ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) – On July 3, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt made the trip from Washington to Forest City. His travels took him to the inauguration of the Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum.
It was the first building in Winnebago County dedicated solely to the military. Today, almost 120 years later, the museum still welcomes visitors for the same purpose.
“There’s a lot of bonding, you know, in a building like this,” museum director Scott Lewandowski said.
If you take a tour of downtown Rockford, you will find the Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum on Main Street.
“The building was constructed in 1903 at the request of Civil War veterans,” Lewandowski said.
The one-of-a-kind building for Winnebago County was no easy task to create.
“What makes this building unique is that before Memorial Hall and the state of Illinois, Civil War veterans could build memorials and monuments and put small things in parks and gardens. things like that, but they never had a building they could build, so it took a legislator from Rockford to get to Springfield and get a law changed that allowed a government agency to collect taxpayer money. and build a building, ”Lewandowski said.
With just 25 cents off your property tax bill, the museum welcomes visitors from across the Stateline and the county, all eager to get a glimpse of frozen moments.
“We were built to house and display the relics of serving veterans. We are not a war memorial, we do not glorify war. We are here to honor the veterans of Winnebago County, ”explained Lewandowski.
With over 40 exhibits to browse and new artifacts frequently donated, a trip to the Veterans Memorial Hall could last an hour or a whole day.
“We have old musket guns, we have swords, we have the Cosper pistol, it’s a good one. But it’s more about stories, sort of intangible stuff. Artifacts help tell the story, but it’s the story to me that is most valuable, ”Lewandowski said.
Lewandowski says one of the museum’s greatest artifacts is his own bones.
“The building is constructed of Bedford, Indiana limestone, the same limestone as the Pentagon and other federal buildings. It’s a clean building, its architecture is strong and for me at least with the columns and all that, ”he explained.
Lewandowski says stopping is a great way to honor the sacrifices of local veterans.
“When you’re in public and you maybe see a guy with a hat on that says ‘Korea’ or ‘Iraq’ or something, and you think ‘Well he’s a veteran’. But you really don’t know what that person went through, ”Lewandowski added.
“It takes a special type of person to sacrifice their time to serve our country. And, you know they might not come back, you know? And that’s something that’s pretty hard to, you know, imagine.