Whether you visit the history museum indoors or the Victorian village outdoors, Rockford’s amazing history museum provides many chances to engage with the stories of the people who’ve shaped our region.
Throughout the year, Midway Village Museum welcomes visitors to its quiet, peaceful grounds. The 148-acre property, found at 6799 Guilford Road, is Rockford’s largest institution for collecting, preserving and interpreting the history of this region. The museum educates and enriches the community with state-of-the-art exhibits, programs and events.
“With history, there is such an opportunity to learn from the past,” says Lonna Converso, director of marketing and social media. “You can interpret and analyze the past, and it will help you make decisions for the future. That’s one of the reasons a history museum is so important.”
Midway’s vision is to be the primary institution where Rockford’s diverse citizens gather to understand their community’s past and to discuss the challenges of the future. That’s why the museum’s exhibits, programs and events are broad-based to encourage individuals of any race, gender or ethnicity to visit.
“Your family history is American history, no matter what point in time you come to the United States,” Converso says. “Everyone is a part of the American experience.”
Visitors to Midway Village Museum can explore history by strolling through interactive exhibits in more than 20,000 square feet of gallery spaces.
One newer exhibit is “Many Faces, One Community.”
“It tells the story of people who came to Rockford and why,” Converso says. “It isn’t about a certain era. Rather, it showcases the topic of immigration and focuses on the people of Rockford.”
The touch-friendly exhibit puts visitors in the moment of arriving in America. While standing on a train platform, you can spin a wheel to determine your fate as an immigrant. Stroll along Seventh and South Main streets, visit an immigrant home, and apply for a job at the Swedish furniture factory.
Another exhibit is the “Flight Gallery,” where visitors can learn about local aviators such as Bessica Raiche, one of the first woman aviators in America. She was also a physician and talented artist. The gallery additionally showcases important airplanes from our region’s history and offers visitors an opportunity to fly a flight simulator.
“Aviation continues to be a strong industry in Rockford,” Converso says. “There are so many fascinating stories that we highlight.”
The list of interactive exhibits continues. Meet the ladies who played on the Rockford Peaches baseball team in “The Girls of Summer” exhibit, learn how Rockford’s industrial geniuses created innovative products that impacted the local and worldwide economy in the “Industrial Gallery,” and experience decades of local history in all of the museum’s other immersive exhibits.
Midway’s Victorian Village
A particularly appealing part of the museum campus is Midway’s open-air Victorian Village, where visitors can step into a rural Victorian community between the years 1890 and 1910. During the warmer months of May through August, interpreters in Victorian clothing lead tours exploring the life and culture of the period.
“Each building has historic artifacts that were used during the Victorian era,” Converso says. “When you’re on a tour, you see what these artifacts were used for, comparing these to items used today.”
Tours of the village’s 26 structures and 10 heritage gardens begin May 6 and embark every hour from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Check midwayvillage.com for complete hours of operations.
Midway Village is dedicated to educating the public about Rockford’s history. To do this, the staff and volunteers make history an experience through special events open to the public.
One noteworthy event is Midway Village’s fifth annual Great War event, held this April 8-9. The museum partners with the United States WWI Centennial Commission to feature more than 225 re-enactors portraying soldiers and civilians from the United States and Europe. Visitors have the opportunity to enter encampments, tour a reproduction 150-yard trench system and watch large-scale narrated battle re-enactments.
“World War I had a huge impact on our country, as well as our region in particular,” Converso says. “So many soldiers went through Camp Grant, which brought many people to Rockford. Plus, the impact of World War I is relevant even today in world politics.”
Midway Village has grown its WWI event to be the largest such re-enactment in the country. Other featured activities include large-scale WWI model airplane displays and flying demonstrations, displays of WWI weapons, equipment and artifacts, lectures from military experts, and even movies from the 1910s shown on original equipment.
“We’re talking about educating the public, and the re-enactors have a quality knowledge base that makes for a quality program,” Converso says. “We’re fortunate to have a group of individuals who place so much importance on accuracy.”
A similar event happens later in the year with World War II Days. From Sept. 23-24 this year, visitors can learn how WWII impacted our nation and our region in particular.
“I always remember the World War II veterans who are moved by their experience at our World War II Days re-enactment,” Converso says. “To me, it’s very moving when the vets want to be a part of what we’re doing.”
“Spectacular Saturday” is a newer program at Midway Village. Each month, visitors can complete a craft project and learn about music, dance, food and fun history facts from a different country. The events tie in with the Museum’s “Many Faces, One Community” exhibit.
“We started Spectacular Saturdays to highlight that exhibit,” Converso says. “It’s a positive experience to learn about other people and cultures.”
This year’s featured countries are Japan, Switzerland, Morocco, Egypt, Chile, Australia, France, Turkey, Portugal, Mongolia, Thailand and Iran.
Midway Village Museum hosts many more events throughout the year. Its community picnic, which is free and open to the public, is on July 23. The History Explorers event is on June 10, and the family-oriented Magical Garden event is on Aug. 12. To learn more about these and other events, visit midwayvillage.com.
As the present becomes the past, Midway Village hopes to further reach individuals in the region.
“We always hope people will see us as their primary history institution when it comes to our community,” Converso says. “We hope teachers look to us for field trips, we hope to grow our endowment, and we hope to always be a source of education where learning is fun and engaging.”