As a Rockford native, I can't believe it took me 26 years to finally visit Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens. I had always heard of the cottage and had seen the grounds in passing, but my knowledge of the place abruptly stopped there. With a "just do it" mentality and a completely open summer afternoon ahead of me, I booked a tour and made my way over to Tinker.
Located off of S. Winnebago St. and along the Kent Creek in Rockford, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens has been open to the public since 1943. Before that, the cottage operated a private family home for the Tinkers from 1865-1942. My tour began in the barn where I met my lovely guide and Executive Director of the museum Samantha Hochmann. From there, we exited the barn through the basement, which were once the stables, and the fresh smell of wood hit me as hard as if I were visiting a modern-day farm. We made our way over to the cottage, stopping to appreciate Mary Tinker's rose garden along the way.
Walking up to the cottage, I was immediately impressed by the architecture and craftsmanship of the building. Inspired by his nine-month tour across Europe, Robert Tinker modeled the cottage off of the architecture that he fell in love with while in Switzerland. Robert built his home into a limestone bluff overlooking the Kent Creek, and included several unique features such as, custom-designed wood furniture, a hand-painted ceiling in the dining room mirroring the table underneath, a spiral staircase in the library constructed out of a single piece of wood, a glass conservatory addition and a suspension bridge that linked Robert's cottage with his wife's former limestone mansion across the creek.
As I explored each floor of the cottage with it's 10,000 artifacts preserved and in place as they were hundreds of years ago, I gained a perspective of what life was like back then. From the narrow staircases and small rooms to the furniture built low to the ground so that women wouldn't show their ankles - things have certainly changed. One of the most interesting pieces in the home is the Bible of Robert Tinker's grandmother which is over one hundred years old. Other points of interest include a Pre-Columbia Native American burial mound, one of the oldest trees in Illinois and the Nelson Knitting Company which was the birthplace of the famous Rockford sock monkey.
In addition to general tours, Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens also offer lectures, murder mystery nights and paranormal investigations. I took part in their most recent investigation with Haunted Rockford and Ghost Research Society. This was my first paranormal investigation and my experiences that night include the feeling of something briefly touching my ankle in the master bedroom and a constant pounding headache every time I entered the basement of the barn. Whether you believe in the paranormal or not, add it to the list of unique things to do in Rockford. Oh, and I think we all can agree that this photo of the cottage at night is incredibly eerie...
For more information about Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens and to book your next tour, click here.