Elgin, Illinois

From Academic Kids

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The Elgin Tower Building in historic downtown Elgin dates from 1929

Elgin (pronounced [ˈɛldʒɪn] (IPA)) is a large suburb of Chicago located on the Fox River mainly in Kane County, Illinois, with a portion also 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.

The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission forecasts Elgin will have a population of 162,416 in 2030.



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The Hemmens Auditorium, home of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra, sits on the banks of the Fox River in historic downtown Elgin

James T. Gifford and his brother Hezekiah Gifford founded Elgin in 1836. The Giffords chose this site along the banks of the Fox River because it was on the stagecoach route from Chicago to Galena, Illinois and the river could be bridged there. Early Elgin was famous for the butter and dairy goods it provided to Chicago, approximately 40 mi (60 km) away. Gail Borden established a condensed milk factory here in 1866, and today the local library (http://www.elgin.lib.il.us) 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 watches in the United States. Today, the clocks at Chicago's Union Station still bear the Elgin name.

In the 1840s, the family of young Charles Ingalls moved from New York to the tallgrass prairie of Campton Township, just west of Elgin. Ingalls is better known as "Pa" from the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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, as well as Elgin High School, which boasts five navy admirals, a Nobel prize-winning chemist (Paul Flory), a Pulitzer Prize winner, and a chief executive of General Motors among its alumni. Elgin resident John Murphy invented the modern streetsweeper, and later formed the Elgin Sweeper Corporation (http://www.elginsweeper.com/aboutus/history.asp). Pioneering African-American chemist Lloyd Hall was an Elgin native, as was Max Adler, founder of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, America's first planetarium.

Beloved local historian E.C. Alft has written several books and has an ongoing newspaper column about Elgin's history (http://www.elginhistory.com/).

Architecture & Historic Preservation

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A Victorian-era house in the Italianate Style near downtown Elgin

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 and Shingle style. Many of the most remarkable homes once belonged to National Watch Company executives. Two historic districts are recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. The 9-member Elgin Heritage Commission promotes historic preservation activity. The Gifford Park Association (http://www.gifford-park-assoc.org/about_the_gpa.cfm) is also very active in historic preservation, and conducts an annual house tour.

The Elgin Public Museum at Lords Park is the oldest building in Illinois built expressly as a museum that is still serving that purpose.

Arts & Recreation

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Lords Park Pavilion

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 Elgin Choral Union, and the Elgin Children's Chorus. Outdoor music venues include the Wing Park Bandshell and the Festival Park Bandshell, under construction as of May, 2005. Theatre groups include the Janus Theatre Company, Talisman Theatre, which is responsible for productions of Shakespeare in the Park, and Elgin Community Theatre.

The Mission (http://www.medusachicago.com), located in downtown Elgin, is a popular nightclub for 17-24 year olds, drawing young people from all over the Northwest suburbs. Another club, Luxur, opened in May of 2005 in the building that housed the original Gail Borden Public Library. The girls of the nationally famous Christian band BarlowGirl (http://www.barlowgirl.com) are Elgin natives, and occasionally perform in their hometown.

Elgin has several large city parks, including 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, is one of the largest municipal recreation centers in the United States.

Elgin is connected with Algonquin and Dundee to the north, and St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia to the south by the Fox River Trail bike path. Chicago is 40 minutes away by car.

Elgin Today

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A new luxury townhome development on Kimball Avenue in downtown Elgin

Elgin ranks as one of the most rapidly growing cities in Illinois. Elgin Mayor Ed Shock 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 previously 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 are expected to be completed in the downtown by 2007, at a total cost of more than $100 million. The new 460,000 volume-capacity library, completed at a cost of $30 million, as well as the city's $32 million recreational center, the Centre of Elgin, has helped to renew homebuyer interest in the revitalized downtown.

This remarkable 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 all 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 only cities in northern Illinois to host a riverboat casino. The Grand Victoria Casino was initially controversial but has proven a significant source of income for the city. It draws thousands from all over Chicagoland to Elgin's downtown every day. The Grand Victoria Foundation, to which the casino has contributed an amount in excess of $116 million, is a major provider of grants to nonprofits in the city.

Elgin is home to a large Lao community, and has been the sister city of Vientiane, the capital of Laos, since 1967. Some Lao have opened grocery stores, where otherwise hard to find Asian ingredients and goods can be purchased locally.

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.


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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 Shock.

The city is represented in the Illinois legislature by Representative Ruth Munson (http://www.ruthmunson.com/)(R) and Senator Steven J. Rauschenberger (http://www.ilga.gov/Senate/Senator.asp?GA=94&MemberID=1004) (R), Assistant Minority Leader. In Congress, Elgin is represented by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) and Representative Melissa Bean (D). Senator Rauschenberger was a primary candidate for U.S. senate in the 2004 elections, and has expressed his intention to run for Illinois governor in 2006.

Elgin is in Hanover Township of Cook County and Elgin Township (http://www.elgintownship.com/) of Kane County. Elgin Township is governed by a supervisor and four trustees.


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

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.

Ecologically notable places within the city limits include Trout Park and Bluff Spring Fen, a rare ecosystem and Illinois nature preserve where Lady Slipper Orchids are endemic.


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A bungalow on Highland Avenue
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A historic home in the shingle style

As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there are 94,487 people, 31,543 households, and 22,395 families residing in the city. The population density is 1,459.3/km² (3,779.1/mi²). There are 32,665 housing units at an average density of 504.5/km² (1,306.5/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 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 are Hispanic or Latino of any race. Elgin's Asian population is mostly of Lao origin.

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

In the city the population is 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 are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 31 years. For every 100 females there are 99.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 98.8 males.

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

Commemorative coin

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The Pioneer Family Memorial sculpture in beautiful downtown Elgin. The Gail Borden Public Library is in the background.

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.

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