Once a mid-sized manufacturing city, Aurora has grown tremendously since the 1960s. Founded within Kane County, Aurora's city limits and population have expanded into DuPage, Will, and Kendall counties. Between 2000 and 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Aurora as the 34th fastest growing city in the United States. From 2000 to 2009, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked the city as the 46th fastest growing city with a population of over 100,000.
In 1908, Aurora adopted the nickname "City of Lights", because it was one of the first cities in the United States to implement an all-electric street lighting system in 1881. Aurora's historic downtown is located on the Fox River, and centered on Stolp Island. The city is divided into three regions, The West Side, on the west side of the Fox River, The East Side, between the eastern bank of the Fox River and the Kane/DuPage County line, and the Far East Side/Fox Valley, which is from the County Line to the city's eastern border with Naperville.
The Aurora area is home to an impressive collection of architecture, including structures by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bruce Goff and George Grant Elmslie. The Hollywood Casino Aurora, a dockside gaming facility with 53,000 square feet (4,900 m2) and 1,200 gaming positions, is on the river in downtown Aurora. Aurora is also home to a large collection of Sears Catalog Homes (over 50 homes) and Lustron all-steel homes (seven homes).
Before European settlers arrived, there was a Native American village in what is today downtown Aurora, on the banks of the Fox River. In 1834, following the Black Hawk War, the McCarty brothers arrived. They initially owned land on both sides of the river, but sold their lands to the Lake Brothers on the west side. The Lake Brothers opened a mill on the opposite side of the river. The McCartys lived and operated their mill on the east side. A post office was established in 1837, officially creating Aurora.
Aurora was originally two villages: East Aurora, incorporated in 1845, on the east side of the river, and West Aurora, formally organized on the west side of the river in 1854. In 1857, the two towns joined officially, incorporated as the city of Aurora. The two sides could not agree which side of the river should house the public buildings, so most public buildings were built on or around Stolp Island in the middle of the Fox River.
As the city grew, many factories and jobs came to Aurora. In 1856, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad located its roundhouse and locomotive shop in Aurora to become the town's largest employer until the 1960s. The heavy industries on the East side provided employment for generations of European immigrants. Immigrants flocked to the city, mainly from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Luxembourg, Germany, France, and Italy. Aurora became the economic center of the Fox Valley region. The combination of these three factors—a highly industrialized town, a sizable river that divided it, and the Burlington's shops—accounted for much of the dynamics of Aurora's political, economic, and social history. The city welcomed a variety of immigrants and openly supported abolitionism before the American Civil War. Mexican migrants began arriving after the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Socially, the town was progressive in its attitude toward education, religion, welfare, and women. The first free public school district in Illinois was established in 1851 and a high school for girls came four years later.
The city was a manufacturing powerhouse until the early 1970s, when the railroad shops closed. Soon many other factories and industrial areas relocated or went out of business. By 1980, there were few industrial areas operating in the city, and unemployment soared to 16%. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, development of the Far East side along the Eola Road and Route 59 areas began. While this was financially beneficial to the city, it also contributed to the decline of the downtown and the manufacturing sectors on the near East and West Sides. Crime rates soared and street gangs started to form in the mid-1980s.
It was during this time Aurora became a much more culturally diverse city. The Latino population started to grow rapidly in the city in the 1980s. In the late 1980s, several business and industrial parks were established on the city's outskirts. In 1993, the Hollywood Casino was built downtown, which helped bring the first redevelopment to the downtown area in nearly twenty years. In the late 1990s, more development began in the rural areas and towns outside of Aurora. Subdivisions sprouted up around the city, and Aurora's population soared.
Today, Aurora is a culturally diverse city of around 200,000 residents. Historic areas downtown are being redeveloped, and new developments are being built all over the city.
Aurora is at 41°45′50″N 88°17′24″W (41.7637855, -88.2901352).
According to the 2010 census, Aurora has an area of 45.799 square miles (118.62 km2), of which 44.94 square miles (116.39 km2) (or 98.12%) is land and 0.859 square miles (2.22 km2) (or 1.88%) is water.
While the city has traditionally been regarded as being in Kane County, Aurora also includes parts of DuPage, Kendall and Will counties. Aurora is one of only three cities in Illinois that span four counties. (The others are Barrington Hills and Centralia.)
Politically, the city is divided into 10 wards. Aurora is commonly divided into three regions:The West Side, which is west of the Fox River.
The East Side, which spans the region east of the Fox River, stopping at the DuPage County line.
Fox Valley, also referred to as the Far East Side, is the portion of Aurora east of the Dupage County line. Its name is deceptive because it is actually the part of the city farthest from the Fox River and its valley. The area acquired its name because of its proximity to the Westfield Fox Valley Mall and Fox Valley Villages, one of the first housing developments to be constructed after the mall.
The annual precipitation for Aurora is about 40 inches. The record high for Aurora is 111 °F (44 °C), on July 14, 1936. The record low is −33 °F (−36 °C), on January 16, 2009. The average high temperature for Aurora in July is 83.5 °F (28.6 °C), the average January low is 12.6 °F (−10.8 °C).
On July 17–18, 1996, a major flood struck Aurora, with 16.9 inches (430 mm) of rain in a 24-hour period, which is an Illinois state record, and the second highest ever nationally. Flooding occurred in almost every low-lying area in the city, and in neighborhoods bordering the Fox River, causing major damage in some neighborhoods. The flooding was just as bad in Blackberry Creek, on Aurora's far west side.
Aurora has not been struck by any major tornadoes in recent history, although they occur in Northern Illinois annually. In 1906, a tornado went through the Aurora Driving Park, a large recreation/amusement park and race track where the Riddle Highlands neighborhood and Northgate shopping center is today. The tornado hit during the afternoon performance of the Ringling Brothers "Greatest Show on Earth" circus, when the park was crowded. It killed 2 people and injured 22, but the grandstand was still filled for the evening performance. Weak tornadoes struck the city in 1954, 1958, 1960, and 1991. In 1990, the supercell thunderstorm that produced the deadly Plainfield Tornado passed over the city, dropping golf ball sized hail and causing wind damage. Less than ten minutes after passing through Aurora, the storm produced an F5 tornado, which touched down in nearby Oswego, less than 5 miles from downtown. The tornado then traveled through Plainfield and Joliet, killing 29 people.
The city can receive heavy snowfall and experiences blizzards periodically.
Aurora was hit with one of the strongest earthquakes ever to strike Illinois, a M 5.1, on May 26, 1909. It put cracks through chimneys and could be felt 500,000 sq mi (1,300,000 km2) around.
As of the census of 2000, there were 142,990 people, 46,489 households, and 34,215 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,711.5 inhabitants per square mile (1,433.0/km2). There were 48,797 housing units at an average density of 1,266.6 per square mile (489.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 68.07% White, 11.06% African American, 0.36% Native American, 3.06% Asian American, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 14.52% from other races, and 2.0% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 32.56% of the population.
There were 46,489 households out of which 44.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.5% were married couples living together, 12.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.4% were non-families. 20.6% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.3% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.04 and the average family size was 3.55.
In the city, the population was spread out with 31.7% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 35.9% from 25 to 44, 15.9% from 45 to 64, and 6.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 99.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $54,861, and the median income for a family was $61,113. Males had a median income of $41,429 versus $30,150 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,131. About 6.2% of families and 8.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.9% of those under age 18 and 7.3% of those age 65 or over.
Aurora is on the edge of the Illinois Technology and Research Corridor. The city has a long tradition of manufacturing as does much of Chicago metropolitan area. Prominent manufacturers, past and present include Lyon Workspace Products, The Aurora Silverplate Manufacturing Company, Barber-Greene Company, the Chicago Corset Company, the Aurora Brewing Company, Stephens-Adamson Company, Caterpillar Inc., Allsteel Metals, National Metalwares, and Western Wheeled Scraper Works (later Austin-Western Inc.). The most prominent employer and industry was the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad (later Burlington Northern) which was headquartered in Aurora. The CB&Q Roundhouse is still standing, and is now the popular restaurant originally called Walter Payton's Roundhouse; after the Payton estate ended its involvement in 2009 it became known as America's Historic Roundhouse, and after a 2011 change in ownership, it is now known as Two Brothers Roundhouse.
Formed in 1987, the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (AACVB) is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to aggressively promoting and marketing the area as a premier overnight destination. The AACVB'S goal is to enhance the economic and environmental well-being of a region comprising ten communities: Aurora, Batavia, Big Rock, Hinckley, Montgomery, North Aurora, Plano, Sandwich, Sugar Grove, and Yorkville.
According to the City's 2012 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the city's largest employers are:
Aurora's downtown is full of architectural landmarks and historic places. It includes a major Hindu temple, the Sri Venkateswara Swami Temple of Greater Chicago. Aurora also has its own zoo, Phillips Park Zoo, in Phillips Park.
Downtown Aurora is home to the Paramount Theatre, a large live performance theater on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Hollywood Casino. There is also the Leland Tower, a former hotel which was the tallest building in Illinois outside of Chicago and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The largest collection of commercial buildings by Prairie School architect George Grant Elmslie is here as is the main building of Aurora Public Library and a branch campus of Waubonsee Community College.
Downtown Alive, a festival that includes live music and a variety of food booths, is held on three weekends (Friday and Saturday night) in the summer; Blues on the Fox (featuring national blues artists) is held on the Friday and Saturday of Father's Day weekend. Roughly 8,000–13,000 people attend. The quarterly AuroraArtWalk is hosted by the Cultural Creatives—a grassroots team of local artist, property owners, patrons and the City of Aurora. The Riverfront Playhouse is a not-for-profit theater that has held a storefront location in downtown Aurora since 1978.
A fixture of Downtown Aurora, the Waubonsee Community College Campus, which formerly sat on Stolp Island near the Paramount Theatre, has recently closed, as a new and greatly expanded campus was built on the Western banks of the river, between the river and IL Route 31. The construction of the campus was part of a larger plan to redevelop the Downtown area, putting in parks and new walking paths, making the area more inviting. The plan also included a pedestrian bridge, which would connect the one banks of the river. Also in the works is a plan to modify or reconstruct the bridges onto Stolp Island, which have not been maintained for nearly 60 years.Aurora Historical Society
Aurora Regional Fire Museum
The Aurora Public Arts Commission
Grand Army of the Republic Hall
Phillips Park Zoo
David L. Pierce Art and History Center
SciTech Interactive Science Museum
Schingoethe Museum of Native American Culture
Aurora has a rich history of entertainment. There were several theaters in the downtown area and several large community parks with baseball stadiums, circus acts, and race tracks. Some of the more popular were:Wayne's World (1992) is a buddy film explicitly set in Aurora. The characters emerged from the television show Saturday Night Live; one of the original authors of the skit was from neighboring Naperville, Illinois and thought Aurora had the appropriate blue-collar feel desired for the characters. Though most of the movie was filmed elsewhere, there are at least one or two bits filmed on location in Aurora, most notably the scene in which a White Castle is shown. Its sequel, Wayne's World 2, is also set in Aurora.
Aurora was once home to the Aurora Islanders/Blues/Foxes, a minor league baseball franchise that played from 1910 to 1915 in the Illinois-Wisconsin League. Their most famous player was Casey Stengel, who played one season with the team before being bought by the Brooklyn Dodgers. Stengel batted .352 and was the batting champion of the league for 1911, and also led the league with 50 stolen bases and had 27 outfield assists. The team played in a stadium on the west side in the former Riverview Park.
Waubonsie Valley High School (IPSD—District 204) Soccer won the Northern Illinois regional championship in this highly competitive region, for both boys and girls, almost every year since 1987. In 2007, the Waubonsie Valley High School girls' team won the state championship and went on to achieve the #1 ranking of all high school girls' soccer teams in the United States, finishing with an undefeated season.
Aurora has numerous youth soccer clubs, most of which have teams represented in the top five percent of the Northern Illinois Soccer League. Several youth soccer players from Aurora have received college scholarships to major college soccer programs throughout the U.S. In addition, Aurora maintains several developmental advantages for soccer enthusiasts. Three high quality indoor soccer venues allow year-round soccer training and competition for children and adults. Additionally, several area traveling soccer clubs, as well as high schools, boast coaches and trainers who have played soccer professionally or have been starting players for national teams. Some even played for teams that won the World Cup. Supplementing the local soccer training regimen are professional soccer trainers from England, Brazil, The Netherlands, Scotland, and other countries. Several played in the Premier League and for the Brazil national team, and for the Argentina national team.
Fastpitch softball has been in Aurora since the 1930s and gained popularity after World War II when the Aurora Sealmasters Men's team finished fifth in the nation in 1950. The Sealmasters went on to win National Championships in 1959, 1961, 1965 and 1967 and World Championships in 1966 and 1968. The Sealmasters played their games at Stevens-Adamson Field, which was a significant fastpitch stadium on Ridgeway Avenue on the cities southwest side. The Sealmasters hosted many famous competitors from all over the United States, most notably Eddie Feigner and The King and His Court, as well as international opponents. There were many different and competitive men's leagues in Aurora from the 1960s through the mid-1990s. There are still a few leagues and teams playing to this day.
In golf, the Stonebridge Country Club, on Aurora's far northeast side, was home to the LPGA Tour's Kellogg-Keebler Classic from 2002-2004. Stonebridge was also hosted the Ameritech Senior Open from 1991-1995 on the Senior PGA Tour.
Aurora University has Men's and Women's basketball, golf, tennis, track and field and cross country. It also has a men's football and baseball team, as well as women's softball and volleyball teams. Aurora University athletics are division III.
High school athletics are a major event in the city, as East and West Aurora High Schools have been rivals in all sports for over 100 years.
Aurora has long been a regional transportation hub. The city is the final stop of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe line of the Metra commuter rail system, allowing rail service into Chicago. The city also has a stop at the Rt. 59 station on the BNSF Line. This station is on the border with Naperville and each city maintains a parking lot on their respective side of the tracks. The BNSF Railroad owns and maintains a rail yard in Aurora, which they named Eola Yard.
Pace Suburban Bus operates local bus service within Aurora six days a week (no service on Sundays) and connects to cities such as Naperville, Geneva, Batavia, Oswego, and St. Charles. Metra trains and Pace buses stop at the Aurora Transportation Center. Greyhound buses used to stop there, but service was discontinued on September 7, 2011.
Aurora does not have a stop for Amtrak trains, as the old station closed in the 1980s. Aurora City Lines, the old city bus lines, was closed in the late 1980s in favor of regional bus service. Aurora also had an extensive streetcar system, operated by the Aurora, Elgin and Fox River Electric Company, that served most neighborhoods. Aurora was served by a number of interurban lines, the most prominent of which was the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad which provided service into Chicago. The STAR Line would have a third station at Ferry Rd. north of the BNSF Line.
The Aurora Municipal Airport is a general aviation airport in Sugar Grove, Illinois, just outside Aurora. Although the airport is in Sugar Grove, it is owned and operated by the City of Aurora. The Aurora Airport is designed as a reliever airport for Chicago's O'Hare and Midway Airports and also handles a lot of international cargo. It is capable of landing Boeing 757 aircraft. In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center is on Aurora's west side.
Aurora has two hospitals, one on the west side, Presence Mercy Medical Center, and one in Fox Valley, Rush–Copley Medical Center.
There are other area hospitals, including Edward Hospital in Naperville, Delnor Hospital in Geneva, Central DuPage in Winfield and a Level 1 Trauma center at Good Samaritan in Downers Grove.
Aurora had three hospitals, St. Joseph Hospital, on the west side, St. Charles hospital, east of downtown, and Copley Memorial Hospital, on the east side. St Joseph and St, Charles hospitals have been converted into senior living centers, and the old Copley hospital, which was one of the largest hospitals in the area, sits vacant. The city of Aurora recently demolished the old smokestacks from the hospital, as they were starting to crumble.
Dreyer Medical Clinic and several other independent clinics and medical groups are spread throughout the city. The area surrounding Provena Mercy has evolved into a diverse healthcare district with services and offices.
Major highways in Aurora include:
The city is home to Aurora University, two branches of Waubonsee Community College, and a branch of Rasmussen College. According to the census of Aurora's population over the age of twenty-five, 26% hold a bachelor's degree.
Starting in the 1860s, Aurora was served by two main school systems, one on either side of the Fox River, which physically divides the city. In the mid-20th century, the district on the western side of the river expanded to include the students in the village of North Aurora, including the North Aurorans on the east side of the Fox. Additionally, in 1972, the Indian Prairie School District (IPSD) 204 was formed to serve the far eastern portion of Aurora within DuPage County. All three districts (Aurora Public Schools: West Side (District 129), Aurora Public Schools: East Side (District 131) and IPSD) have their headquarters and administrative offices within the Aurora city limits. As of 2005, there were at least forty public schools within Aurora city limits, serving residents of Aurora and neighboring communities.
Due to the city's size, these are not the only three school systems serving residents - some students in the far north end of the city (north of I88 in Kane County) attend Batavia public schools, some on the far southwest side attend Kaneland CUSD 302 schools (headquartered in Maple Park), and some students in the far south end of the city (a small corner of the Kane, Kendall and Will County portions) attend Oswego public schools. Four of the schools in Oswego CUSD 308, Wheatlands Elementary, Homestead Elementary, Wolf's Crossing Elementary, and Bednarcik Junior High are within Aurora's limits.
The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) is a state-funded residential magnet school for grades 10 to 12. While IMSA operates under public funds (and uses the site originally designated West Aurora High School North Campus), it is managed independently of Aurora's other public schools. Any Illinois student who meets admission requirements may apply to attend IMSA, tuition free.
Aurora is also home to other private schools. Within Aurora, there are three Roman Catholic High Schools, Aurora Central Catholic (Diocese of Rockford), Rosary, and Marmion Academy (Order of St. Benedict), and seven Catholic elementary schools operated by the Diocese of Rockford. Along with these three schools is Aurora Christian High School and Elementary School. Aurora is also home to Fox Valley Montessori School, one of the first Montessori schools established in Illinois in 1969, which offers a preschool and elementary program.
The above-named districts have forty-six public schools within the city limits of Aurora (seventeen for District #131, thirteen for District #129, eleven for District #204, four for Oswego District #308 and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy).
The Aurora Public Library includes the main library, two branches, an express center, a support facility and a bookmobile. The library operations budget is $10 million and the staff numbers 85 full-time and 89 part-time employees. The library was funded in 1901 through a Carnegie grant. The Santori Public Library, the main library, was opened in June 2015, and offers a 3D printer and a digital media lab in addition to standard book and media services.
In addition to the Chicago broadcast stations, the following are based in Aurora:WXFT-DT - TeleFutura Channel 50/60.1, Aurora/Chicago
WPVN-CD - Polnet Communications Channel 20, Aurora
Aurora Community TV (ACTV) - Channel 10
Total Living Network (TLN)
Waubonsee Community College Educational Television - Comcast Channel 99
WBIG (AM) 1280 Aurora
WERV-FM 95.9 Aurora
WLEY-FM 107.9 Aurora
The Beacon News is Aurora's oldest business, first published in 1846, and is part of the Chicago Tribune Media Group. The newspaper has two editions: the Aurora edition and the Kendall County edition. The Beacon-News has been recognized repeatedly by the Associated Press, Illinois Press Association, Northern Illinois Newspaper Association and the Chicago Headline Club as one of the best daily newspapers in Illinois.
Crime and social issues
In 2008, reported major crimes in Aurora were at their lowest level in nearly three decades. The Chief of Police attributed the drop to a number of factors but especially credited the hard work of the city's police officers and the increase in anti-gang priorities. Gang violence had reached a high in the 1990s, with the city averaging nearly 30 murders per year. In 2008, Aurora only had 2 murders. In July 2007, the Aurora Police Department and the FBI conducted "Operation First Degree Burn," a sweep that resulted in the successful arrest of 31 alleged Latin Kings gang members suspected of 22 murders dating back to the mid-1990s. Aurora has also adopted programs such as CeaseFire to reduce gang violence and prevent youths from joining gangs. Aurora had no murders in 2012.
Like other large Midwestern cities that once relied on manufacturing as an economic basis, Aurora has a large number of abandoned buildings and vacant lots, especially in older sections of the city. Efforts are ongoing to rehabilitate these areas.
Environmentally, Aurora has long dealt with pollution of the Fox River. The river was heavily polluted up until the 1970s by factories that had lined the river for over a century. Cleanup efforts have been successful with the help of state grants and volunteer efforts.
On September 26, 2014, a fire at an air traffic control edifice in Aurora (also known as the "Chicago Center") caused nearly 2000 airline flights to be grounded.
Brian Howard, an employee of Harris Corporation, was charged in the incident.