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Once a mid-sized manufacturing city, Aurora has grown 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 in 1881 it was one of the first cities in the United States to implement an all-electric street lighting system. 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.
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. As representatives could not agree which side of the river should house the public buildings, most public buildings were built on or around Stolp Island in the middle of the river.
As the city grew, it attracted numerous factories and jobs. In 1856, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad located its roundhouse and locomotive shop in Aurora, becoming the town's largest employer, a rank it held until the 1960s. Railroad restructuring in the railroad industry resulted in a loss of jobs as the number of railroads reduced and they dropped lines for passenger traffic. Aurora at one time had regularly scheduled passenger trains to Chicago.
The heavy industries on the East side provided employment for generations of European immigrants, who came from Ireland, Great Britain, 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 railroad's shops--accounted for much of the dynamics of Aurora's political, economic, and social history. The city 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 here and the city established a high school for girls in 1855.
The city developed as a manufacturing powerhouse and continued 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 began of the Far East side along the Eola Road and Route 59 areas. While this was financially beneficial to the city, it drew off retail businesses and manufacturing from downtown and the industrial sectors of the near East and West Sides, respectively, weakening them. In the mid-1980s crime rates soared and street gangs started to form.
During this time Aurora became a much more ethnically diverse city. The Latino population began 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 Aurora. Subdivisions sprouted up around the city, and Aurora's population soared.
Today, Aurora is a ethnically diverse city of around 200,000 residents. Historic areas downtown are being redeveloped, and new developments are being built all over the city.
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.
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 -31 °F (-35 °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.
Climate data for Chicago Aurora Municipal Airport, Illinois
There were 61,831 households out of which 46.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.4% were married couples living together, 13.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.4% were non-families. 19.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.12 and the average family size was 3.63 as of the 2010 census.
In the city, the population was spread out with 30.1% under the age of 18, 10.1% from 18 to 24, 30.5% from 25 to 44, 21.5% from 45 to 64, and 7.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32.0 years. For every 100 females, there were 97.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.8 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $63,967, and the median income for a family was $72,696. For full-time workers, males had a median income of $48,296 versus $37,823 for females. The per capita income for the city was $26,989. About 11.1% of families and 14.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.6% of those under age 18 and 8.8% 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 2017 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.
The Paramount Theatre under renovation, downtown Aurora.
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 was formerly located on Stolp Island near the Paramount Theatre, recently[when?] closed. 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, and making the area more inviting. The plan also included a pedestrian bridge to connect the banks of the river. Also in the works is a plan to modify or reconstruct the bridges to Stolp Island, which have not been maintained for nearly 60 years.
Aurora has a rich history of entertainment. There have been 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:
Coulter Opera House
This was Aurora's first major playhouse/opera house/theater. It has been adapted as the Fifth Third Bank, formerly Merchants Bank. The upper floors have been converted to the Coulter Court Residences, an affordable-housing development.
Evans Grand Opera House
Aurora Coliseum / Fox Theater
Changed name to Fox Theater in 1910. Condemned by the city in 1930.
Taylorville Theater / Star Theater
The Strand Theater
Burned down in 1929.
Eighteen city blocks from the original Aurora Coliseum. Was converted into apartments and shops after 1951.
Sylvandell Dance Hall / Rialto Theater
Changed its name to the Rialto Theater in 1919. This was the most popular theater in Aurora, but it burned down in 1928. This was nicknamed the "Million Dollar Fire" because of owners Frank Thielen and Jules J. Rubens had spent much money in converting the dance hall to a high quality theater. It had a bowling alley in the basement. The Paramount was developed on the former site of the Rialto.
Demolished soon after it was closed. The Tivoli was one of Aurora's more popular theaters, and competed with the Paramount theater. It included a bowling alley.
The Aurora Islanders/Blues/Foxes, a minor league baseball franchise, 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; he 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. He became known as a manager of baseball teams.
Waubonsie Valley High School (IPSD--District 204) Soccer has 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; it was ranked #1 of all high school girls' soccer teams in the United States after 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 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. It gained popularity after World War II when the Aurora Sealmasters Men's team finished fifth in the nation in 1950. The Sealmasters won National Championships in 1959, 1961, 1965, and 1967, and World Championships in 1966 and 1968. The Sealmasters played their games at Stevens-Adamson Field, a significant fastpitch stadium on Ridgeway Avenue on the city's 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.
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 in Aurora six days a week (no service on Sundays) and connects to cities and village 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.
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.
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 and Resurrection Lutheran School , a Pre-K-8 grade school of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. 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:
The Beacon-News is Aurora's oldest business, first published in 1846, and is part of the Tribune Publishing. 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 7 murders in 2016.
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.
2014 Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center fire
At approximately 1:30 PM on February 15, 2019, police responded to an active shooter situation in west Aurora to find that 45-year-old Gary Martin had opened fire on fellow employees at the Henry Pratt Company after being terminated from the company. Five officers and several civilians were injured in the ensuing standoff, after which police entered the building and neutralized Martin. In total, the incident left six dead (including the gunman) and numerous others wounded. It was the first major shooting in the town's history.
Goddess of Victory statue on Memorial Bridge, built c. 1931. In background is entrance to Hollywood Casino, c. 1993.
Stolp Island with Leland Tower from New York St. Bridge. Detail of Memorial Bridge figure Memory.
View of Stolp Island historic buildings from Downer Place with architectural details, such as these terracotta tiles.
^The Burlington Railroad ran passenger trains between Chicago and Aurora for over 100 years, since Aurora was an important suburb. See "Chicago-Aurora Centennial, 1864-1964" (Burlington Railroad, 1964).