When Robert Tinker began building his Swiss Cottage in Rockford, IL in 1865, he proclaimed, “I only wanted to build a home that would give Rockford a name.” Over 150 years later, we can all agree that Robert had certainly attained his goal. From the chalet-style architecture to the parquet floors, Tinker Swiss Cottage boasts awe-inspiring architecture. However, the contents of the Tinkers’ home are impressive in their own right and can give us a deeper insight to the lives of the Tinker family. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the pieces the Tinkers surrounded themselves with, starting with the root wood furniture.
What is root wood furniture, you ask? The name really says it all – it is furniture that was crafted out of the roots of trees. Construction of root wood furniture dates back to early seventeenth-century China, emerging in the western hemisphere around the eighteen century. Appearing as a piece of furniture constructed out of a single tree root, this illusion is created by joining separate pieces of wood together through the use of small pegs. Here we can see Mr. Tinker in the gardens enjoying a large root-wood bench.
At Tinker Swiss Cottage we are extremely fortunate that Robert Tinker took his last name seriously – truly a tinkerer through and through! Not only do we have his sketches, drawings, and hand-crafted architecture throughout the home, but we also have many root wood furniture pieces that he crafted himself. Here are some of the many examples you will find of Robert’s work throughout the Cottage:
While the pictures are great, root wood furniture is something everyone should see in person, and we can’t wait for your next visit to the Cottage!
Spring is finally here, and that means that the gardens at the Tinker Swiss Cottage are in full bloom! If you take a stroll through our gardens today you’ll see various types of flower beds, including Mary’s beloved roses and Jessie’s prize-winning irises. The Tinkers, along with other Victorian families, embellished their homes with sprawling gardens. New inventions allowed more exotic plants to be cultivated, grasses to be trimmed, and rooms dedicated to gardening were added on to homes.
In the early 1800s, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward invented the Wardian Case by accident. He discovered that ferns, and other flowers, could grow very well inside glass bottles. This allowed Europeans to import more exotic plants, because encasing them in these Wardian Cases allowed them to remain in a constant climate without the damage that the change of air and temperature could bring. Another invention sprouting from the early years of the nineteenth century, the lawnmower transitioned from a large, difficult piece of machinery to a smaller, hand-driven tool. Around 1840, Victorians began incorporating trimmed lawns in their garden designs.
Many Victorians embellished their homes with their gardens. Vines hung from porches, urns and containers were filled with flowers and greenery to be set throughout the property, and vines grew up walls and trellises. Cast iron fences wrapped around many Victorian properties, both in the city and country. Rustic fences could be used, but were generally hidden by bushes and shrubbery.
While Victorians planted bushes, trees, and shrubs throughout their gardens, colorful flowers made up a large portion of the gardens. Symmetrical gardens, flower boxes, and ornate arrangements decorated Victorian homes. Throughout the era, exotic plants could be found in both private and public conservatories. While there are far too many to list, some of the more popular plants of the Victorian era includes: Azaleas, Holly, Hydrangeas, Roses, Lilacs, Peonies, ivy, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Morning Glories, Tulips, Violets, Lavenders, and Ferns.
Robert Tinker purchased approximately 27 acres of land, where he planted flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and had pastures for his horses and cows. Throughout his home and property, Robert crafted rootwood furniture pieces, which you can see on your next trip out to the Cottage! On the opposite side of Kent Creek, Mary Dorr Manny Tinker owned a two-story, limestone brick mansion. She had her workers surround it with orchards, vegetable gardens, and the fashionable flower gardens of the Victorian era.
While Mary’s mansion and its surrounding gardens may no longer be stationed across the creek, she did bring over her love of pink heirloom-roses to Robert’s Cottage. Besides the circular rose garden located in front of the Cottage, a conservatory was added on to the house in 1882 to assist in caring for the gardens during the winter months. Using flower in interior designs also allowed the Tinkers to show off their favorite flowers. Not only were fresh bouquets located throughout the home, but on your next trip to the Cottage you’ll notice the beautiful pink flowers painted on the boarder in the Parlor. Perhaps you’ll also notice the hand painted bouquets of flowers on the dining room dishware.
We hope you enjoy the Tinkers’ gardens on your next visit as much as we do!
*Remember: We’re always looking for new friends to help us work our gardens as well! You can find more information about how to Volunteer at Tinker Swiss Cottage under our “Volunteering” tab!*
The room is a square but designed to look like an octagon. It it is patterned after Sir Walter Scott’s library in Abottsford, Scotland, which Robert Tinker and Rev. J. H. Vincent visited on August 15, 1862.
The wood used in the library came from trees along the Pecatonica and Sugar Rivers and includes butternut, fir, pine, walnut, and curved panels of cedar. The floors are parqueted and put together without the use of nails.
The circular stairway which winds around a pole to the upper floor is a very rare and interesting. Mr. William Gent (who came to Rockford in 1857), was associated with John Nelson in scroll work and later on he assisted the inventor in perfecting his knitting machine. Gent was considered to be one of the best working mechanics in the State. It was in his machine shop that he and Robert tinker built the circular stair way. It took many years of steaming and shaping to curve this single piece of walnut lumber. The intricate design on the stairs was done by Mr. Gent. The wood panels are reclaimed wood from passenger train cars when they were decommissioned.