Check out these unique destinations that reflect the genuine character of our region.
Sock Monkey Madness
Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilford Road, Rockford, (815) 397-9112, midwayvillage.com
Cute, cuddly and full of sole, sock monkeys are ubiquitous throughout Rockford, and they owe their existence to this city.
Their story began in 1857, when Swedish immigrant John Nelson arrived in Rockford. He invented and patented an automatic knitting machine, then formed the Nelson Knitting Co. in 1871. In 1932, the company began using red yarn in the heels to make its product more distinctive. Depression-era crafters started using the socks to make monkey dolls, with the red heels serving as the monkeys’ mouths.
In 1955, Nelson Knitting officially received a patent for the sock monkey design and included instructions on how to make them with every pair of socks. With that, monkey madness took hold, and the podiatric primates began appearing in homes across America.
Rockford takes its title as the Official Home of the Sock Monkey seriously. Midway Village hosts an exhibit with sock monkey artifacts including original patents. The museum is also home to a sock monkey festival and a wide collection of primates, including Soxanne, a fiberglass monkey that welcomes visitors to the museum, and Nelson, a 7-foot wool simian named after the Swedish inventor whose invention put Rockford socks on the map.
1967 Tornado Disaster Monument
Outside Belvidere High School, 1500 East Ave., Belvidere
On April 21, 1967, a deadly EF4 tornado ripped through the city of Belvidere.
It claimed 24 lives and left more than 400 people injured. The tornado’s trail of destruction demolished almost 130 homes and damaged hundreds more.
The twister was only on the ground for 3 minutes, but its timing could not have been worse, striking Belvidere High School at 3:50 p.m., just as students were making their way outside after classes. School buses carrying children from high school, middle school and elementary schools were tossed into the sky.
In all, 17 children lost their lives.
Forty years after the disaster, residents and survivors constructed a memorial to the victims outside Belvidere High School. The stainless-steel tornado sculpture, standing more than 6 feet tall and composed of 25 separate rings, is engraved with the names of the 24 people who lost their lives in the disaster.
Located just off East Avenue, the sculpture stands in a public space that can be visited by anyone who wishes to pay their respects to one of Boone County’s most fateful tragedies.
513 College St., Milton, Wis., (608) 868-2354
Although Milton College closed its doors in 1982, the 18 buildings that once made up its campus have been preserved, and they now serve as tributes to the Milton College legacy.
Founded in 1844 as Du Lac Academy, the school received its state charter as Milton College in 1867. More than 325 Academy students fought with the Union Army during the Civil War – a very high percentage of the male population of the school when the war began in 1861.
The school evolved over the decades, hitting a high point during the post-World War II era when it was known as a small, private liberal arts college renowned for music, theater and athletics.
Enrollment peaked in 1969 at 869 students. Despite adding new facilities, the school declined through the 1970s, and in 1982 it closed after losing accreditation and acquiring millions in debt.
At the time, Milton College had the distinction of being the longest-running institute of higher learning in Wisconsin.
Today, the 167-year-old Main Hall is owned by the Milton College Preservation Society and functions a museum to preserve and share the unique history of Milton College.