The area that is presently known as Machesney Park was first settled when large areas of Northern Illinois were opened for settlement in the early 1830’s, after the end of the Black Hawk War. When the “township” form of government was first instituted, the majority of what is now known as Machesney Park was located within Harlem Township. The early Dutch settlers chose the name Harlem to remind them of the Netherlands. Early settlers were relatively few in number and farmed large tracts of land.
Residential development began to grow in the early 20th century and started to boom in the 1920’s. During this time, the Harlem Consolidated School District was formed to serve the educational needs of the growing community. One of the community’s symbols in the early days was the Machesney Airport, founded in 1927 by barnstormer/aviator Fred Machesney. The airport was located where the Machesney Park Town Center, formerly the Machesney Park Mall, stands today along the original Main St. which is now N. 2nd St. or IL-251. The airfield was Rockford’s main airport until the 1950s, when the Greater Rockford Airport opened its doors. In 1928, a famous flight from Rockford to Sweden took off from the airport/field. The attempt failed as the two pilots crashed in Greenland, however they were safely rescued after an exhausting search.
Shortly thereafter, Machesney Field was used by the Army Air Corps during World War II as a stop by fighter aircraft being ferried to the Soviet Union. Also, and just prior to World War II, the old InterUrban rail line north to Beloit was abandoned and became N. 2nd St.; it is now also known as Illinois Route 251.
Short Biography – Fred E. Machesney
At the time, going up in an airplane and flying was considered by most as something only a fool would do. It was a stunt, some thought; a stunt which turned into a thriving business venture for Mr. Machesney. The Rockford Area did not know it at the time, but Fred did not come to the area on a barnstorming mission (which he was doing around the country at fairs and cities), he came as an aviator, deliberately selecting this area. Mr. Machesney stayed until he became the owner of the Airport, and established himself firmly among the businessmen of the area as an asset to the community.
Fred became a distributor for Travel All Planes in northern Illinois. He sponsored a “flying club” with 12 members initially, who purchased their own planes and were trained by him and Ralph Swaby. Fred carried over 12,000 passengers and trained over 50 students to fly. Of his 50+ students, 14 made solo flights at the airport, and 3 went on to receive their commercial pilots licenses. When the students graduated from the flight school the average grade was near 93 percent. Instead of Mr. Machesney’s business depending chiefly on a sightseeing passenger trade as it was in the beginning, Fred began to focus around sales and service to the industrial aircraft market.
Post World War II
This Machesney Park area of unincorporated Winnebago county saw growth pick up after World War II. This led to the formation of the North Park Public Water District, a volunteer firefighting company, and the first unofficial name for the area. Since the area at the time was still unincorporated it was informally known as, “North Park.”
Located next to the Machesney Airport, and on Illinois Route 251, was a Hires Root Beer stand. It stands out in Machesney Park history for two reasons: it was shaped like a giant barrel of root beer, and on bright sunny days this shape was silhouetted against the flat horizon of the adjacent airport. Machesney Airport closed in 1974, and soon thereafter Hires Root Beer stand did as well. The last known whereabouts of the famous root beer stand were described as: “On the west side of Hwy. 251, north of the mall, under the large powerlines, and in the woods where the cattle feed.” Shortly after the airport’s closing in ’74, the Machesney Park Mall was developed.
The mall featured an antique aircraft hanging in the center court, as a respect to Fred Machesney and all he did for aviation and the Machesney Park area. The first stores to open in the mall were Prange Way and Pranges. The two stores were kitty-corner to each other and they built an indoor walkway that allowed patrons to walk between the stores protected from the elements. This indoor walkway also allowed patrons to see the work that was going on in the mall before it was fully complete. The Machesney Park Mall, now the Town Center, currently sits on the former airfield.
The Village of Machesney Park
Citizens began a grass-roots incorporation movement in 1980 to form a Village. They did so in order to ensure better services could be provided to residents, and to prevent adjacent cities from nibbling away at the attractive commercial properties in the area. In the winter of 1981, voters decided in a referendum to form the Village of Machesney Park, and the first Village officers were elected the following spring of ’82. The name “Machesney Park” is derived from the Machesney “Rockford” Airport and the area’s original informal name, North Park. (History note: The Machesney Elementary School, which stands across from where the original airport was (now the Town Center), also derives its name from Fred Machesney).
Machesney Park became official, and the newest Village within the State of Illinois, on February 24, 1981. The Village celebrated its 25th year of incorporation in 2006, and now has approximately 23,500 residents. This residential growth has correlated to commercial growth, and the 2006-2007 construction of an interchange ramp at IL-173 and I-90 has truly put the Village “on the map.” This interchange opened the area to interstate traffic and has greatly impacted the continued development of the IL-173 & IL-251 commercial corridor. This area has seen a surge in growth across all arenas, including residential, commercial, and even industrial.
With an outstanding school system in the Harlem School District, the absence of a local property tax, and miles of Rock River frontage, Machesney Park is now one of the most desirable locations in the greater Rockford metropolitan area.