The Rockford Files

There Goes the Neighborhood

The first time I drove to Rockford, on a cold, gray, slushy November day six years ago, I entered the city the way most people do.  Heading west on I-90, I got off at the East State Street exit, where I was greeted by a horrifying metal sign, in muted oranges, purples, and greens, welcoming me to Rockford.  As I headed west on State Street, every big-box store and chain restaurant known to man rose up before me, starting with the granddaddy of them all: Wal-Mart.  My spirits sank as I drove along, and I seriously considered turning around and going home to Michigan.  Still, as I went farther west, I noticed that there seemed to be more local businesses in older buildings.

Then I hit Fairview Avenue.  Sitting at the light at Fairview and State, I could see a gentle, wooded hill rising before me, leading into a 1950’s to 60’s era neighborhood.  As the light changed and I continued west, the years melted away: the 60’s, the 50’s, the 40’s, a bit of the 30’s, and then the 20’s.  A wonderful progression of architectural styles stretched along East State.  This, I decided, was indeed a place I could live.

As I entered the heart of the East State Street residential district, I topped a hill and came to a stop at the light at State and Welty.  A spectacular old two-story white mansion sat on the south side of the street, with two low wings and...

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