The Fordam Dam
Original construction: 1852.
Partial replacement: 1904
High water record: 63 inches above the dam, March 18, 1929. Restructuring: 1975-1976.
Initial operation of new gates and spillway May 28, 1976. Present:
Honorable Robert W. McGaw, Mayor of Rockford
Honorable Edward W. Anderson, Mayor of Loves Park.
Honorable John B. Anderson, Representative in Congress.
Frank G. St. Angel, chairman, Winnebago County Board of Supervisors
John B. Whitehead, president, board of commissioners, Rockford Park District
For nearly a century and a quarter, the Fordam Dam has had a part to play in the growth and development of Rockford as a major midwestern residential community and center of industry and commerce.
Prior to the turn of the century, the head of water created by the dam turned wooden water wheels to provide energy for sawmills and grist mills and eventually a group of farm implement factories and foundries dependent on water power, came into being in the west side area extending from Kent Creek on the south to the Chicago and North Western Railroad on the north, and from Rock River on the east to South Main Street on the west. This was the storied “Water Power District,” from which Rockford’s industrial community evolved.
Fordam Station, the power plant which was adjacent to the dam on the
east bank of the Rock was built in 1896 as Rockford’s first producer of
central station power, and eventually produced electricity from steam as well as hydro-electric sources. The last two hydro-electric generating units at Fordam were installed in 1923 and 1924, and remained operable for the rest of the station’s history. The governors used on these units are now preserved in the Rockford Museum Center.
The station was shut down in 1971 when it became apparent that the cost of changes in the physical plant to meet air quality requirements would be prohibitive. Four years later, demolition of the station was completed.
With the end of electric power production at the site, the Fordam Dam still another purpose to serve, and that involved as a community asset. Restructuring of the dam would help to preserve the river’s scenic and recreational advantages, such as the excellent boating course which winds through downtown: Rockford and the area to the north, and help protect riverfront property values, insofar as possible, by improving control of surface water run-off, particularly during the spring thaws.
Commonwealth Edison Company, fulfilling its responsibility, undertook the necessary structural changes in the dam, and shares with all the Rockford area a sense of pride in the new facilities which are no being placed in service.
Improved river level control is now a reality locally. In the future, jurisdiction over all dams on the Rock, from the Wisconsin line to the confluence with the Mississippi, should be vested in a single agency to work to the advantage of everyone who lives along its banks or enjoys its aesthetic and recreational values.
In our bicentennial year, the Fordam Dam is now ready to serve Rockford, Loves Park and Winnebago County in a new role.