The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832 led to the expulsion of the Native Americans who had settlements and burial mounds in the area, and set the stage for the founding of Elgin. Thousands of militiamen and soldiers of Gen. Winfield Scott's army marched through the Fox River valley during the war, and accounts of the area's fertile soils and flowing springs soon filtered east.
In New York, James T. Gifford and his brother Hezekiah Gifford heard tales of this area ripe for settlement, and travelled west. Looking for a site on the stagecoach route from Chicago to Galena, Illinois, they eventually settled on a spot where the Fox River could be bridged. In April 1835, they established the city, naming it after the Scottish tune "Elgin".
Early Elgin achieved fame for the butter and dairy goods it sold to the city of Chicago. Gail Borden established a condensed milk factory here in 1866, and the local library was named in his honor. The dairy industry became less important with the arrival of the Elgin Watch Company. The watch factory employed three generations of Elginites from the late 19th to the mid 20th century, when it was the largest producer of fine watches in the United States (the factory ceased production in 1965 and was torn down in the summer of 1966) and the operator of the largest watchmaking complex in the world. Today, the clocks at Chicago's Union Station still bear the Elgin name.
Elgin has a long tradition of education and invention. Elgin is home to the Elgin Academy, the oldest coeducational, non-sectarian college preparatory school west of the Allegheny Mountains. Elgin High School boasts five Navy admirals, a Nobel Prize winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Tony Award winner, two Academy Award–winning producers, Olympic athletes and a General Motors CEO among its alumni. Elgin resident John Murphy invented the motorized streetsweeper in 1914 and later formed the Elgin Sweeper Corporation. Pioneering African-American chemist Lloyd Hall was an Elgin native, as was the legendary marketer and car stereo pioneer Earl "Madman" Muntz and Max Adler, founder of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, America's first planetarium.
Local historian E. C. Alft has written several books and an ongoing newspaper column about Elgin's history.
Elgin is located at 42°2′18″N 88°19′22″W (42.0384225, -88.3226510).
According to the 2010 census, Elgin has a total area of 37.704 square miles (97.65 km2), of which 37.16 square miles (96.24 km2) (or 98.56%) is land and 0.544 square miles (1.41 km2) (or 1.44%) is water.
As of the census of 2010, there were 108,188 people, and 37,848 households. The population density was 2,911.2 people per square mile. There were 37,848 housing units at an average density of 1,306.5 per square mile (504.5/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 65.9% White, 7.4% African American, 1.40% Native American, 5.4% Asian, 16.3% from other races, and 3.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 43.6% of the population. A significant portion of Elgin's Asian population was of Laotian origin.
There were 35,094 households out of which 38% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.6% were married couples living together, 13.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 28.0% were non-families. 19.4% of all households were made up of individuals 65 years and older, and 7.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.03 and the average family size was 3.56.
In the city, the population was spread out with 23.4% under the age of 18, 10.7% from 18 to 24, 33.6% from 25 to 44, 18.2% from 45 to 64, and 8.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32.5 years. 50.2% of the population was female.
The median income for a household in the city was $56,337, and the median income for a family was $68,740. Males had a median income of $39,581 versus $28,488 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,478. About 6.4% of families and 8.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.6% of those under age 18 and 4.7% of those age 65 or over.
In 2013, Elgin ranked number one in the Chicago metropolitan area in new home starts, while ranking second in new home closings. Elgin's downtown had also been the center of city renovations and new developments. New townhouses, condo towers, loft spaces, and art galleries have opened in the last decade. In October 2003 the Gail Borden Public Library moved into a new $30 million, 139,980 square foot, 460,000 volume-capacity building. In August 2009 the city opened the first ever satellite branch. The 10,000 square foot Rakow Branch, situated on Elgin's West Side, was LEED registered, and was designed to be expandable up to 30,000 square feet. Elgin had opened the 185,000 sq. ft. Centre of Elgin recreation facility across the street from the library. In 2014, Elgin completed the Central Business District Streetscape Improvement Project and the Riverside Drive Promenade.
In the 1990s, Elgin became one of the few cities in northern Illinois to host a riverboat casino. The Grand Victoria Casino initially generated controversy, but went on to be a significant source of income for the city. Drawing nearly four million people annually, as of March 2005 it was the fifth most popular tourist attraction in Illinois. The Grand Victoria Foundation, to which the casino had contributed an amount in excess of $116 million, provides community grants to nonprofits in the city. In the years since, more casinos have opened in the area and the Grand Victoria Casino had seen attendance and revenue decline.
A significant Laotian American community calls Elgin home. Elgin had been the sister city of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, since 1967. Some Laotian Americans have opened stores and restaurants, contributing to the city's cultural diversity.
Elgin's civic society was characterized by a large, diverse, and effective group of grassroots organizations, a sense of community pride and a spirit of volunteerism and participation. In recognition of this, for the second time, Elgin won the National Civic League's prestigious All-America City Award in 2002.
Elgin was chartered as a city by the State of Illinois in 1854, and 100 years later became the first city in Illinois to adopt a council-manager form of government. Residents elect six at-large council members and a mayor, who serve on a part-time basis. The city council meets every other Wednesday at 6:00 pm at City Hall. The city manager, a full-time professional, serves at the pleasure of the mayor and city council.
Residents elect six at-large council members and a mayor, who serve on a part-time basis. The city manager, a full-time professional, serves at the direction of the mayor and city council. As a result of the 2010 census placing Elgin at 108,000 residents, two additional council seats was going to be elected in 2013, bringing the council to eight at-large members.
The current council members are Corey Dixon, Richard Dunne, Terry L. Gavin, Rosamaria Martinez, Tish S. Powell, Carol J. Rauschenberger, Toby Shaw, and F. John Steffen. Elgin's current mayor and city manager are Dave Kaptain and Rick Kozal, respectively.
The city council meets every second and fourth Wednesday at 6:00 pm in the council chambers, located on the second floor of city hall. Agenda and minutes are available online via www.cityofelgin.org. Residents may attend in person at city hall, watch the live video stream from the online newsroom, or view the replays on cable Channel 17.
The city was represented in the Illinois legislature by Representatives Anna Moeller (D), Steven Andersson (R), and Fred Crespo (D) and Senators Cristina Castro (D) and Karen McConnaughay (R). In the US House of Representatives, Elgin was represented by Randy Hultgren (R), Peter Roskam (R), and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D).
Elgin includes portions of Hanover Township in Cook County and Elgin Township, Plato Township, Rutland Township, Dundee Township, and Campton Township in Kane County. Elgin Township was governed by a supervisor (Annette Miller), highway commissioner (Rick Burnidge), clerk (Laura Wallett) and four trustees (Randy Endean, J. Patrick Hudgens, Robert Johnson, Vicki Pelock) elected to four-year terms.
Elgin Fire Department had 133 sworn firefighters, and 7 fire stations with plans to expand as the city grows. The front line fire apparatus consists of 6 ALS fire engines, 3 ladder trucks, 5 ALS ambulances, 2 boats, and a rescue raft, along with several vehicles used for inspections and other official business. Two of the ladder truck companies are part-time that double as part-time ambulances.
Elgin was home to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, one of the finest orchestras in Illinois, and a primary option for live symphonic music in Chicago's Northwest suburbs. Other classical music groups include the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra - the only youth symphony ever invited to Ravinia, the Elgin Master Chorale, and the Elgin Children's Chorus. Outdoor music can be heard at the Wing Park Bandshell. Theatre groups include the Janus Theatre Company, Elgin Theatre Company, Children's Theatre of Elgin, Fox Valley Youth Theatre, and Nothing Special Productions. Together, The Hemmens Cultural Center and Elgin Community College's Visual & Performing Arts Center host dozens of performances a year by performers ranging from Chicago's Hubbard Street Dance Company to comedian Bill Maher.
After losing many landmark businesses in the 1980s, downtown Elgin experienced a renaissance in the 1990s with the arrival of the Grand Victoria riverboat casino and improvement in the local economy. Many historic buildings have been transformed into stylish clubs and restaurants.
Elgin's city parks include 112-acre (45 ha) Lords Park, which features the Elgin Public Museum and a herd of American bison, and 121-acre (49 ha) Wing Park, which includes a golf course. Other golf courses within Elgin include the Highlands of Elgin, the Elgin Country Club, and Bowes Creek Country Club. The Centre of Elgin, which among other features includes an aquatic park and a climbing wall, remains one of the largest municipal recreation centers in the United States. The Elgin Sports Complex on the city's southwest side offers ten lighted ballfields, ten soccer fields and The Hill BMX track. The complex hosts several local, regional and national tournaments every year. Elgin connects to Algonquin and Dundee to the north, and St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia to the south by the Fox River Trail bike path.
Although one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in Illinois, Elgin still retains some of the natural beauty and habitat diversity that first brought settlers to this area. On the east, the city borders the 4,200-acre (1,700 ha) Poplar Creek Preserve, maintained by the Cook County Forest Preserves, which includes bike trails, hiking trails and equestrian trails. The Shoe Factory Road Prairie located in the preserve provides an example of the hill prairies that once dotted the region. Poplar Creek Preserves connects to the 4,000-acre (1,600 ha) Spring Creek Valley Forest Preserve via a conservation easement covering parts of the Sears campus.
Elgin boasts two highly protected nature preserves, the Bluff Spring Fen and Trout Park. For its size, Bluff Spring Fen has a remarkable number of distinct plant communities, including a hill prairie and a fen, or alkaline spring marshland, which was home to several rare orchids. Trout Park also includes a similar calcareous seep community, with the addition of a unique forest community of oaks, ashes, maples, and uncommon species such as arborvitae and witch-hazel. When the park was created in the 1920s, the local newspaper ran a lengthy front-page story with lists of the plant species of Trout Park, reflecting both the great variety of plants present and the interest Elginites had in conservation. In the 1960s, the Northwest Tollway bisected the site and reduced it in size.
The city was known for its historic architecture and landmarks from the Victorian era, including some fine examples of homes in the Queen Anne style. Many of the most remarkable homes once belonged to National Watch Company executives. Many interesting Sears Catalog Homes arrived in Elgin as kits from 1908 to 1940. The Elgin Tower Building, erected in 1929, is a historic office building downtown.
Predating Victorian homes were homes made of native cobblestone. It was believed that Elgin had at one time the largest concentration of cobblestone homes outside of Rochester, New York. Several such homes built by the earliest settlers still stand. They can be seen in Elgin's historic districts, two of which are recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
The Elgin Public Museum at Lords Park was the oldest building in Illinois built expressly as a museum that was still serving that purpose.
The nine-member Elgin Heritage Commission promotes historic preservation activity. The Gifford Park Association was also active in historic preservation, and conducts a popular annual house tour.
Elgin has three stations on Metra's Milwaukee District/West Line, which provides daily rail service between Elgin and Chicago, Illinois (at Union Station): National Street, Elgin, and Big Timber Road. Big Timber Road is the western terminus of this service.
Elgin used to have a streetcar system, operated by the Aurora, Elgin and Fox River Electric Company. Additionally, Elgin was served by several interurban lines. The most prominent of these was the Chicago Aurora and Elgin Railroad which provided frequent service into Chicago.
Local bus service is provided by PACE (the Suburban bus provider of the Northeastern Illinois Regional Transportation Authority). PACE operates about a dozen bus routes in the city with service running Monday through Saturday. Most of the routes terminate at the Elgin Transportation Center located at 100 West Chicago Street in downtown. Routes generally run every half hour and meet up at the terminal at the same time to provide convenient transferring. Several routes also travel out of Elgin to other nearby suburbs, such as Carpentersville, Dundee (Spring Hill Mall), Schaumburg (Woodfield Mall), and St. Charles (Charlestowne Mall and connecting bus service to Aurora and Geneva).
Beginning in 2016, Pace began service on an express route between Elgin and the Rosemont CTA. The service operates along I-90. Access to the bus route is via the Elgin Transportation Center and Randall Road park and ride lot.
Major highways in Elgin include:
Four public school districts and 18 private schools serve Elgin.Elgin Area School District U46—Elgin-based, serves most of Elgin
Community Unit School District 301—Burlington-based, serves some western portions of Elgin
Community Unit School District 300—Carpentersville-based, serves some northwestern portions of Elgin
Community Unit School District 303—St. Charles-based, serves some southwestern portions of Elgin
Private schools include:Harvest Christian Academy
Highland Christian Academy
Da Vinci Academy
The Einstein Academy
Fox Valley Lutheran Academy
Good Shepherd Lutheran School
Northwest Baptist Academy
St. Edward Central Catholic High School
St. John's Lutheran School
St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School
St. Laurence Catholic Elementary School
St. Mary Elementary School
St. Thomas More Catholic Elementary School
Westminster Christian School
Elgin Community College serves the district #509 communities of St. Charles, Burlington, South Elgin, Wayne, Bartlett, Algonquin, Dundee, Hampshire and smaller towns, and was one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the state.
Judson University, an accredited, four-year liberal arts American Baptist college, sits on the banks of the Fox River on the city's northwest side. Judson features graduate programs in architecture and education.
National Louis University was an accredited private non-profit undergraduate and graduate institution of higher learning, in colleges of education, arts and sciences, and business and management.
Providence Baptist College, an unaccredited four-year Independent Baptist vocational college. Providence Baptist College was not accredited by any recognized higher education accreditation body. Therefore, its degrees may not be acceptable to employers or other institutions, and use of degree titles may be restricted or illegal in some jurisdiction.
In 1936, a commemorative silver half dollar was issued by the United States Mint commemorating the centennial of Elgin. The coin was meant to raise money for the pioneer family memorial proposed by Elgin sculptor Trygve Rovelstad, and sold for $1.50. The obverse features the profile of a pioneer with the dates 1673 * 1936, while the reverse features a pioneer family; both images are based on a centennial "Pioneer Medal" made by Rovelstad. The date 1673 was in reference to the expedition of Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, despite the fact that their journey took them nowhere near the future site of Elgin.
The coin did not prove to be a popular success, probably because of the Great Depression and the great variety of commemorative coins being issued at the time. Five thousand of the 25,000 coins initially minted were unsold and melted down by the mint. Rovelstad's pioneer statue was not installed until 2001.Elgin was one of the communities around the Chicago metropolitan area affected by the 1920 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak on March 18, 1920.
Scenes from the film Four Friends (1981) were shot in the west side neighborhood just above the Woodruff and Edwards foundry.
Part of the comedy film Dennis the Menace (1993) was set in Elgin.
The Elgin Mental Health Center appears in the movie Primal Fear (1996).
A scene in the suspense/thriller film Contagion (2011) was filmed in Elgin's Sherman Hospital.
Parts of the horror film Plastic were shot in Elgin.
A scene in the 2010 film A Nightmare on Elm Street was shot in Elgin's Bluff City Cemetery.
Purge Feed footage depicts Elgin in The Purge (2013).
The exterior of the home in the television series Grace Under Fire was on Elgin's east side at 445 DuPage Street.
In "Unearthed", an episode of the television series Prison Break, Dr. Sara Tancredi stayed at a motel in Elgin.
The television series Roseanne was set in the fictional town of Lanford but was modeled after Elgin At one point, Jackie attends a trucking school in Elgin. In another episode Roseanne offers to take Jackie to the hospital in Elgin.