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History

History

The village of Rockton was incorporated in 1872 and the Town Hall erected in 1893 at a cost of three thousand dollars. By this time, the village had grown from a small settlement in 1836 to a town boasting many businesses and industries, a railroad which connected them to the outside world, schools, a newspaper, a library, and several churches.

Stephen Mack Jr.

The first known white settler in the area was Vermont native Stephen Mack Jr., who came from Detroit as an agent of the American Fur Company. After a short stay near Grand Detour he arrived here around 1835 with his Native American wife, Hononegah. A brief stay at Bird’s Grove, now Hononegah Forest Preserve, was followed by a move to a bluff on the south side of the river near the confluence of the Rock and the Pecatonica where he hoped to build a permanent settlement. The area was first known as Pecatonica and later called Macktown. The large frame home he built there in 1839 for his family still stands along with the limestone trading post built by Mr. William Whitman, both a part of the Macktown Living History Education Center.

The Talcott Family

The Talcott Family

Shortly after Mack’s arrival, William Talcott and his son Thomas arrived from Rome, NY. They too were attracted by the prospect of water power and chose to settle on the north bank of the Rock. Historical records of the Talcotts, including those who arrived later (Sylvester, Wait, Samuel, and Henry) with their families can be found at the Rockton Township Historical Society museum.

The Talcott influence can be seen throughout the village, from the Talcott Free Library to the landmark Old Stone Church organized in 1837 as the Congregational Church. Early maps showing the locations of various mills for grinding grain, sawing lumber, making paper and so on, as well as an 1860s era Webber Angle Sieve separator manufactured at a mill on the race in Rockton, are on display at the local historical society museum.

Wagon Wheel Resort

No history of Rockton is complete without the mention of Walt Williamson’s Wagon Wheel Resort, begun as a gas station, small tourist court and hamburger stand in 1936. The resort grew to include a rustic lodge with three hundred and fifty guest rooms including the Bridal Suite with a Swan Bed, numerous restaurants, Candy Kitchen, barber and beauty shops, gift shops, bowling alley, tennis court, two swimming pools, stable and riding trails, golf course and adjacent air strip. The Wagon Wheel was the go-to spot for both locals and celebrities alike. Visitors from surrounding states and the Chicago area traveled long distances to enjoy the entertainment and activities. It was perhaps best known for its indoor skating rink as the training spot for Olympic skater, Janet Lynn. The Wagon Wheel Cardinals professional hockey team was the 1963 National Champion team. While its physical presence is no longer a part of Rockton, the memories of “The Wheel” linger in items on display at the historical society museum and in a yearly “Remembering the Wagon Wheel” day held there.

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