Stateline Travelers – Part 3 – This Old House and Me
(Part of the series Stateline Travelers.)
by Vicki Ruthe Hahn – SGS Stateline Genealogy Sorter
September 5, 2016
Having always wanted to live in an older house again, my youngest child and I moved north to live in the second oldest (double-thick brick with limestone foundation) house built (1839) in Roscoe, Illinois. It had really deep window thresholds. Any electric wiring had to be be inserted into chiseled lines, or in piping. It had radiant heat, and 6″ pine floors that had enough dips that carpeting was the only feasible floor covering. I enjoyed the character of the historic house, and enjoyed living in it.
I later donated the (mostly handwritten) 160 year old mortgage transcript to the (North Suburban Library District) Roscoe Public Library. I am not sure if it stayed there, or went to the Loves Park Library Local History Room. I did not take advantage of the chance to do a genealogy of my Roscoe house at that time, but wish I had. Maybe later. Hint – you can research the history/genealogy of any house. Go to all of the local public libraries, genealogy and historical societies, and the County Courthouse to find out more about your house’s history. (Or the histories of your ancestor’s and their houses.) There are tax transcripts, City Directories, County Histories, old phone books, also GIS maps online at those places. Not every facility will have all of the documents or books. Compare the photographs.
Vicki’s Roscoe, Illinois 1839 Greek Revival house.
My house’s outside brick walls have a stabilizing black metal S brace at either side (painted over in white by the previous owner). These were similar to many from that era, including the braces on the nearby Whitman Trading Post in Macktown, Rockton, Illinois. Both of these houses were Greek Revival style and built in the same year 1839. These two houses point out that Stateline connections were historic.
The Whitman Trading Post, part of a living-history center near Rockton, Illinois
(Note the similarities of the original part of my house to the right in the previous photograph to the house/building on the left in the photograph above.)
I do not remember the name of the first owner of my Roscoe, Illinois house but he, and Stephen Mack of Macktown, (Rockton) Illinois, and Caleb Bloggett of Beloit, Wisconsin were early pioneer contemporaries, and probably interacted. (They would be the few early settlers in that whole stateline area, and probably would have traded – even with the much longer than 45 minutes travel time that we do now. Hint – research nearby houses and people of the same era to get an idea what architecture and life was like for your ancestors.
(What a nice surprise to find the appropriate article below, as I know an Anna Carlson, who is very likely this author, as her family is very interested in history. If so, (or not), thanks Anna. I will have to ask your Mom next time I see her.)
(Article from http://www.lib.niu.edu/1999/ihy990450.html, by Anna Carlson, Heritage School, Rockford ):
“Stephen Mack was the first white settler in northern Illinois. He came to the Rock River Valley in the early 1820s as a fur trader. He was heading for Bird’s Grove but missed a turn and ended at Grand Detour. He traded with the Potawatomi and married the Indian princess Hononegah. In 1835, after the Black Hawk War, Mack founded the town of Pecatonica where the Pecatonica River flows into the Rock River in Winnebago County. It came to be known as Macktown.
In 1839 he built a Greek Revival home, which was the largest frame house west of Chicago at the time. He also established a ferry across the Rock River and later built a bridge. He was supposed to receive money for it from the state, but he never did. In 1851 the bridge was washed out. Rockton was a town across the river founded by the Talcotts. Rockton was the rival that survived Macktown. After Mack’s death in 1850, the town was slowly deserted.
Today Mack’s house and the trading post survive. The Rockton Historical Society http://rocktontownshiphistoricalsociety.com/ and the Winnebago County Forest Preserve restored them. Macktown is the only community from the 1830s that is standing in northern Illinois without subsequent development. After Macktown’s demise, it was farmed and in 1926 became part of Macktown Forest Preserve. Re-creating this time period is difficult because there are few records from the 1820s and 1830s. There was no courthouse yet, because Winnebago did not become a county until 1836.”
I have heard that my historic Ralston house had been the first meeting place of the local Methodist church, a button shop, and maybe a post office. The original house was a small 2-story farmhouse with a limestone foundation over a dirt crawlspace. It was about 15′ x 25′. The front door location was changed, and a porch and living room added on later. The original house looks very similar to the Whitman Trading Post/house – compare the photographs above. They were built in the same era.
The first floor had a front room (living room/dining room/bedroom?) which probably had a wood burning stove in the middle of the room, with a small pantry/storage room at the rear. The smaller room became a full bathroom later. For many decades there was an outhouse. There was an outside door from each of those rooms, with the smaller one getting bricked up into a bathroom window later.
A steep, narrow ladder-like stairway went up from the hallway between the two rooms to the two bedrooms on the second floor. This was remodeled into a more modern – normal wide stairway much later. One upper bedroom was probably split later to became even smaller when an second indoor ½ bath was added. Both upstairs rooms had low angled plastered ceilings with no attic above them. The brick stove chimney through the middle kept those rooms warm. There were no closets in any room because of tradition and to prevent extra tax charges. (Closets were added later.)
The dirt crawlspace was dug down into a basement with more limestone added to the foundation walls, and the floor was cemented. A living room was added onto the large downstairs room putting the staircase into the center of the house with an inside basement stairway. Later an attached double garage and another separate double garage were added.
The original separate brick kitchen room (a small house behind the main house) was eventually connected up to the rest of the house by adding a dining room and den (4th bedroom) to the living room (with crawlspaces under.) This created an open flower garden alcove (where the outside basement stairs and water pump had been) with the house walls on three sides. There had been a barn, a root cellar, outhouse, and bee hives.
We discovered that the cement barn floor was still there, 8″ under dirt, when we tried to rototill up some grass on the raised barn foundation hill to plant some shrubs. The previous owner had built a small toboggan run on the top of the four foot hill. My grandchildren from Arizona enjoyed the novelty of sledding down the hill on a snowy Illinois visit.
The farm was right next to a (now removed) road for stagecoaches that went from behind the house (in front of our neighbors), across the road in front of our house to the brick stagecoach stop two houses down. Our neighbors were descendants of the original farmhouse builders behind our house, and shared stories of the houses’ histories.
That stagecoach inn is now a residence right on the corner of the main (original) cross-roads of Main Street and Bridge Street. Main Street became the two-lane Highway 51, which was the main route north from Rockford, IL to Beloit, WI.
Interurban Streetcar Trains were an important connection between those (and other area) communities between about 1900 and 1935.
(Quote from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interurban):
“The interurban (or radial railway) is a type of electric railway, with streetcar-like light electric self-propelled railcars which run within and between cities or towns. They were prevalent in North America between 1900 and 1925 and were used primarily for passenger travel between cities and their surrounding suburban and rural communities. Limited examples existed in Europe and Asia. Interurban as a term encompassed the companies, their infrastructure, and the cars that ran on the rails.
The interurban, especially in the United States, was a valuable cultural institution. Most roads and town streets were unpaved, and transportation was by horse-drawn carriages and carts. The interurban provided vital transportation links between the city and countryside. In 1915, 15,500 miles (24,900 km) of interurban railways were operating in the United States. For a time, interurban railways were the fifth-largest industry in the United States.
By 1930, most interurbans were gone with few surviving into the 1950s. Oliver Jensen, author of American Heritage History of Railroads in America, commented that “…the automobile doomed the interurban whose private tax paying tracks could never compete with the highways that a generous government provided for the motorist.””
Highway 51 was very busy with cars, until the new four-lane Highway 251 was constructed two blocks away on the edge of Roscoe. Hint – the main roads change in history, as do modes of transportation. These (and the establishment of railroad stops) affected the history and success of towns. And I find Wikipedia helpful for a quick (unauthenticated) source of historic explanations.
History of Roscoe, Illinois
Roscoe Illinois Chamber of Commerce – http://local.townsquarepublications.com/illinois/roscoe/main.html
“The Roscoe area was first settled along the Rock River in 1835, and named for one of its early settlers. As Roscoe grew, it became a stagecoach stop for travelers heading west. By the first decade of the 20th Century, Roscoe continued its growth along the interurban railroad, with daily service being supplied by the Rockford, Beloit & Janesville Railway. The advent of the automobile eventually forced the interurban out of business, with the last car passing through Roscoe in October 1930. The Village of Roscoe was incorporated in 1965…”
- “Our Golden History. South Beloit, Illinois: Its History and Legends 1835-1967 , 1967, by
- “Rockford & Interurban Railway (Images of Rail)“, Mar 23, 2015 , by Mike Schafer and Brian Landis
“The Story of Roscoe”, 1987, by Florence Lovejoy Shugars, Edited by Dorothy Warner Hunter (See also the list of Pioneer names, and Bibliography of Roscoe History sources. http://www.ralstongenealogy.com/roscoestory.htm
We had several visitors who had a history with the Roscoe house, and who shared stories. Relatives of those who had lived there, and folks just interested in it’s history would stop by. My husband and I just had such a visit to our home in Wisconsin. Hint – get visitor’s contact information to learn more about your house history later. And talk to your neighbors who have lived there awhile.
Neighbors, my father, and architecturally minded people helped us decipher the house and additions. Hint – you could hire a house inspector or architect to explain about the house architecture and additions.
The previous owner, who had done most of the many recent improvements, left us documenting photographs of the remodeling process. Photographs of your house or neighborhood may be found in (local) historic newspapers.
Sometimes handymen, or the house’s residents, would write notes on the walls (children’s heights and ages, memorials of them being there) , or leave keepsakes in cubbies behind insulation/remodelings for later folks to find. A local history buff offered to search my attic for historic relics, but I declined because it was full of new insulation, which did not faze him. Hint – you may find historic photographs, drawings, or descriptions of your house at the local library or in the house.
A Library patron once brought me a 5″ ceramic plate stamped with a commemorative picture of the historic Carnegie Beloit Public Library. (That was the first time someone from the public said , “I hear that you are the Library Historian.”)
These plates had been sold decades ago to raise money for this Library . (It is now on the Beloit Area People Bookcase in the Beloit Public Library.) To see more, click on these links:
“Libraries were a common subject for souvenir china. In the early 20th century when Andrew Carnegie and others were helping communities build hundreds of new libraries, those buildings became objects of civic pride. Local community stores (general stores, jewelry stores, gift stores) would arrange to have souvenir items of community landmarks, including libraries, made for resale in their stores. Most of the library china was made by companies in Germany or England. The quality of the china and the processes used varied. The poorer quality items just involved the transfer of an image design to the item, and the same image was used on many different items (cups, plates, etc.). Some items were of higher quality and were hand painted.”
The woman had found the plate in her attic next to a deteriorated leather wallet that disintegrated as soon as she touched it. A lost archive from a historic handyman.
You never know what you will find out about your house, your family, your town, and local history.