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DAY TRIP: A dose of history

Interested in the evolution of healthcare? A Rockford museum is just what the doctor ordered

ROCKFORD – Just a little over 100 years ago, SwedishAmerican began its medical mission of building a stronger, healthier community. Today, it’s a premier provider of healthcare and emergency services in Northern Illinois.

That century of growth is charted at the Dr. Henry C. and Dorothy Anderson Heritage Museum on the first floor of SwedishAmerican Hospital, an eye-catching look back at the healthcare system’s history. It has nearly 100 artifacts and interactive exhibits that take visitors back to the good old days of medicine, and bring them slowly back to today. 

Visitors are free to wander through the museum at their own pace. “Growing with Rockford: The Evolution of SwedishAmerican Hospital” begins with a replica of the sign that was used outside the hospital during the 1950s and 60s.

Outside the main displays, I found an iron lung, which was once used to help people who were recovering from polio. An old wheelchair also was on display.

The title wall has a view of the 1918 hospital,a 55-bed facility that cost $186,500 to build. Patients paid $15 to $45 per week to stay – talk about the good old days!

I also learned that ground was broken in 1948 on a 75-bed addition to the east, and a 10-story, $5.5 million tower was built in 1963, followed by the helicopter pad in 1983.

A small display case in front of the title wall spotlights the 1963 cornerstone ceremony. Prince Bertil of Sweden was there. Visitors can see the chrome-plated trowel and the time capsule.

A large display case contains artifacts that document highlights of the 20th century. Then get ready for the Virtual Campus Experience where visitors can use a touchscreen monitor to view various milestones. Take a peek at what holds the monitor: a Gomco suction cart.

Also take note of the eight suspended panels. Four focus on SwedishAmerican’s attributes of population health, quality, compassion, and innovation;the other four are breakthroughs of open-heart surgery, introduction of modern lab services, radiation oncology, and full-time emergency care. But when these panels are seen from outside the museum, visitors see something different — a chronological evolution of the building with a rendering of the new Women’s and Children’s Tower. A glass panel highlights ceremonial moments.

As I went through the museum, I interacted with “The Doctor’s Path.” Under memorable moments, I was impressed by “When I was in fourth grade, the Sister said a girl could be anything, but a priest.”

I also learned that hospitals didn’t always have their own pharmacy. I saw a 1920s photo of the lab with jars holding materials for compounded medicine. Information there said it’s likely doctors were making their own medicine as needed.

I also found it interesting to read about the School of Nursing, seeing artifacts such as the candle holder used during the capping ceremony (when new nurses are recognized as being ready for their role).

SwedishAmerican’s school opened in 1919, trained 1,300 nurses, and closed in 1977.

Several touchscreens kept me busy as I learned how a broken heart is mended and met “Harvey” the cardiology patient simulator. I also learned about arteries and operated levers to see how blood flows through the body.

I reached the women’s health area, which included a section on osteoporosis and surgery. Exhibits show the evolution of surgery as how far its comes since 1918.

All in all, this is an interesting museum that explores the history of not only the hospital, but of the practice of medicine. So head on over to SwedishAmerican and meet Harvey. He’s just lying around waiting to see you.

If you go …

What: The Dr. Henry C. and Dorothy Anderson Heritage Museum

Where: SwedishAmerican, 1401 E. State St., Rockford (near the Charles Street entrance, first floor)

When: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. all week

Cost: Free

Distance: About 61 miles

Accessibility: Accessible to wheelchairs, available at entrance

Information: SwedishAmerican Foundation at 779-696-2496 or hospital at 779-696-4400 or

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