Veterans Memorial Hall
Backstory and Context
This Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall stands due to the vision of Winnebago County residents who wished to honor the memory of their 3,178 veterans for their service and sacrifice to the Union in the War of the Rebellion. Its purpose was to provide a building where records and relics of different wars could be preserved and to be used for other civic purposes. The idea was first proposed by Reverend M. P. Kinney, of the Second Congregational Church of Rockford on May 20, 1866. However it would take thirty-seven years for this memorial to become a reality. Construction began late 1901 and took just over eighteen months to complete with the building commission accepting the building on June 2, 1903.
On the morning of June 3, 1903 the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt dedicated this new structure to a crowd of over 50,000 stating 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.” On that day Memorial Hall was officially opened to the public. Over the hundred plus years of its existence, Memorial Hall has hosted 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 1966 a large stone marker commemorating the Hall’s dedication was placed on the west side of the building in front of the entrance. The Hall's future was secured when in 1974 the building was named an Illinois Historical Landmark and in 1976, Memorial Hall was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 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. In 1988 a four year, $1.5 million restoration project began in response the fact the building had started to deteriorate due to lack of maintenance.
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.
Current 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 artifacts in the collection include a World War One Chauchat light machine gun, a commemorative plaque cast of metal from the wreck of the USS Maine, items from the Spanish-American War, the Civil War and other artifacts from 20th & 21st century wars.