barrel because it was opened so often to buy pickles. See how the lid has a flat area with a slight edge? Because of that edge, coins wouldn’t roll off.
 Most small town general stores doubled as the post office.
The docent is standing before the post office boxes.

Illinois is known as “The Prairie State.” When the first settlers arrived here from the east, they thought the land must not be any good for farming. They were used to forests that they had to cut down in order to farm the land. But here they saw grass, grass, and more grass which might be good for livestock…but crops? Any trees they saw hugged the rivers. I guess that is a warning about first impressions! Now the Midwest is known as the world’s “bread basket” because its soil is the richest in the world and crops grow exceedingly well.

Here I am standing before a patch of natural prairie in northern Illinois! Look at the height of that grass! I cannot imagine walking beside a wagon and trying to get through it. I also cannot imagine coming upon a snake!

What is your state “famous” for?

The countdown has started for my next book ~ Wedding at Rocking S Ranch
It releases soon ~ July 17th!    Follow the link for an excerpt!

You can pre-order it HERE! (And at a special, reduced pre-order rate!)

Have a safe, fun summer!

1 comment:

  1. Illinois has so many wonderful historic places. I've always loved the fort at Naperville.

    I love the general store and thank you for sharing the photos and for me memories. Doris