A new book will be released today that celebrates a city steeped in its own unique history. "Rockford" is a pictorial study of the city that was founded by Smith Lapham and was dubbed Laphamville. It follows Rockford's progress from a fledgling village to the 1960s. The book is part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series.
The book is the work of author Roberta (Bobbi) Schirado, a member of the Rockford Area Historical Society. Schirado, an active genealogist, feels a driving passion to accurately preserve the past.
"There is a loss of preserving the past," said Schirado. "The book is one way of preserving the past."
The past is now well-documented through Schirado's 128-page tribute to Rockford. The pictorial highlights the city in six chapters: The River and the Town, Business and Industry, Schools and Churches, Organizations and Groups, War and the Homefront and People.
Schirado's labor only required six months, and she gives the lion's share of the credit to the Rockford Area Historical Society's Board and the Rockford Area Historical Museum's Director Pat Frye. Schirado dedicated the book to Frye.
"She is wonderful to work with," said Schirado. "I think she knows everything and everyone in Rockford. She works tirelessly at the museum helping people find out about their ancestors and Rockford's past."
Schirado also pointed to Terry Konkle, the society's current president, as being a huge help in the process. Konkle's knowledge of Rockford is also astounding, a walking file cabinet of facts, who also has an impressive collection of memorabilia at his fingertips.
The author loved her journey through Rockford's past and points to a few facts that surprised her. One being that at one time Rockford boasted three hotels. Also intriguing to her was the Hessler building and how many actual businesses were conducted out of the one storefront. Another key surprise was how many times the Star Theater moved up and down Main Street.
Schirado is pleased with the story her book tells. "The last one that was done was in the 1960s by Homer Burch," she said. "There were pictures in it, but they were small and hard to see. We just wanted to preserve what we have."
It is easy to see why. Just looking at the pictures of Rockford's past compared to the current downtown landscape is intriguing and a tad disheartening. If the photographs hadn't captured the view, the current residents would have no clue about the people and industries that built it from dirt and lumber.
"You never know when something might not be there anymore," said Schirado.
The conclusion of the production of the book was bittersweet for Schirado.
"I am happy it (the book) is done," she said. "But it did make me sad, too. The photos in the book of the tannery are now history."
Schirado has plans to launch a Web site she is constructing www.thewrite generation.com, in the near future. She will also be in downtown Rockford to autograph copies of the book during the month of September and during Heritage Weekend (Oct. 3-4) of Harvest Festival.