Robert Tinker’s inspiration for the Cottage came during his tour of Europe in 1862, where he fell in love with the architecture of Switzerland. In 1865, Robert began building his Swiss Cottage on the limestone bluff overlooking Kent Creek.
In 1850, Andrew Jackson Downing published The Architecture of Country Houses, in which he included designs for a symmetrical cottage and Swiss cottage. In this publication, Downing explained his philosophy of his ideal American way of life by creating dwellings and suggesting furnishings that he felt most Americans would be able to live it and benefit from.
Robert Tinker seemed to agree with Downing, taking the principal floor plan from a symmetrical cottage. The floor plan includes a main entry, living room, parlor, dining room with connected pantry and access to the kitchen as the format for his first floor. Tinker did stray from Downing’s floor plan in his addition of the two-story library; however, it was not without permission. Downing remarked, “This is to remember that is peculiarity and picturesqueness must either be greatly modified to suit a tame landscape, or […] in harmony with style.”
Tinker then utilized exterior architecture styling suggested by Downing for the facade of his Swiss style cottage. “A genuine Swiss cottage may be considered the most picturesque of all dwellings built of wood,” quoted Downing. Robert added a large striking roof, bold brackets, long galleries (porches)and barge board borders on doors and windows.
Robert surrounded his Swiss Cottage with over 27 acres of trees, vines, winding pathways, flowerbeds, and gardens. A three-story Swiss inspired barn was added to the property which housed cows, chickens, and horses.
On the side of the Cottage, Robert constructed a suspension bridge crossing the Kent Creek. This bridge linked the Cottage with his wife’s, Mary Dorr Manny Tinker, limestone mansion and grounds. In 1906, the railroad bought the remainder of Mary’s estate. At the end of Robert’s suspension bridge, he planted elaborate gardens deemed the Railroad Gardens where passengers could stroll as they waited for the train.
Does architecture inspire you? A Swiss Chalet in the middle of an urban city is enough to inspire anyone. Not only did Robert give Rockford a name by building his eccentric creation but he helped to give Rockford a legacy when the building was donated to the Rockford Park District and turned into a museum.