Elgin, IL

Elgin, Illinois
Location within Chicagoland.The Chicagoland tristate area.
IncorporatedCity in 1854.
County, StateKane & Cook, Illinois
TownshipElgin Township & Hanover Township
MayorEd Schock
Population (2000)94,487 (up 22.69% from 1990)
Pop. density1,459.3/km2 (3,779.1/mi2)
Zip code(s)60120, 60121, 60122, 60123
Area code847 & 224
Land Area64.7 km2 (25.0 mi2)
Lat. / long.42°2.22"N 88°17.19"W
IncomePer capita:   $21,112
Household: $52,605
Home valueMean:    $229,300 (2005)
Median: $138,500 (2000)
Demographics (Full data)

Elgin (pronounced [ˈɛldÊ'ɪn] (IPA)) is a city 40 mi. (64.5 km) northwest of Chicago, Illinois on the Fox River. Most of Elgin lies within Kane County, Illinois, with a portion in Cook County, Illinois. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 94,487, making it the eighth largest city in Illinois. Elgin is a diverse and rapidly growing community that was profiled in a 1997 issue of Money Magazine as a microcosm of the United States.

Elgin's population surpassed 100,000 by 2005, and the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission forecasts Elgin will have a population of 162,416 in 2030.


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. During the war thousands of militiamen and soldiers of Gen. Winfield Scott's army marched through the Fox River valley. 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, they eventually settled on a spot where the Fox River could be bridged. In 1836 they established the city, naming it after the Scottish hymn "The Song of Elgin."

Early Elgin was famous for the butter and dairy goods it provided to the city of Chicago. Gail Borden established a condensed milk factory here in 1866, and today the local library bears his name. The dairy industry became less important with the arrival of the Elgin Watch Company, also known as The National Watch Company. The watch factory employed three generations of Elginites from the late 19th to early 20th century, when it was the largest producer of fine watches in the United States. 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, 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.

Architecture and historic preservation

The city is 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.

Predating Victorian homes were homes made of native cobblestone. It is 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 is the oldest building in Illinois built expressly as a museum that is still serving that purpose.

The 9-member Elgin Heritage Commission promotes historic preservation activity. The Gifford Park Association is also active in historic preservation, and conducts a popular annual house tour.

Arts, Recreation, and Conservation

Elgin is home to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, "Illinois' second orchestra," according to Chicago Tribune music critic John Von Rhein. Other classical music groups include the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra"the only youth symphony ever invited to Ravinia, the Elgin Choral Union, the Elgin Children's Chorus, and O.P.E.R.A. Outdoor music can be heard at the Wing Park Bandshell. Theatre groups include the Janus Theatre Company, Talisman Theatre, which is responsible for productions of Shakespeare in the Park, Elgin Community Theatre, Children's Theatre of Elgin, and Fox Valley Youth Theatre. Together, the Hemmens Auditorium 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 1980's, 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 (453,000 m²) Lords Park, which features a petting zoo and a herd of American bison, and 121 acre (490,000 m²) Wing Park, which includes a golf course. Other golf courses within Elgin include the Rolling Knolls Country Club, the Highlands of Elgin, and the Elgin 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 Chicago area's premier BMX Track, The Hill. 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 (17 km2) Poplar Creek Preserve, maintained by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County, 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 (16 km2) Spring Creek Valley Forest Preserve via a conservation easement covering parts of the Sears campus.

Elgin boasts two highly protected Illinois 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 is home to several rare orchids. Trout Park also includes a similar calcerous seep community, with the addition of a unique forest community of oaks, ashes, maples, and uncommon species such as arbor vitae and witch hazel. When the park was created in the 1920's, 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 interest Elginites had in conservation. In the 1960s, the Northwest Tollway bisected the site and reduced it in size.

Elgin today

Elgin ranks as one of the most rapidly growing cities in Illinois. Elgin Mayor Ed Schock was quoted in the Chicago Tribune in June 2005, saying that Elgin will in 40 years be the second largest city in Illinois. The city's Far West Development Strategy calls for the construction of 14,000 homes on agricultural land west of Randall Road, which has become a major retail corridor connecting the Fox Valley. Elgin's downtown area has also attracted developer interest. Three large residential projects will be completed in the downtown by 2007, at a total cost of more than $100 million. The Gail Borden Public Library moved into a new $30 million 460,000 volume-capacity building in October of 2003. Other recent projects include the city's $41 million recreational center, the Centre of Elgin.

The city's rapid growth has been accompanied by increased concerns about traffic, urban sprawl, and the city's capacity to provide services to new residents. City officials insist that Elgin's water plants have ample capacity to serve new residents. Elgin is known for the quality of its tap water, which in the past ten years has been named both the finest in Kane County and the finest in Illinois.

The city is served by Elgin Community College, one of the fastest-growing community colleges in the state, and Judson College, a four-year Christian college on the banks of the Fox River. Judson features graduate programs in architecture and education, and as of May, 2005 is contemplating a name change to Judson University.

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 has since proven a significant source of income for the city. Drawing nearly four million people annually, as of March 2005, it is the fifth most popular tourist attraction in Illinois. The Grand Victoria Foundation, to which the casino has contributed an amount in excess of $116 million, provides community grants to nonprofits in the city.

A significant Lao community calls Elgin home. Elgin has been the sister city of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, since 1967. Some Lao have opened stores and restaurants, contributing to the city's remarkable diversity.

Elgin's civic society is 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.

Community Groups

  • Downtown Neighborhood Association of Elgin


Elgin's city seal

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 6:00pm at City Hall. The city manager, a full-time professional, serves at the pleasure of the mayor and city council. Elgin's current mayor is Ed Schock.

The city is represented in the Illinois legislature by Representative Ruth Munson (R) and Senator Steven J. Rauschenberger (R), Assistant Minority Leader. In Congress, Elgin is represented by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R), Representative Henry Hyde (R), and Representative Melissa Bean (D). Senator Rauschenberger was a primary candidate for U.S. senate in the 2004 elections, and is a candidate for Illinois lieutenant governor in 2006.

Elgin is in Hanover Township of Cook County and Elgin Township of Kane County. Elgin Township is governed by a supervisor (Annette Miller) and four trustees (Robert "Bob" Johnson, J. Patrick Hudgens, Vicki Pellock and Kurt R. Kojzarek) elected to four year terms.


Elgin is located at 42°2'22" North, 88°17'19" West (42.039426, -88.288627).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 65.8 km2 (25.4 mi2). 64.7 km2 (25.0 mi2) of it is land and 1.0 km2 (0.4 mi2) of it is water. The total area is 1.54% water.


As of the census of 2000, there were 94,487 people, 31,543 households, and 22,395 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,459.3/km2 (3,779.1/mi2). There were 32,665 housing units at an average density of 504.5/km2 (1,306.5/mi2). The racial makeup of the city was 70.49% White, 6.80% African American, 0.40% Native American, 3.88% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 15.39% from other races, and 2.98% from two or more races. 34.32% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. A significant portion of Elgin's Asian population is of Laotian origin.

There were 31,543 households out of which 39.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 11.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.0% were non-families. 23.3% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.94 and the average family size was 3.49.

In the city the population was spread out with 29.0% 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 31 years. For every 100 females there were 99.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $52,605, and the median income for a family was $58,404. Males had a median income of $39,581 versus $28,488 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,112. 8.1% of the population and 6.4% of families were below the poverty line. 11.6% of those under the age of 18 and 4.7% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.

Notable Elginites

The following is a list of people who were born in, lived in, or are otherwise associated with Elgin.

  • Max Adler, vice-president of Sears & Roebuck, benefactor of Adler Planetarium
  • Alkaline Trio, indie rock band
  • Bruce Boxleitner, actor
  • BarlowGirl, Christian rock band
  • Reb Braddock, film director
  • Nina Burleigh, journalist and best-selling author
  • Gail Dack, bacteriologist and authority on food poisoning
  • Paul Flory, chemist, Nobel Prize winner
  • Lloyd Hall, chemist
  • Richard Hoover, production designer, Tony Award winner
  • Kristine Iverson, assistant secretary of labor, George W. Bush administration
  • William LeBaron, playwright, movie producer (IMDB page)
  • Jimmy John Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John's, benefactor of UIC's Liautaud Graduate School of Business
  • Helen Miller Malloch, founder of the National Federation of Press Women
  • Earl "Madman" Muntz, marketer
  • John Murphy, inventor of street sweeper
  • Frank O'Beirne, admiral and member of Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Brian Oldfield, Olympic shot putter
  • Jane Peterson, painter and artist
  • John Qualen, actor (IMDB page)
  • James Roche, president of General Motors
  • Tom Shales, journalist, Pulitzer Prize winner (1988)
  • Smoking Popes, indie rock band
  • Charles Swanson, president of Encyclopædia Britannica
  • Carleton Washburne, educator, author of the Winnetka Plan


Four public school districts and 18 private schools serve Elgin.

Public school districts serving Elgin:

  • Elgin Area School District U46 - Elgin-based, serves most of Elgin
Elgin-based Elgin Area School District U46 [1] serves an area of some 90 square miles in Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties. Almost 40,000 children of school age are in its area. U-46 is the second largest school district in Illinois. Elgin's two public high schools, Elgin High School and Larkin High School, are home to the Gifted and Talented Academy and the Visual and Performing Arts Academy, respectively.
  • Central 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:

  • Beary Special Creations
  • Christian Learning Center
  • Da Vinci Academy
  • Einstein Academy
  • Elgin Academy
  • Fox River Country Day School
  • Fox Valley Lutheran Academy
  • Good Shepherd Lutheran School
  • St Thomas More Elem School
  • St. Edward Central Catholic High School
  • St. Edward Central Catholic High School
  • St. Johns Lutheran School
  • St. Joseph Elementary School
  • St. Laurence Elementary School
  • St. Mary Elementary School
  • Summit Academy
  • Westminster Christian School

Elgin is also home to Judson College a 4-year Christian college, and Elgin Community College, which serves the district #509 communities of St. Charles, Burlington, South Elgin, Wayne, Bartlett, Algonquin, Dundee, Hampshire and smaller towns.

Commemorative coin

In 1936, a commemorative half dollar was issued by the United States Mint commemorating the centennial of Elgin, Illinois. The obverse features the profile of a pioneer with the dates 1673 * 1936, while the reverse features a pioneer family. Both images are modeled on a pioneer family memorial made by Elgin sculptor Trygve Rovelstad.

See also

  • Elgin High School