It has been touch-and-go for New Milford and New Milford Township since the first settlers staked out their farms along the Kishwaukee River in 1835. Hopes were great, but the area’s proximity to a mushrooming Rockford has been a dominating factor in its history. Coming from New England and New York were the township’s first settlers, Horace Miller, Samuel Brown, Robert Rothwell, and David S. Shumway, whose son, Roland H., became a nationally-known Rockford seedsman. Two settlements developed–New Milford, at the site of the present community, and Kishwaukee. George W. Lee laid out Kishwaukee in 1839-40 near the mouth of the Kishwaukee River at the Rock River. His pioneer community, complete with stores, a blacksmith shop, and a building planned as a seminary, rivaled nearby Rockford in size, and Lee envisioned it as the seat of government for Winnebago County. Sickness took a heavy toll in Kishwaukee, and Rockford leaped ahead in the development when its water power district was constructed, providing plentiful power to the ambitious owners of new industries. Residents moved out of Kishwaukee, the buildings were sold, and finally the unfinished seminary building was carefully dismantled and its boards sold for building lumber. New Milford remained as the only settlement in the township. The little village along the Kishwaukee River, straddling the road that was to become the Meridian Highway or US 51, grew as an independent community. In 1954 it had a foundry, a reaper factory, a grist mill, a cooper shop and a sawmill. Twenty-five years later it also had a railroad station, a creamery, a telephone company of its own, and a nail factory. New Milford Township ceased to exist as a political entity in 1916, when it became the first of the original 16 townships in the county to be absorbed by Rockford Township, the giant to the north. The community of New Milford has its cemetery to thank for its continued existence. When World War I broke out and Camp Grant sprang up on the farmland south of Rockford, the military reservation threatened to overrun New Milford. However, the federal government was unable to claim the village’s cemetery, so Camp Grant grew around New Milford. The stores in New Milford saw their busiest days in the era when Camp Grant was preparing thousands of men for war. From the same era came another milestone for New Milford. Mrs. Fannie Rosecrance, widow of Dr. James Rosecrance, died in 1916, leaving the home she and her physician-husband occupied as a home for “unfortunate children”. Rosecrance Memorial Home for Children, sponsored by the Methodist Church, opened in 1942 and operated in New Milford until the early 1950’s, when it was moved to Rockford. New Milford residents,, accustomed to battling with Rockford, scored a victory in 1954 when they defied the post office department and the county board of supervisors. The county, at the post office’s insistence, planned to change three street names to avoid duplication with Rockford Streets. New Milford fought back and, rather than lose Church, School, and James Roads, succeeded in keeping them in a slightly altered form–New Milford Church, New Milford School, and Will James. Probably the most exciting day in New Milford history was Jan. 21, 1936, when the schoolhouse, built in 1914 following consolidation of three districts, burned to the ground. It was rebuilt at a cost of $43,000 and reopened in 1937. In 1958, amid debates over the advisability of annexing to Rockford, or incorporating as a village, 354 residents went to the polls in what was the largest voter turnout in New Milford history. They voted against incorporation, 230 to 93, with 33 spoiled ballots. So unincorporated New Milford, a cluster of comfortable homes and a string of small stores, remains a pleasant community straddling the highway and hugging the riverbank in the shadow of Rockford. [from Sinnissippi Saga, Nelson, C. Hal, 1968 ]

Prominent among the pioneers of New Milford Township were D.S. Shumway, Horace Miller, and Samuel Brown. A town was started by the river at what is known as the Old Shumway place. At one time there were from thirty-five to forty frames erected there; but only a few of them were enclosed. This fact gave the place the appropriate name of “Rib-Town”, In 1838 Dr. A.M. Catlin came from the West Reserve in Ohio, in company with the Rev. Hiram Foote and Silas Tyler. They were of New England stock, and were part of a movement to found an institution of learning similar to the one then flourishing at Oberline, Ohio. These missionary educational managers selected a site for their institution near the mouth of the Kishwaukee River. A large building was begun but never completed. It remained for years as a reminder of the first attempt to found a seminary in Winnebago County. In 1839-40 George W. Lee platted a town on the upper side of Kishwaukee River, at its junction with Rock River. Quite a town was actually built, with two stores and a blacksmith shop. Both “Rib-Town” and Mr. Lee’s plat were named Kishwaukee, but the former was abandoned before George W. Lee platted the second. The latter was sometimes called Leetown, in honor of its founder. The present hamlet of Kishwaukee is a short distance below the mouth of the Kishwauee River. There is a post office and a Wesleyan Methodist church, which was organized May 17, 1844, with seven members. The church was reorganized in 1863. A house of worship was erected in 1868 and a parsonage in 1870. The hamlet of New Milford is in the eastern part of the township. The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad passes by it about half a mile to the west. There have been several attempts to organize churches in the village. The Methodist Episcopal Church began as a class about 1838. The church now has its own property, and maintains regular services. The membership in October, 1904, was 122. Rev. S.W. Lauck has served two years as pastor. The church as Davis Junction also belongs to this circuit. The Congregationalist Society built a church in 1877. This field has been abandoned, and the church building is now used as a schoolhouse. [from Past and Present of City of Rockford and Winnebago County Illinois, Charles A Church and H.H. Waldo, 1905]

Some time ago a story of New Milford appeared on the country life page. In an effort to determine how the town was named, we inquired of several of the old settlers of that community, but without avail. Then we ventured a guess that sounded quite rational. We said that since the Shirley mill had been established a few miles distant some time before, and since there was a ford at the village by the new mill or New Milford. Bert Baxter, however, called us up this week to say that he understood that the circumstances were quite different from what we had dreamed to be the case. He says that New Milford was settled in 1841 by persons from New Milford, Conn. Previous to this time, the little settlement was had been called Butler, apparently because a family of this name had located there. Loyalty to the old town out in New England, though, caused the settlers to change the name to New Milford. Mr. Baxter also told me of his discovery on an early map of a well laid out town just north of the Barett farm along the Kishwaukee river. Especially did he observe one thoroughfare named Lee street. This was the old town of Kishwaukee. Houses in the little settlement of Kishwaukee were either torn down or moved away. All that remains of the village that once gave indication of becoming a properous city are partially filled up cellar excavations.[Rockford Morning Star, March 23, 1928]

By Mike Mooney
New Milford–A couple blinks of the eye, and it’s possible to pass through this small community just south of Rockford on U.S. 51 without knowing you have visited New Milford. Four gas stations, a general store, a tavern, a barber shop, a used car lot and a motel represent 100 per cent of the community’s business, with all of it nestled on the two sides of Illinois’ main north-south highway. The community itself is a mixture of young and hold homes…basically a bedroom community serving as home to about 1,000 middle-class residents who work in either Rockford or Belvidere. Although small, New Milford has served an important role in the growth of northern Illinois and, at one time, was just as large as is giant neighbor to the north, Rockford. ‘ Jack Baxter is a direct descendant of one of the original settlers who moved to New Milford to plow the open prairie lands and start a farming community. Neither a historian nor author, Baxter recently became both by writing and publishing a 50-page book entitled “Yesterday, Today…The History of New Milford.” “Today New Milford isn’t even a town,” Baxter laughed. “But years ago, it was a thriving community. This book is just the story of that history, told by a careful search of all available documents and through the recollections of the oldtimers who have spent all their lives here.” Although official state highway department signs greet passersby on U.S. 51, the community of New Milford is really nothing more than an unincorporated portion of WInnebago County. Formed in October, 1835, the community was a recognized township from 1850 through May 1, 1916, when is was consolidated into Rockford Township. Baxter uncovered these and other interesting facts about the community when he started working on a genealogy of the Baxter clan some 20 years ago. “I never intended to write a history of New Milford,” Baxter admitted, “But as I researched the Baxter family tree, I started coming across so many facts that I felt it was necessary to put it all on paper. The book is the end result.” Baxter’s research includes the history of Illinois, Winnebago County and other nearby communities–including Midway, the name Rockford originally was called. “All my life, I had always heard there was a time in history when New Milford was bigger than Rockford,” Baxter said. “But I never could prove it through research. There was a time, back around 1839, that Rockford and New Milford were probably about the same size. But the town of Kishwaukee, located further west than New Milford, may have been bigger than both.” The book is the result of 20 years of research, which included correspondence with officials in the state of New York and hundreds of private conversations. “I also spent a lot of time searching the New Milford church records, the cemetery records and historical data on Winnebago County at the courthouse.” Baxter said. “The usual method was talk to an oldtimer, pick up a piece of information here and there, and then set out to document it. It was a painstaking process, and I’m sure there are still a few mistakes. But this is as accurate a history as I’ve been able to find.” That history traces the birth of New Milford to a period some three months after Germanicus Kent and Thatcher Blake arrived on the Rock River from LaPointe (Galena) and named their joint community Midway since it was located halfway between Galena Fort Dearborn (Chicago). This was about five years after Stephen Mack built a home where Dry Run Creek meets the Rock, midway between the present-day communites of Rockton and Roscoe, and a year before Mack built his trading post at the intersection of the Pecatonica and Rock Rivers, which first was called Pecatonica and later Macktown. The early New Milford settlers were transplants of English stock from New York and New England, and turned to the unbroken prairie lands for a living. The Black Hawk Wars were already history when these first white settlers arrived, and the few Indians remaining in the area were of a peaceful nature. “A lot has been written about the Black Hawk Wars,” Baxter noted, “But very little tells the truth. People paint a picture of vicious Indians attacking the white settlers. But during the entire 15 weeks of the war, only 70 whites were killed while chasing Black Hawk’s migration of women, children, and old men and braves out of Illinois and into Iowa. “That army broke up in what is now Dixon, and many of the soldiers went back home to get their families and return.” By 1853, there were less than 10 permanent buildings in the village, half of which were located in a triangular plot bordered by the present day U.S. 51 and Ryberg Road. There were also 50 permanent dwellings surrounding the township. By the beginning of the Civil War, New Milford was big enough to supply 136 men in the Winnebago County quota of 2,778 for the Union forces. One of those men was Oscar Rogers, who died of starvation as a prisoner of war on April 26, 1864, in the infamous Andersonville, Ga., prison camp. His body was moved from Andersonville and buried in the New Milford Cemetery. The cemetery itself is a book of history. Included in the plots are the unmarked grave of a German soldier who died while a prisoner of war at nearby Camp Grant in World War II. “There wasn’t much about my research which surprised me,” Baxter said, “but it was still something that just kept snowballing as time went by. I was never interested in history in school. My interests were more along the lines of geography and art. But you can’t help but get interested in this type of research once it starts.” Baxter did all the work on the book himself, including the typing of more than 100 pages of material for the 50-page book. He had just under 400 copies printed, and is selling them at several locations in the community for $7 each. But he isn’t going to stop with the New Milford book. “No, I still plan to do the history of the Baxter family,” he said. “In fact, it’s already at the printers. The New Milford book was still just a sideline in the family book.” That family book has offered problems of its own, starting with Jack’s aunts and uncles. “My dad was one of 21 children born in the house two doors west of here,” he said. “The Baxters were one of the original settlers, and big families were the rule for those early pioneers.” And, like New Milford, the Baxters played a role in the growth of northern Illinois. [Rockford Morning Star, December 28, 1975]