Brief History of the Building of Memorial Hall

The Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum in Downtown Rockford stands as a testament to the enduring remembrance of the area's veterans. Initially conceived in October 1882, the idea for a memorial evolved from an obelisk with carved names to a multifunctional building. The memorial aspect, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, serves to preserve remembrance and keep the memory alive.

The vision gained momentum in March 1887 when County Supervisor Jackson proposed a fire-proof Memorial Hall with inscribed names—a structure adaptable for various purposes. In the spring of 1899, Thomas G. Lawler, Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Garret L. Nevius Post # 1, presented to the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors a petition signed by more than 200 veterans asking that the county build a Memorial Hall. Rockford Attorney Albert D Early drew up a bill permitting a county board to appropriate money for a memorial after the matter had been passed on by the voters of the county at a general election.

Illinois Legislator Henry Andrus was entrusted with the measure, and the bill passed both branches of the legislature. The Governor signed it without delay on July 2, 1899. Members of the GAR Nevius Post # 1 and the Women’s Relief Corps circulated petitions throughout Winnebago County to place the matter on the November ballot in 1900. The question to appropriate money to build a memorial in Rockford went before the people in November and was heartily endorsed by a margin of almost two to one. 6,021 yes 2,757 no.

A committee, formed in December 1900, selected plans from Bradley & Carpenter, designed to serve county and civic needs. The land was purchased in 1901, and despite cost considerations, the Board approved a $40,000 budget for construction and furnishings.
Construction delays pushed the completion date to June 1903. On June 2, 1903, the Building Commission formally accepted the structure, with the final cost totaling $59,136.

The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt arrived in Rockford to dedicate Memorial Hall. It is estimated that a crowd of over 50,000 people listened to his speech, marking the culmination of a community-driven effort to honor and commemorate the sacrifices of veterans. “No more fitting memorial, no more fitting monument could be erected than a hall such as this, a hall beautiful in itself, and beautiful, because of the uses to which it is consecrated, and the hall, the monument, is not only for you, just as you are not only for yourselves, your lives, your deeds, have now become part of the very fiber of the nation.” – President Theodore Roosevelt (Rockford Register Star historic archives)

The building's usage expanded over time, accommodating groups like the Federation of Women’s Clubs and Nevius Post 1. Memorial Hall has served as a home for the relics and artifacts of the soldiers from the start. The G.A.R. originally spent $1050 on glass cases to preserve the historic relics. Veterans Memorial Hall and Museum is still caretaker of the artifacts, records, photographs, and correspondences of the G.A.R.  Nevius Post 1, and many other organizations that have called the Hall home over its existence.

Rockford Register Star Historical database, multiple issues.
Meeting Minutes of Winnebago County Board of Supervisors meeting, 1900 – 1903
Notes from MarG.A.R.et Downing, “Memorial Hall Stands Tall at Age 100.”
Memorial Hall Renovation the Later Years (docx)

Below is a common statement about Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall is a living memorial to Veterans from all wars. It will serve as a constant reminder to the sacrifices given by brave men and women from Winnebago County, and a way for generations to remember and learn about their lives.

 This Stone was placed in front of Memorial Hall in 1966; it is inscribed with the following words:

"This Memorial Hall, the first of it's kind in the United States dedicated to our veterans of all wars, was completed in the year 1903 with dedication ceremonies on june third of that year by our twenty - sixth president Theodore Roosevelt with these words: "No more fitting memorial could be erected to the men who fought, than a hall such as this..... a hall beautiful because of the uses to which it is consecrated"