“What are Chicago’s Satellite Cities?” by S.M. O’Connor

There are a number of small cities that grew up independently of Chicago that have fallen within its orbit.  In recent years, they have become suburbs or exurbs of the metropolis due to the growth of suburban sprawl.  Already, though, residents of these satellite cities read editions of Chicago newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, as well as local publications, listened to Chicago radio stations such as W.G.N., and watched Chicago television stations such as W.G.N. Their retailers purchased goods from Chicago wholesalers.  For certain goods and services, occasionally they knew they had to go into the big city.  These communities often built small-to-medium-sized opera houses, theaters, and museums, but residents of these large towns and small cities had the option, if they had the money, to come into the heart of the big city to see large-scale stage productions and tour enormous art and science museums a few times in the course of a lifetime.  Many, but not all, of these satellite cities were connected to Chicago by railroad and were (and still are) home to executives who worked in Chicago and were willing to make a longer commute than their brethren who lived in railroad suburbs that were closer to the city.  Conversely, some of these large towns and small cities began as resort communities where some residents only lived there part-time because they owned or rented vacation homes far out from the big city which they visited on weekends.

A string of these satellite cities fall along the Fox River, with the largest being Elgin and Aurora, the others being McHenry, Algonquin, and Carpentersville north of Elgin; St. Charles, Geneva, and Batavia between Elgin to the north and Aurora to the south; and Oswego, Ottawa, and Yorkville south of Aurora.  Elgin was made nationally famous because of the Elgin National Watch Company and Elgin Clock Company.  Historically, that now-defunct company had its factory, employee dormitories, Elgin Watchmakers College, and an observatory in Elgin and its headquarters in the Jeweler’s Building in Chicago.[1]  Elgin had a population of about 110,000 in 2013 while Aurora had a population of 199,963 in 2013.  Aurora is the second-most populous city in Illinois after Chicago.  Paramount Pictures used the Paramount Theatre, designed by Rapp & Rapp and erected in 1931, prototype for movie palaces built all over the U.S.A. The Fox River is a 202-mile-long tributary of the Illinois River, which is, in turn, a tributary of the mighty Mississippi River.  Geoffrey Baer profiled several of these cities and towns in the documentary The Fox River Valley & Chain O’lakes (2014), which aired on the Chicago P.B.S. station W.T.T.W.  West of the Fox River, Chicago’s other satellite cities are Rockford and DeKalbKenosha, Wisconsin is the northernmost satellite city of Chicago, while Waukegan is the most northern satellite city within Illinois.  Joliet is a satellite city southwest of Chicago.

Kenosha, Wisconsin, the county seat of Kenosha County, has a population of 99,889 in 2013.  It is thirty-two miles south of Milwaukee and fifty miles north of Chicago, but is a satellite city of Chicago rather than Milwaukee.[2]  The pride of the Kenosha Public Museum, one of three museums in downtown Kenosha, is a wooly mammoth skeleton discovered in Kenosha in 1992.  Daniel Hudson Burnham, Senior (1847-1912), who had been Director of Works for Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), and would later co-author The Plan of Chicago (1909), designed the Gilbert M. Simmons Memorial Library in Kenosha. Dedicated in 1900, the Simmons Library was for many years the central library of the Kenosha County Public Library System.

Waukegan, Illinois is the northernmost of Chicago’s satellite cities.  It is thirty-six miles north of the Chicago Loop.  The population was 88,826 in 2013.  That made it the ninth-largest city in Illinois and the fifth-largest city on the shores of Lake Michigan after Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Kenosha.  Science fiction novelist and short story-writer Ray Bradbury (1925-2012) was born in Waukegan and modeled his fictional Green Town on it. Bowen Park, which includes a primeval forest and a ravine, is a sixty-acre property that was a vacation residence of Chicago Mayor John Charles Haines (1818-1896) from 1857 to 1896.  In 1909, Waukegan Mayor Fred W. Buck and his wife, Edith, purchased the property, but never moved into the house, because he intended to sell the property to the city as a park, but the Waukegan City Council declined to purchase it because back then it seemed too far from town.  The Hull House Association acquired it in 1911 and used it as a retreat for urban children, the Joseph T. Bowen Country Club, from 1912 to 1963, when the Waukegan Park District purchased it.  Naval Station Great Lakes is immediately south of Waukegan.  Illinois Beach State Park and Illinois Beach Nature Preserve are also along the lakeshore, immediately north of Waukegan.  Gurnee and Six Flags Great America are to the west.

Rockford, Illinois is west and somewhat south of Waukegan.  It the largest city in Illinois outside the Chicago metropolitan area (Cook County and the five collar counties).  Rockford is a small industrial city and county seat of Winnebago County that has spread southward out into Ogle County.  It is approximately halfway between Chicago and Galena, Illinois to the west, in Jo Daviess County, on the Mississippi.  Rockford’s name was inspired by it being founded at a good place to ford the Rock River.  The population was 153,379 in 2010. The total population with its suburbs and exurbs (which include communities in Wisconsin) was 344,623 in 2013.  Cultural attractions include Anderson Japanese Gardens, the Klehm Arboretum, the Tinker Swiss Cottage, the Burpee Natural History Museum, and the Rockford Symphony Orchestra.  Pope Saint Pius X (lived 1835-1914, reigned 1903-1914) established the Diocese of Rockford in 1907 and ‘08.  In so doing, he took its territory of twelve counties from the Archdiocese of Chicago.  The Diocese of Rockford is a diocese of the Metropolitan Province of Chicago (like the Diocese of Peoria and the Diocese of Springfield), of which the Archdiocese of Chicago is the metropolitan see.  The Cathedral of St. Peter is the seat of the Bishop of Rockford, also known as the Mother Church.  Today, the counties in the Diocese of Rockford are Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, Jo Daviess, Kane, Lee McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago.   Rockford is far enough away from Chicago that it has its own television stations.

Originally called Huntley’s Grove, DeKalb, Illinois is a farm market town on the Kishwaukee River that is about sixty-five miles west of Chicago and thirty miles southeast of Rockford.  It became a small industrial city where barbed wire was invented.  Still later, it became a college town when the State of Illinois agreed to establish Northern Illinois State Normal School (now Northern Illinois University) there in 1895.  By 2010, DeKalb had a population of 39,018.  DeKalb receives over-the-air television signals from both Chicago and Rockford.

Joliet, Illinois is a small industrial city and county seat of Will County that has spread westward into Kendall County.   [Will County is the county immediately south and southwest of Cook County while Kendall County is the more northerly of the two counties immediately west of Will County.]  It is about thirty-five miles southwest of Chicago and outside the outermost ring of suburbs, but that will not remain the case for long.  The historical core of the city is on the banks of the Des Plaines River but it has spread out to the banks of the DuPage River.  In 2010, Joliet had a population of 147,433 and was the fourth-largest city in Illinois.  By 2016, the population had climbed to 149,395 and Joliet was the third-biggest city in Illinois.  The aforementioned Daniel Hudson Burnham, Sr. also designed the Joliet Public Library building (1903).  Joliet has two casinos: Hollywood Casino and Harrah’s.  In 1948, Pope Pius XII (lived 1876-1958, reigned 1939-1958) established the Diocese of Joliet, and thereby removed Kendall County from the Diocese of Rockford.  The Cathedral of St. Raymond Nonnatus is the seat of the Bishop of Joliet.  The counties in the Diocese of Joliet are DuPage, Ford, Grundy, Iroquois, Kankakee, Kendall, and Will.  Joliet is home to two racetracks: Chicagoland Speedway and Route 66 Raceway.  The Rialto Square Theatre appeared in the supernatural thriller Stir of Echoes (1999), which was otherwise filmed in Chicago.  Joliet Correctional Center, which is famous because The Blues Brothers (1980) and Season 1 of Prison Break (2005-2009, 2017) were filmed there, was in operation from 1858 to 2002.[3]  Despite its name, the former Joliet Arsenal was not in Joliet,  Not only was it south of Joliet, it was south of Elwood, which is south of Joliet.  The site is now occupied by the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and the much larger Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

[1] See E. C. Alft & William H. Briska. Elgin Time: A History of the Elgin National Watch Company 1864-1968. Elgin, Illinois: Elgin Historical Society, 2003.

[2] In 2015, Milwaukee had a population of 600,155.  The Milwaukee metro area – the Milwaukee-Racine-Waukesha combined statistical area – had a population of 2,026,243 in 2010.

[3] The Blues Brothers opens with “Joliet” Jake Blues (John Belushi) being released from Joliet Prison and ends with the whole band being imprisoned there.

8 thoughts on ““What are Chicago’s Satellite Cities?” by S.M. O’Connor

  1. Just learned Hammond, Indiana is also a satellite city to Chicago. It should be obvious, considering everyone from there proudly states all the time “I’m from Chicago”, though they’re from a completely different state with different laws.


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