“Satellite City Profile: Aurora, Illinois” by S.M. O’Connor

Aurora, Illinois is a small city, but it is genuinely a city, located on the Fox River over thirty miles outside Chicago city limits that in the late 1990s became enmeshed in the outermost ring of Chicago suburbs. Aurora is a satellite city of Chicago that is about thirty-five miles west of the Chicago Loop.[1]  With a population of 197,899 in 2010, Aurora was the second most populous city in Illinois after Chicago, and the 112th most populous city in the United States.  Aurora is spread out over Kane, DuPage, and Will Counties.  It is the anchor of the Fox River Valley’s sub-regional economy. Aurora is one of several satellite cities of Chicago.  There are a string of such small cities along the Fox River, with the largest being Elgin and Aurora, the others being McHenry, Algonquin, and Carpentersville north of Aurora; St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia between Elgin to the north and Aurora to the south; Oswego, Ottawa, and Yorkville south of Aurora.  Elgin had a population of about 110,000 in 2013 while Aurora had a population of 199,963 in 2013.  The Fox River is a 202-mile-long tributary of the Illinois River, which is, in turn, a tributary of the mighty Mississippi River.  West of the Fox River, Chicago’s other satellite cities are Rockford and DeKalb.  Joliet is a satellite city southwest of Chicago.  Aurora was named in honor of the winged Roman goddess of the dawn (comparable to the Greek goddess Eos), sister of Sol, the sun god, and Luna, the moon goddess.  The Roman poet Ovid (43 B.C. – 17/18 A.D.) asserted she was the daughter of either the Athenian prince Pallas or the Titan (pre-Olympian god) Hyperion, the “lord of light” before the Olympian sun god Apollo.

It is appropriate, therefore, that in 1908 the Aurora city council adopted the motto “City of Lights” (a play in Paris being the City of Light).  This was partially in honor of Aurora having adopting an all-electric streetlight system in 1881, making it one of the first cities to do so.  This was accomplished by mounting arc lamps on 150-foot-tall towers that were scattered throughout Aurora.  In 1886, Aurora became the first city in the world to own its own electric power plant. By 1908, the arc lamp towers had been replaced by modern electric streetlights.  In that year, town merchants banded together and paid for a decorative lighting system, which was the immediate impetus for the city council to adopt the motto “City of Lights.”  Increasingly, Aurora has become suburbanized.  As the empty spaces between Aurora, Naperville, and Warrenville have filled in, they have increasingly grown together into a secondary regional hub after the Loop.  Aurora has a real downtown, albeit a small one compared to Chicago’s.  Parts of Aurora seem more like a suburb than a small industrial city at the westernmost edge of metropolitan Chicago.  These parts of Aurora include affluent residential subdivisions and a sprawling retail district in DuPage County along Route 59, centering on Fox Valley Mall (now Westfield Fox Valley Shopping Mall).

Downtown Aurora has a landscape typical of a small Midwestern city with moderately tall buildings that have been erected in close proximity to each other, similar in appearance to downtown Elgin, downtown Joliet, and downtown Springfield, for that matter.  The outlying districts have the semi-rural aspect found in Chicago’s exurbs (not unlike the outer neighborhoods and suburbs of Elgin).  Easternmost Aurora is undifferentiated from suburban sprawl.

The entirety of Aurora is west of Illinois Route 59, but the city limits reach 59 north of 75th Street and south of the B.N.S.F. railroad tracks.  Fox Valley Mall is a large regional mall on 59, at the southwestern corner of 59 and Aurora Boulevard.  The anchor department stores are Macy’s; Carson’s (formerly Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company); Sears, Roebuck & Company; and J.C. Penney.  A large number of strip malls and free-standing stores and restaurants have grown up around Fox Valley Mall along 59, north of 75th Street and south of Diehl Road.  Those businesses west of 59 are in Aurora and those east of 59 are in Naperville.  Aurora benefits from the cluster of office buildings in Warrenville concentrated along I-88/Regan Memorial Tollway/Chicago-Kansas City Expressway, but that corridor of businesses ends before the tollway enters Aurora.  However, Aurora has a second large mall, which is accessible from I-88, Chicago Premium Outlets, which is north of the tollway.

North of Aurora is North Aurora, and thus, Mooseheart, an unincorporated community that is a home for children in Kane County under the care of the Loyol Order of the Moose.  The unincorporated community of Wenmoth Acres is northwest of Mooseheart and due north of northwestern Aurora.  Batavia is also north of Mooseheart.  Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (FermiLab) is north of northeastern Aurora.  It is so large that it is parallel with part of central Aurora, as well as the whole of Mooseheart and most of Batavia.  Warrenville and Naperville are east of Aurora, as is the DuPage Forest Preserve District’s Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve.  The unincorporated community of Eola is sandwiched between Aurora and Naperville.  Montgomery is south of Aurora.  The unincorporated community of Boulder Hill is south of Montgomery and Oswego is south of Boulder Hill.  Sugar Grove and Kane County Forest Preserve District’s 715-acre Aurora West Forest Preserve are west of Aurora.  This forest preserve has greatly expanded in recent years.  It began in 1977 when the Forest District of Kane County purchased 117 acres of farmland.  By 2000, the Forest Preserve District of Kane County acquired an additional sixty-four acres.  Thanks to a grant, the Kane County Forest Preserve District acquired another 351 acres.

Aurora Country Club is east of the Fox River and south of Prairie Street and north of Jericho Road in southern Aurora.  Orchard Valley Golf Course is an eighteen-hole, 6,800-yard golf course with a 15,000-square-foot clubhouse in western Aurora that borders on the Aurora West Forest Preserve.  It is open to the public.

Presence Mercy Medical Center is west of Lake Street (and the Fox River) and south if I-88.  Founded in 1911, this is a 292-bed, full-service hospital with a Level II Trauma Center.  Presence Health is the largest Catholic healthcare system in Illinois.  Affiliated institutions own and operate hospitals, nursing homes, physician practices, clinics, diagnostic centers, home health services, hospice services, and other healthcare services.  It is sponsored by five congregations of women religious.

Schools in Aurora include Aurora University, Waubonsee Community College, and the Illinois Math & Science Academy (I.M.S.A.).  Aurora University is a private, non-profit, co-educational liberal arts university with three colleges.  It started out as Mendota Seminary in Mendota, Illinois.  Automobile manufacturer Charles Eckhart paid for the construction of the first three buildings of the relocated school in 1912.  Aurora University’s main campus is south of Galena Boulevard and north of Prairie Street.  Waubonsee Community College has four campuses, two of which are in Aurora.  The other two are in Sugar Grove and Plano.  The two campuses in Aurora are Downtown Aurora at 18 South River Street and Fox Valley at 2060 Ogden Avenue.  The I.M.S.A. is an independently-managed state-funded magnet school.  It is a residential school for gifted high school students founded by Governor Jim Thompson at the instigation of Nobel laureate Leon Lederman, a former director of FermiLab.

According to the Aurora Historical Society, “The longest-standing sports rivalry in the state of Illinois is between East and West Aurora High Schools.” The two public high schools have played an annual football game since 1893.  Basketball became another source of rivalry in 1912.

There are three Catholic high schools in Aurora.  The Diocese of Rockford operates Aurora Central Catholic High School, which represents a 1968 merger of two separate schools for boys and girls.  It is located at 1255 North Edgelawn Drive.  Rosary High School, founded in 1962, is an all-girls college prep school sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Springfield, Illinois.  The address is 901 North Edgelawn Drive.  [Yes, both of the first two Catholic high schools are on Edgelawn.  The more northerly of the two, Aurora Central Catholic High School, is also remarkably close to the Illinois Math and Science Academy.  Randall Park is all the separates them.]  The Benedictine priests and monks of Marmion Abbey run Marmion Academy, an all-boys high school with a United States Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program.[2]  On March 21, 2011, Abbot John Brahill, O.S.B., announced the passing of Father George Glover, O.S.B., a former teacher and dean of the school and prior of the abbey, and pastor of St. Peter’s Church in Aurora.  He also announced that he had appointed “Dr. James Quaid as the new Headmaster of Marmion Academy, effective July 1, 2011.”  Currently, there are seven monks teaching at Marmion Academy, with the rest of faculty members being laymen and laywomen.  The address of Marmion Academy is 1000 Butterfield Road.

Marmion Abbey is next door to Marmion Academy.  The address of Marmion Abbey is 850 Butterfield Road.  It is common for abbeys, monasteries, and convents to support themselves wih farms and Marmion Abbey has Marmion Abbey Farms.  Appropriately, it is, in part, a Christmas tree farm.  Every year, they plant 10,000 to 15,000 Christmas tree seedlings, which take eight-to-ten years to grow to appropriate height to be sold.  Families can rent a saw to cut down a Christmas tree or purchase a pre-cut tree.  In summertime, Abbey Farms has a farm produce store.  During the fall, families can purchase pumpkins.  During Pumpkin Daze, Abbey Farms features the largest corn maze in the region, corn cannons, human hamster balls, a tractor tire mountain, hayrides, and a weekend petting zoo.  The Abbey Farms store sells apple cider donuts and pies; butters; dips, dressings, and mustards; grilling sauces and marinades; jams, jellies, and preserves; salsa and hot sauce; seasonings; and meats and cheeses.  Nagel Emporium is available to rent for wedding receptions, galas, graduation parties, and corporate events.  [Obviously, it is an especially convenient place to hold a wedding reception for a couple who is getting married by one of Marmion Abbey’s Benedictine priests.]  The address of Marmion Abbey Farms is 2855 Hart Road.

Combined, they occupy 325 aces north of Butterfield and east of the Fox River.  In 1933, six Benedictine monks of St. Meinard Abbey in southern Indiana founded Marmion Abbey at the invitation of the Bishop of Rockford, who wanted them to assume control of the former Fox Valley High School for Boys on Lake Street in Aurora.  They brought with them laymen faculty members, staff, and students with whom they established Marmion Academy.  Initially, the monastic community the Benedictine monks formed in Aurora was a priory dependent on St. Meinard Abbey.  Twenty-eight of them live at Marmion Abbey and another five live at Priory and Seminary of San José in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

Marmion Abbey is connected to the Abbey Church of St. Augustine of Canterbury.[3]  Edward Webb of the firm Prisco, Serena, and Sturm of Northbrook, Illinois was the architect.  The Abbey Church was built between August of 1997 and 1998.  Mr. Webb designed the altar, ambo, and holy water fonts, which Galloy and Van Etten and Rigali Studios of Chicago fashioned from Minnesota limestone.  Anna Koh and Jeffery Varilla of Chicago designed and created the statue of St. Benedict the crucifix that was installed in the apse in 1999.  George Hoelzeman of Little Rock, Arkansas made the carvings over the entrance and the Stations of the Cross in the ambulatory.  Fr. Anthony Brandkin of the Archdiocese of Chicago made the paschal candle and altar candlesticks.  Woodwork Unlimited of Streamwood, Illinois rebuilt and refurnished the choir stalls, made in part from the choir stalls of the original Abbey Chapel, which was made by former Brother James Blanford of Marmion Abbey.  Martin Ott of St. Louis, Missouri designed, fabricated, and (in 1998) installed the tracker pipe organ.  Claire Wing and Associates of Dallas, Texas, designed and crafted the stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel and the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.  Fr. Donald Walpole of St. Meinard Archabbey donated the processional cross and tapestry of St. Augustine of Canterbury.  He was the artist for the original Abbey Chapel in 1952.  Peter Pearson of Jeannette, Pennsylvania painted the icon of St. Joseph.  St. George Byzantine Catholic Parish in Aurora donated the four icons of Serbian provenance near the holy water fount at the entrance.

In addition, to the Abbey Church, Benedictine priests from Marmion Abbey are pastors at two parishes in Aurora: Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Roman Catholic Church and the aforementioned St. George Byzantine Catholic Church in Aurora.  [St. George Byzantine Catholic Parish is under the episcopal jurisdiction of the Romanian Catholic Diocese Eparchy of St. George in Canton, Ohio.]  They also provide pastoral support for the Diocese of Rockford and the Diocese of Joliet.

In 1834, Aurora was founded on the east bank of the Fox River by brothers Joseph and Samuel McCarty, natives of New York, who found a bend in the Fox River congenial to the construction of a sawmill and a gristmill.[4]  [The next year, the Potawatomi chief Waubonsie moved his people from their settlement on the banks of the Fox River to move west.  The U.S. Government had pressed the Pottawatomi tribe to sell their lands and resettle west of the Mississippi River at the conclusion of the Black Hawk War.]  Aurora incorporated in 1845.[5]  The Lake brothers founded another industrial settlement on the west bank of the Fox River.  Catherine Bruck recounted in Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs how the river became “a power source for mills and early factories even as periodic floods destroyed businesses, bridges, and dams.”[6]  In 1854, the second town founded by the Lake brothers on the west bank of the Fox River incorporated as West Aurora.[7]  In 1857, the two communities became one as the City of Aurora.[8]

To ease tensions, the municipal offices were located on Stolp Island in the Fox River.[9]  Until 1913, mayors were elected from alternate sides of the river.[10]  Originally, the older part of town on the east side of the river was larger both in terms of space and population, but today the river divides the city roughly in two equal halves.[11]

In 1856, the Chicago & Aurora Railroad built a roundhouse, railcar construction workshops, and repair shops in Aurora with locally-mined limestone.  This became known as the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Roundhouse & Locomotive Shop after the Chicago & Aurora merged with the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (CB&Q) railroad.  This is the oldest limestone roundhouse in the U.S.A.  In 1978, it joined the National Register of Historic Places.  The CB&Q was the largest employer in Aurora until the 1960s.[12]  It employed four generations of European immigrants who mostly lived and worked on the east side of the river, while the W.A.S.P. managers lived on the west side of the river.[13]

Aurora has two train stations that serve Metra’s B.N.S.F. Railway line.  Going westward from Chicago, the first of these stops is the Route 59 stop at 1090 North Route 59.  Aurora’s downtown Metra station is the Aurora Transportation Center at 233 North Broadway, a few steps away from the historic roundhouse.  This is the last stop of the B.N.S.F. line, and it is also a Greyhound bus station.

Between the 1880s and 1910s, Aurora was a major center of corset production with three corset factories in town. The first of these plants to open was operated by the Chicago Corset Company.  It was the second-largest corset factory in the world.  In 1890, it employed 600 young women and teenage girls who produced 2,000,000 corsets annually.

Aurora has long had a reputation as a progressive, welcoming town.[14]  In 1851, the town established the state’s first free public school district.[15]  Four years later, it had a high school for girls. [16] Aurora was home to vocal abolitionists before the Civil War.[17]  By 1887, nine Christian denominations had twenty congregations in Aurora, including two African-American churches.  A Young Women’s Christian Association (Y.W.C.A.), Y.W.C.A. Aurora, was founded in 1893, incorporated in 1894, became a charter member of Y.W.C.A. U.S.A. in 1906, and is still operational.[18]  The first Mexican immigrants arrived in town after 1910.[19]  By 2000, Aurora’s population was 32% Hispanic and 11% Black.[20]

Y.W.C.A. Aurora had multiple ties to Aurora University.  As I mentioned in “Suburban Profile: Downers Grove, Illinois,” in 1966, George Williams College moved from Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago to a twenty-acre campus in Downers Grove, later became affiliated with Aurora University, and moved to a new campus on the shores of Geneva Lake in Wisconsin.  George Williams College now has a historic connection to Y.W.C.A. Aurora because that new 150-acre campus in Wisconsin was the site of a Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.) summertime training center for employees and volunteers.[21]  In 1926, the National Board of the Y.W.C.A. erected a building on the site of what is now the George Williams College campus to commemorate its roots in the Y.M.C.A. summertime training center.[22]  Y.W.C.A. General Secretary Mabel Cratty dedicated the building and ten years later a national delegation re-dedicated it in her memory.[23] Y.W.C.A. Aurora’s first facility was at 31 West Downer Place.[24]  It had a swimming pool, a cafeteria, and rooming for women.[25]  It had youth camps and a homemaker program for housewives.[26]  During World War II, when many women worked in factories to replace men who volunteered or were drafted into the United States Armed Services, Y.W.C.A. Aurora there offered childcare services for working mothers.[27]  Y.W.C.A. Aurora moved to 201 North River Street in 1985.[28]  At this new location, the organization shifted focus to licensed childcare and programs for children, after-school programs, youth camps, youth activities, and a U.S.D.A. food programs for children and adults.[29]  Y.W.C.A. Aurora added a fitness center in 1992 and the Lydia and Malcolm Jones Child Care Center in 1997.[30]  The organization vacated the facility on River Street in 2010 and moved its headquarters (administrative offices) to the Fred Rogers Community Center, which housed a number of non-profit organizations.[31]  In August of 2014, Y.W.C.A. Aurora moved to the John C. Durham S.T.E.M. Partnership School on the campus of Aurora University.[32]  Y.W.C.A. Aurora states its “current programs focus on its mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, and freedom for all.”[33]

The closure of factories in the 1980s caused unemployment to reach 16%.[34]  In response Aurora redeveloped its downtown, annexed land, welcomed a riverboat casino, and encouraged the construction of mixed-used business parks and new residential subdivisions, which created 20,000 new jobs.[35]

In 1994, the thirty-six buildings on Stolp Island and four bridges that connected it the rest of the city were designated the Stolp Island District on the National Register of Historic Places.  These buildings include the Aurora Public Library’s former central library (1904) at 1 East Benton Street, the United States Post Office (1931-33) at 16-18 West Benton Street, the Stolp Woolen Mill Dye House (1858) at 20 West Downer Place, the 2-story brick Stolp Woolen Mill Store (1860-61, 1889) at 2 West Downer Place, the Aurora Silver Plate Manufacturing Company Building (1871, 1892) at 6 East Downer Place, the Gothic Revival-style limestone Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Building (1877) at 23 East Downer Place, the terracotta-clad steel-frame Block & Kuhl/Carson Pirie Scott Building (1928) at 5 East Galena Boulevard, the Paramount Arts Centre (1931, 1978) at 23 East Galena Boulevard, the 22-story terracotta-and-brick-clad steel-reinforced Leland Building (1928) at 7 South Stolp Avenue, the 8-story limestone-clad concrete Aurora Hotel building (1917) at 2 North Stolp Avenue, the 8-story Prairie-style Graham Building, the Keystone Building, and the 3-story brick-and-terracotta Fox Theatre Building & Promenade (1936) at 24-28 East Downer Place.  With the exception of one wooden building, the others are all masonry building – glazed terracotta, glazed brick, limestone, cast stone, or unglazed brick.  Some of the buildings overhang the river, including the Aurora Hotel, the Leland Tower, and the Fox Theater Building, and have blank facades on their riversides.

3Figure 1 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall on Stolp Island on the Fox River in downtown Aurora.

1Figure 2 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: The governmental building that surrounds the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall Memorial Hall on three sides has offices and a parking garage.  The Kane County Clerk’s office is in this building.

1Figure 3 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a view across the Fox River to the east riverbank from Stolp Island in downtown Aurora.

The Carnegie Library building, erected on Stolp Island in 1904, was designed by Otis, Holden, and Malmer.  Beginning in 1942, the A.P.L. embarked on a sixteen-year-long pay-as-you-go remodeling program. In 1969, the Main Library building was remodeled for a second time and enlarged.  The architectural firm employed this time was O. Kleb & Associates.  Two three-story wings were added.  The three-and-a-half story building gained a new façade as well when it was re-sheathed in dark tinted glass and limestone.

The SciTech Hands On Museum is located next door to the old Main Library, in the old U.S. Post Office building.  The address is 18 West Benton Street, Aurora, Illinois 60506.  This is the southwest corner of Stolp Island.  Ernest Malamud, a physicist at FermiLab, founded Scitech Hands On Museum.  It is closed on Sundays and Mondays and is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.  Tickets are $10 for children (age four-and-over) and adults and $8 for military personnel and senior citizens ages sixty-and-up.  It is free for children three-and-younger.  Exhibit sponsors include FermiLab, Molex Consumer Electronics, Commonwealth Edison, and Comcast.

The aforementioned Paramount Theatre, located at 23 East Galena Boulevard, opened on September 3, 1931, was restored in the 1970s, and added to the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1980. It was designed by the famous brother architects C.W. and George L. Rapp (1878-1942).  The Rapp & Rapp design was Art Deco with a Venetian influence.  It is described in the district’s National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Nomination Form as “a structural terracotta, concrete and steel structure with exterior covering of face brick.  The most significant portion of the exterior is the octagonal tower marking the entry which is elaborately detailed in brick and colored, glazed terracotta bas-relief panels and capped by an orange tile roofcap offset with terracotta urns.”

In 1915, J.J. Rubens and other theater owners formed the Aurora Theater Company. When “talkies,” as opposed to the earlier silent films, emerged, Rubens and his partners saw a need to build new cinemas where the talkies could be screened.  After a trip to Italy, Rubens was inspired to build a movie palace to be called The Venetian.  He commissioned Rapp & Rapp who decided to combine the Venetian theme with Art Deco elements, but, in 1930, before construction took place, he sold the company to the Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation, back when it was legal for movie studios to own movie theaters.  Built at a cost of $1,000,000, it opened on September 3, 1931.  Paramount Pictures used the Rapp & Rapp design as a prototype for movie palaces built all over the U.S.A. The company not only screened talkies (as opposed to the earlier silent movies) for just under half-a-century, but also staged Vaudeville acts and concerts, as well as presented circuses.  In 1965, the Aurora Civic Center Authority and the Aurora Redevelopment Commission formed to redevelop downtown Aurora, and, in 1973, the State of Illinois established the Civic Center Support Program to help cities redevelop their downtowns.  The Aurora Civic Center Authority and the Aurora Redevelopment Commission requested $15,000, which they received in the form of $4,500,000 from the sale of bonds and a $10,500,000 grant from the State of Illinois that came from race track revenues.  In 1976, the Aurora Civic Center Authority bought the Paramount Theatre from the Plitt Corporation and closed it so it could undergo restoration in a $1,500,000 project.  The Aurora Civic Center Authority commissioned the firm D’Escoto & Associations to manage the construction project.  With the help of photographs supplied by the Theatrical History Society, Conrad Schmitt Studios designed the restoration of the interior.  The eight murals had to be traced and repainted.  The German gold leaf that clad the plaster fluted columns was too expensive to replace in kind, so a foil facsimile was substituted.  Originally, the auditorium sat 2,125 people, but to meet newer fire code regulations, the seats had to be realigned and capacity was reduced to 1,885.  On April 29, 1978, it re-opened as the Paramount Arts Center.  A mix of programming was introduced, including theatrical, musical, comedy, and dance performances.

Remarkably, an addition was built in 2006, a 12,000 square foot lobby. This is the Grand Gallery, which “houses a state-of-the-art box office, a cafe, a gift shop and an art gallery,” according to promotional literature. The building at 28 Downer has undergone renovation to house the Paramount School of Performing Arts, which brought “professional acting classes to the western suburbs.”  More than 300,000 people from more than 250 communities attend events at the Paramount Theatre annually.  It was named one of the Top 10 theatres in Chicagoland by the League of Chicago Theatres.   More than 30,000 subscribers have taken advantage of Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series subscription offer.  This gives it the second-largest subscriber base in Illinois.  The Paramount Theatre was also where many free community events are held, including the Midwest Literary Festival, the Air Force Band Concert, and the annual Fox Valley Park District children’s production.  For five years, the Midwest Literary Festival hosted an average of seventy authors over a two-day-long period, but, in 2008, City of Aurora officials announced it would be discontinued due to “low income and feeble attendance,” the Chicago Tribune’s Rhianna Wisniewski reported.[36]

Hollywood Casino Aurora tales up the whole northern end of Stolp Island.  The street address is 1 West New York Street Bridge.  In addition to the casino, Hollywood Casino Aurora has four restaurants: Fairbanks Steak House, Take Two Deli, Producer Lounge, and E.B. Epic Buffet.

The Aurora Public Library moved approximately two blocks west, onto the mainland, placing it west of the Fox River.  The new Main Library, the Richard and Gina Santori Library of Aurora, opened on June 14, 2015.  The address is 101 South River Street, Aurora, Illinois 60506.  It is two blocks southwest of Waubonsee Community College – Aurora, the address of which is 18 South River Street.  This 132,000-square-foot facility is located at 18 South River Street, and was slated to open on June 1, 2011. The Current Aurora Campus, formerly known as the Waubonsee Community College Extension Center), has hitherto occupied the old Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company Building at 5 East Galena Boulevard on Stolp Island.  The old Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company Building /Aurora Campus is up for sale.  It would make for a useful office building.

1Figure 4 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is the River Street entrance of the Richard and Gina Santori Public Library of Aurora, which is the new Main Library of the Aurora Public Library.

The New Main Library site is also across the street from The Vanstrand Group’s new River Street Plaza, which was described as a “mixed-use development which features 96 new riverside condominiums and 50,000 square feet of retail shops along the Fox River,” in a press release from the A.P.L. and The Vanstrand Group.

8Figure 5 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This plaza between two mixed-use condominium/retail buildings leads to a two-tiered river-front plaza with wide stairs that descend to the lower level.

1Figure 6 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a northward-looking view from the upper level of the riverfront plaza.  There are several storefronts along this level that look like they would make for great locations for restaurants with outdoor seating in good weather.

5Figure 7 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a northward-looking view from the lower level of the riverfront plaza.

4Figure 8 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a southward-looking view from the upper level of the riverfront plaza.

3Figure 9 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a southward-looking view from the upper level of the riverfront plaza of the lower level of the plaza as well as the Fox River.

6Figure 10 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is a view of the Fox River from the riverfront plaza.


The Aurora Regional Fire Museum is housed in the Old Central Fire Station, located at 53 North Broadway (Route 25) in downtown Aurora (at the corner of New York and Broadway). Built in 1894, the museum was operated by the Aurora Fire Department until 1980.  Since then, City of Aurora and the Aurora Fire Station Preservation Corporation have arranged for a number of renovations.  The Aurora Regional Fire Museum is housed within Aurora’s old Central Fire Station.  Aurora Fire Chief Erwin J. Bauman authorized a museum in September of 1966.  Two years later, it opened in October of 1968 in the basement of Fire Station 4.  By 1980, the Aurora Fire Department had outgrown the old Central Fire Station and a new Central Fire Station was built next door on Broadway.  The old Central Fire Station that had served the Aurora Fire Department for eighty-six years sat empty for seven years before a group organized to transform it into the Aurora Regional Fire Museum.  The museum is open to walk-in traffic from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for children.

In the mid-1990s, former Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton (1954-1999), father of local TV personality Brittney Payton, led a group of investors who transformed the CB&Q Roundhouse into an entertainment complex, Walter Payton Roundhouse, which was a combination of brewpub, restaurant and museum.  The museum’s collection included Payton’s Super Bowl XX ring.  On May 2, 2011, Two Brothers Brewing Company of Warrenville announced they had acquired what was by then called America’s Historical Roundhouse for $1,100,000.  Brothers Jim and Jason Ebel run Two Brothers Brewery (now Two Brothers Tap House) in Warrenville.  This was covered by Stephanie Lulay of The Beacon-News, which was then a Chicago Sun-Times publication and is now a Chicago Tribune publication (“Cheers: Aurora’s Roundhouse sold to Two Brothers Brewery of Warrenville”) on May 4, 2011.  She related the Ebel brothers had purchased the roundhouse at auction after proprietor Scott Ascher’s business fell behind in taxes and mortgage payments and filed for bankruptcy in February.  The Ebel brothers planned to bring “local, organic-grown food and sustainable resources” to the roundhouse. Today, this business is called Two Brothers Roundhouse Artisan Brewing.

By the mid-1940s, the City of Aurora has seven municipal parks, but was the only city in Illinois with a population of 40,000 or more to lack a park district.  On April 1, 1947, voters approved the proposed to establish the Fox River Valley Pleasure Driveway and Park District by a margin of 3-to-1.  The Fox River Valley Pleasure Driveway and Park District had two goals: to acquire more land for parks and to dredge the Fox River, into which factories had dumped industrial waste for decades.

Today, the Fox Valley Park District serves 236,000 people in communities along the Fox River Valley, Aurora, Montgomery, and North Aurora.  It is the second largest park district in Illinois after the Chicago Park District.  Today, it operates 168 parks, forty-eight miles of interconnected trails amid 2,500 acres of parkland.  It has twenty-two miles of shoreline, fifty-eight baseball fields, eighty-four soccer fields, ninety-three playgrounds, twenty-six basketball courts, and twenty-seven outdoor tennis courts.  The headquarters of the Cole Center Administration Office at 101 West Illinois Avenue, Aurora, Illinois 60506.

The Fox Valley Park District has 500,000-square-feet of indoor recreation space between its three main facilities.  These are the 63,000-square-foot Eola Community Center, the Prisco Community Center, and the 225,000-square-foot Vaughan Athletic Center, all three of which are in Aurora.  The address of the Eola Community Center is 555 South Eola Road, Aurora, Illinois; the address of the Prisco Community Center is 150 West Illinois Avenue, Aurora, Illinois; and the address of the Vaughan Athletic Center is 2121 West Indian Trail, Aurora, Illinois.

There are two outdoor water parks, both of which are also in Aurora: the Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center and the Splash Country Water Park.  The address of the Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center is 828 Montgomery Road, Aurora, Illinois and the address of the Splash Country Water Park is 195 South Barnes Road, Aurora, Illinois.

Fox Valley Park District also operates Blackberry Farm, a living history museum, across from Splash Country Water Park.  The address is 100 South Barnes Road, Aurora, Illinois.

Phillips Park is a 325-acre municipal park operated by the City of Aurora’s Parks & Recreation Division.  It is located in southernmost central Aurora.  The southern boundary of the park aligns with the southern boundary of Aurora in the central part of town.  As early as 1835, families picnicked in the area.  By the 1860s, it was known as Scharschung’s Woods.  In the 1870s, the Aurora Sharp Shooters Society had a target range on the site.  [Kids, sharp shooters are what people used to call snipers.]  This area, “Sharp Shooters Park,” is now Phillips Park Golf Course.  Ferdinand Dapprich had a vineyard, beer garden, and billiard hall on the site.  By the time Dr. Pond acquired the site in 1884, it was forty acres.  He turned right around and sold it to State senator henry Evans, who turned it into an entertainment center.  He added a refreshment hall and a dance pavilion to what he called Evans Park.  In 1899, Evans sold sixty acres at $400 per acre to the Travis Phillips estate.  The former grocer, alderman, and mayor Travis Phillips had lefts a bequest of $24,000 to be used to acquire land for a municipal park.  At first, it was called City Park.  In 1902, the Aurora City Council voted to change the name to Phillips Park.

Aurora is home to the Phillips Park Zoo, founded in 1915, which is a free zoo in a park like Lincoln Park Zoo, which is located in Lincoln Park on the North Side of Chicago, but it is a much smaller affair with a total of about 100 animals on exhibit.  After the Chicago Zoological Society opened the Brookfield Zoo, which is not free, in 1934, Phillips Park Zoo officials decided to concentrate on native animals rather than exotic animals like giraffes.  The species on display now include bald eagles, great horned owls, gray wolves, foxes, mountain lions, elks, pygmy goats, river otters, and reptiles.

The David & Karen Stover Visitor Center at Phillips Park Visitors Center & Mastodon Gallery, which opened in 2003, has mastodon bones and tusks that were discovered at Mastodon Lake during the Phillips Park Lake Excavation Project sponsored by the Civil Works Administration during the Great Depression.  On May 22, 2008, the Phillis Park Visitors Center & Mastodon Gallery was dedicated and renamed after the fifty-fifth mayor of Aurora and his wife.  Mayor David Stover served two consecutive terms from April of 1997 to April of 2005.  Other attractions in Phillips Park include Mastodon Trail, a one-mile-long multiuse trail; the Sunken Garden, which was designed by Ray C. Moses in the 1930s, re-opened in 2002, and is annual hand-planted with 10,000 tulips; the Phillips Park Golf Course; the 8,000-square-fooot BMX/Skate Park; the aforementioned Phillips Park Family Aquatic Center; Mastodon Lake, a twenty-eight-acre fishing lake; the waterfall; World War I cannons; and veterans’ monuments.  The Family Aquatic Center, which opened in 1991, is co-owned by the City of Aurora Department of Parks & Recreation and the Fox Valley Park District.  Three generations of men from the George Moses family (George, Ray, and Edwin) served as Aurora’s Park Superintendent or Director of Parks between 1910 and 1984.

The Rush-Copely Medical Center is located southeast of Phillips Park.  It is south of Montgomery Road and west of Ogden Avenue/Illinois Route 34/Walter Payton Memorial Highway.  The Rush-Copley Medical Center is part of the Rush academic health care system. They perform over 15,000 surgeries per year.  This is the only Level III neonatal intensive care unit in Kane County.

On Friday, May 13, 2011, the Rush-Copley Foundation announced that Dr. Gina Santori donated $1,250,000 to the Rush Copley Foundation in honor of her late husband, Richard Santori, a businessman who had been active in Aurora for forty years who had died in 2010.  The Rush Copley Foundation would use the money to build a new surgical suite at Rush-Copley Medical Center.  “We are very humbled and honored to receive this gift from Dr. Santori to honor the life and work of her husband in this community,” stated Barbara Graham, Vice President, Philanthropy and Chief Development Officer at Rush-Copley.  “We appreciate the confidence she has in our philanthropic work to serve the needs of patients and the medical center.”

“Making this gift in his honor is a fitting tribute to my husband who lived his life to serve others.  He was a warm, and genuine man who cared deeply about others and was always ready to support the needs of the community in quiet and simple ways,” stated Mrs. Santori.  “I am sure he would be so proud of this gift that will be used to provide for patients seeking care at Rush-Copley.”

“We are thrilled and grateful for Dr. Santori’s generous gift to Rush-Copley,” stated Barry C. Finn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Rush-Copley.  “This gift will help the medical center provide advanced care to our patients now and well into the future.”

The Waubonsee Community College – Aurora Fox Valley Campus is located in an out lot of the hospital.  The address is 2060 Ogden Avenue.

In Wayne’s World (1992), Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey) are supposed to live in Aurora, but very little of the movie was filmed there.  On the other hand, Johnny Depp filmed a scene as John Dillinger for Public Enemies (2009) in the Paramount Theatre.  Memorabilia from Wayne’s World, Blues Brothers (1980), Untouchables (1987), and other films are on display in the riverside Hollywood Casino Aurora.

The Sri Venkateswara (Bajali) Temple is a large Hindu temple south of I-88, west of Lake Street (and the Fox River) and west of Randall Road.  In 1985, a group of nine Hindu families donated twenty acres of land and a farmhouse for the site of a future temple.  Architect Sri Subhash Nadkarni and temple design expert Padmasri M. Muthiah Sthapathy designed the temple.

2Figure 11 Credit: Seán M. O’Connor Caption: This is the Eola Roach Branch of the Aurora Public Library in eastern Aurora.

3Figure 12 This is Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church, which is south of the Eola Branch of the Aurora Public Library.


[1] Catherine Bruck, “Aurora, IL” in Chicago Neighborhoods and Suburbs: A Historical Guide. Edited by Ann Durkin Keating. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (2008), p. 97

[2] Blessed Columbia Marmion (1858-1923) was an Irish secular (diocesan) priest in Dublin who chose to become a Benedictine monk and in 1909 was elected the third abbot of Maredsous Abbey in Belgium.  Blessed Columbia Marmion was a famous retreat master, known for his heroic virtue, sanctity, and spiritual writings.  He wrote three books: Christ, the Life of the Soul, published in 1917; Christ in His Mysteries, published in 1919; and Christ the Ideal of the Monk, published in 1922.  In 2000, Saint Pope John Paul II beatified him.  There are thirty-three monks in the monastic community of Marmion Abbey.

[3] Saint Augustine of Canterbury is not be confused with the more famous Saint Augustine of Hippo.

[4] Bruck, p. 97

[5] Bruck, p. 97

[6] Bruck, p. 97

[7] Bruck, p. 97

[8] Bruck, p. 97

[9] Bruck, p. 97

[10] Bruck, p. 97

[11] Bruck, p. 97

[12] Bruck, p. 97

[13] Bruck, p. 97

[14] Bruck, p. 98

[15] Bruck, p. 98

[16] Bruck, p. 98

[17] Bruck, p. 98

[18] Y.W.C.A. Aurora, “History” (http://www.ywcaaurora.org/site/c.6nJCJNPvEjKUE/b.8085115/k.C4C7/History.htm) Accessed 02/28/18

See also Bruck, p. 98

[19] Bruck, p. 98

[20] Bruck, p. 98

[21] Y.W.C.A. Aurora, “History” (http://www.ywcaaurora.org/site/c.6nJCJNPvEjKUE/b.8085115/k.C4C7/History.htm) Accessed 02/28/18

[22] Ibid

[23] Ibid

[24] Ibid

[25] Ibid

[26] Ibid

[27] Ibid

[28] Ibid

[29] Ibid

[30] Ibid

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] Bruck, p. 98

[35] Bruck, p. 98

[36] Rhianna Wisniewski, “Aurora closes book on Midwest Literary Fest,” Chicago Tribune, 10 March, 2008 (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-03-10/news/0803090244_1_authors-national-book-award-circle-award) Accessed 02/27/18

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