PRAIRIE GARDENER: Tinker gardens is one of six gardens you can visit while in Rockford, Ill.

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Robert Hall Tinker, longtime Rockford businessman, found a short-cut to fame and fortune. He married the widow of his boss and achieved both. His wife was the widow of John Manny, who was the inventor of the reaper and who got c...

ROCKFORD, Ill. -- Robert Hall Tinker, longtime Rockford businessman, found a short-cut to fame and fortune. He married the widow of his boss and achieved both. His wife was the widow of John Manny, who was the inventor of the reaper and who got caught up in a long-term legal clash with Cyrus McCormick, who made a similar claim. Manny won.

How he came into his fortune isn't important, but what Tinker left behind is a treasure trove of a time long gone. In 1865, Tinker built a Swiss cottage, perching it high on a limestone bluff overlooking Kent Creek in Rockford. Tinker's inspiration came from an 1862 tour of Europe where he fell in love with the architecture of Switzerland. Today, his cottage is one of a handful of Swiss-style homes from the 1800s remaining in the country. The former barn has been converted into a visitor center and gift shop.

The cottage is a sight to behold as Grand Forks residents who took part in a Senior Center-sponsored trip discovered earlier this autumn. Filled with original furnishings, artwork, diaries and household items; the cottage is a rich time capsule of life a century ago. Besides the cottage, there also are the gardens -- a work in progress.

Located adjacent to the museum is the former Rockford sock company, which made the famed white, brown and red-heeled work socks now often used for sock monkeys.

The Tinker gardens is one of six gardens you can visit while in Rockford. Gardens include:


• Using photos and Robert Tinker's journal entries, the Victorian rose garden, originally created in 1890, was restored in 1998. It contains 23 varieties of antique roses and plantings historically correct to the 1890-1915 period. There also is a railroad garden whose restoration began in 2007, and a vegetable garden containing heirloom vegetables and other crops historically dating to 1870-1915.

• The Anderson Japanese Gardens is rated the highest quality Japanese garden in North America. You will see winding streams, waterfalls and traditional architecture set in an authentic 16th century Japanese landscape.

• The Heritage Gardens at Midway Village Museum depicts 1900 America and features plant varieties seldom seen today. The gardens are just part of the 1,3l7-acre open air museum campus featuring a Victorian-era village showcasing 26 historical buildings filled with artifacts.

• The Klehm Arboretum and Botanic Garden is a 155-acre living museum filled with spectacular gardens and rare trees. There is beauty in every season, from fragrant magnolias in the spring to brilliant colors of autumn and snow-capped evergreens in winter. There is a paved path of 1.8 miles and numerous secondary chip-covered trails. Bring comfortable shoes.

• Award-winning La Paloma Gardens is a combination of unfolding outdoor spaces that coax the visitor t o stroll leisurely, and then take a moment to sit and pause while anticipating the next vista. It is handicapped-accessible, too.

• Located along the Rock River is Sinnissippi Gardens, featuring an All-American Rose Selection rose garden with approximately 2,000 rose plants and 62 varieties, including the year's newest award winners. The gardens also include a 32-foot floral clock colorfully planted with thousands of annuals and a peaceful shaded perennial garden. Adjacent to the gardens is the future home of the Nicholas Conservatory and Gardens, which is scheduled to open in 2011. It will feature a year-round exhibition of beautiful tropical trees, plants, flowers and changing floral displays.

Presque Isle

Years ago, Lake Erie was considered the most polluted of the five Great Lakes. Today, it is the cleanest, thanks to strong measures that have restored the fishery as well as its sandy beaches.


In Erie, Pa., visitors can visit Presque Isle State Park, a 3,200-acre sand-bar peninsula that arches lake-ward into Lake Erie. This state park is a major recreational landmark for about 4 million visitors each year. It offers visitors a beautiful coastline and many recreational activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, biking and in-line skating. Nearby is an amusement park featuring a giant roller-coaster for those who aren't faint of heart. There also is the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. The center allows many hands-on opportunities for children and adults.

Visitors to the center, which included our group of 33, marveled at the environmentally friendly building, went up the glass-enclosed 77-foot tower for a spectacular view of Lake Erie, watched a free 15-minute movie in a park-like setting in the Orientation Theater or went to the big show in a four-story high, 45-foot screen Big Green Screen Theater.

This is an eco-friendly structure with everything designed to complement the surrounding environment. The building opens its long dimension to the sun. Operable windows provide naturally ventilation. The inverted roof collects rainwater. Building materials used throughout are made from highly recycled content. The landscape protects existing natural amenities, avoids the need for irrigation and employs native plants to reinforce the local ecology.

Garden update

A bit of history was not included in the earlier description of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. The column described the Gardens opening in 1900 for the Pan American Exposition, but didn't indicate this was the third of four presidential assassination sites. President William McKinley made a trip to Buffalo in 1901, which included a visit to the Exposition grounds.

Standing in the Temple of Music on Sept. 6, 1901, McKinley shook hands with a long line of admirers. Among those who greeted the President was anarchist Leon Czolgosz, who had a bandaged hand. He used that hand to fire two rounds from a hand gun into McKinley who lingered for eight days until dying Sept 14. A place with such beauty now is forever associated with a terrible event in our nation's history. That's the rest of the story.

Koehler is the Herald's garden columnist. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008.

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