Help the Roscoe Township Historical Society build a home for Roscoe's history!
Most Rockton kids, at least by middle school, can tell you who Hononegah and Stephen Mack were. Few Roscoe adults, and almost no children, can tell you who Roscoe’s founders were. Roscoe has a rich history, but too few are aware of it.
A shared sense of history binds a community together, but for too long much of Roscoe’s history was lost, or at least hidden from plain view.
In 2018, a small group banded together to create the Roscoe Township Historical Society
, and have been slowly re-discovering and amplifying our lost history.
On August 3, 1835, a New Yorker by the name of Robert J. Cross visited Stephen Mack's trading post along the Rock River and bought a claim from one of Mack's French-Canadian employees. This claim was the first made in Roscoe for the purpose of permanent settlement and cultivation. It was in the present area of Edgemere Terrace.
On September 18, 1836, Cross married Hannah Benedict. The couple had five children: John Cross, Margaret Louise Cross, William Hanna Cross, Mary Antoinette Cross, and Lewis Cross. Their first home was near the Rock River and is now gone. Around 1842 they built their second home, which still stands at 4562 Hononegah Road, and is part of a 17-acre parcel Roscoe Township purchased in 2018. The property is being developed into Founders Park
. The Cross home is being restored by the Historical Society and will serve as a museum to preserve Roscoe history.
Robert J. Cross built schools. He helped form Winnebago County. He became a State Representative. He helped write the Illinois constitution. He helped found the Winnebago County Agricultural Society. Robert J. Cross was a solid citizen and true pioneer. He lived in the home on Hononegah Road until his death in 1873. His remains lie in the southeast section of Roscoe Cemetery.
Most Roscoe folks know nothing about all that. They don’t know about Roscoe’s other early settlers - the Jenks, the Lovejoys, the Tuttles, and others. They’ve never heard of the 1858 flood that took the lives of Rev. Horatio Ilsley’s entire family and left him hanging off a tree branch far down the creek, barely conscious. And what of the indigenous people? Were they Winnebago? Pottawatomi? Did they have a village here? Or was this hunting ground?
Thankfully, Florence Lovejoy Shugars and Dorothy Hunter documented many of these stories. These determined women persistently sought to preserve Roscoe’s history but had little help. Both women have now passed. Without preservation, we lose our past. Roscoe has a history worth preserving, but it takes continued effort, and it takes funding.
The Cross homestead, the most significant physical manifestation of Roscoe’s history, came close to being razed by developers before the Township saved it. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources State Historic Preservation Office has said, “The Robert Cross Homestead is important to the local community and should be preserved.”
The Society has already replaced the roof
and the electric service. The next step is to complete the renovation of the 1940’s-era annex, to create a functional space for meetings, displays, and educational events. After completing the annex, we will restore the exterior of the original home. This will require the very delicate, specialized task of removing the white paint from the soft, porous, locally-produced red brick. The paint stripping alone will cost $36,000 and is one of the most critical aspects of the project. It must be done right. We estimate other masonry repairs and replacement or repair of windows and soffits to run an additional $59,000.
We came very close to losing this important piece of our history -- to missing out on this opportunity to build a renewed sense of community around our shared heritage. Recent events have reminded us of how precious life is and how important it is to remember those who have passed.
Our history is important to those of us who live here. We need to remember and understand what has happened, as it has shaped who we are as a community. Our shared history binds us together, and it is essential we not forget what our ancestors did because it helped make us who we are today. Knowing who labored to harvest food, who tended cattle, and who built homes is central to remembering what a hard, long road it was to transform this region.
Just remembering is not enough, though. We also need to share that history with one another to tell those stories so that they may live on. History isn't just about stuff in boxes on a shelf - it is a living, breathing thing that we can pass on to our children. We need spaces where people can learn about the past and research it for themselves if they want to.
If we don't do this, no one else will. As a community, we are responsible for preserving our past, and we need to recognize that we have a responsibility to pass on our inheritance to future generations.
Robert J. Cross was not simply a pioneer. He had a higher calling. He had a higher calling to civic duty. We can be just a little bit like Robert J. Cross; we can help to preserve our history and build our community.
Will you help preserve this unique and valuable piece of Roscoe’s history? Please donate today!