Founded within Kane County, Aurora's city limits have expanded into DuPage, Kendall, and Will counties. Once a mid-sized manufacturing city, Aurora has grown since the 1960s. 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 settled on both sides of the river, but subsequently sold their land on the west side to the Lake brothers, who opened a mill. The McCartys lived on and operated a mill on the east side. Aurora was established with the building of a post office in 1837.
Aurora began as 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, incorporating as the city of Aurora. Representatives could not agree which side of the river should house the public buildings, so most of them were built on or around Stolp Island in the middle of the river.
The heavy industries on the East side provided employment for generations of European immigrants, who came from Ireland, Great Britain, Scandinavia, Luxembourg, Germany, France, Romania 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 which lasted until the early 1970s, when the railroad shops closed. 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 in the Far East side along the Eola Road and Route 59 areas. This was financially beneficial to the city, but it sapped retail businesses downtown and manufacturing in the industrial sectors of the near East and West Sides, weakening them. In the mid-1980s crime rates soared and street gangs formed.
During this time Aurora became much more ethnically diverse. The Latino population grew rapidly in the city during 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 an ethnically diverse city of nearly 200,000 residents. Historic areas downtown are being redeveloped, and new developments are being built across the city.
According to the 2021 census gazetteer files, Aurora has a total area of 45.91 square miles (118.91 km2), of which 44.97 square miles (116.47 km2) (or 97.94%) is land and 0.94 square miles (2.43 km2) (or 2.06%) is water.
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 Downtown Aurora, Illinois (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1887–present)
As of the 2020 census there were 180,542 people, 65,128 households, and 47,579 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,932.26 inhabitants per square mile (1,518.25/km2). There were 62,763 housing units at an average density of 1,367.00 per square mile (527.80/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 40.63% White, 10.87% African American, 1.65% Native American, 10.97% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 20.73% from other races, and 15.11% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 41.53% of the population.
There were 65,128 households, out of which 77.89% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.31% were married couples living together, 14.65% had a female householder with no husband present, and 26.95% were non-families. 21.39% of all households were made up of individuals, and 7.71% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.56 and the average family size was 3.03.
The city's age distribution consisted of 28.2% under the age of 18, 9.6% from 18 to 24, 29% from 25 to 44, 23.2% from 45 to 64, and 9.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34.4 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.7 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $74,659, and the median income for a family was $83,464. Males had a median income of $43,680 versus $30,572 for females. The per capita income for the city was $32,537. About 8.3% of families and 10.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.7% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.
Aurora city, Illinois – Racial and Ethnic Composition (NH = Non-Hispanic) Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos may be of any race.
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., Western Electric, 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, Oswego, Plano, Sugar Grove, and Yorkville.
According to the city's 2019 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 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, closed in May 2011. 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.
The Aurora Islanders/Blues/Foxes, a minor league baseball franchise, played from 1910 to 1915 in the Wisconsin-Illinois 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) Boys Soccer has won the Northern Illinois regional championship in this highly competitive region 21 times since 1987, and WVHS Girls Soccer has won the regional championship 19 times in that time frame. 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, men's and women's lacrosse. It also has a men's football and baseball team, as well as women's softball and volleyball teams. Aurora University athletics are in 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. Aurora's transportation system connects its residents and visitors to neighboring towns and cities. The city is served by several major roadways, including Interstate 88 and Illinois Route 59, making it easily accessible by car. Additionally, Aurora offers various public transportation options, including two Metra commuter stops, Pace Bus services, and an expanding bicycle network.
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. Pace Bus offers 6 fixed-route bus connections at the Aurora Transportation Center. The City of Aurora also has two Pace On Demand service zones allowing riders to reserve a trip to anywhere within one of the On Demand Zones. Aurora residents within Kane County are eligible to participate in the Ride in Kane transportation program, providing curb to curb bus or taxi service to individuals 65 and older, individuals with a disability, and those with low income.
Aurora aims to be a bicycle-friendly community and promotes bicycling throughout the city. To create a more bike-friendly downtown, in July 2020, the City of Aurora partnered with Koloni to launch its new Fox Valley Bike Share program. The city has also invested in bike infrastructure improvement projects, further expanding the network of bike lanes and multi-use paths. The completion of a bridge in 2021 over the Fox River in Aurora provides a safe and direct route for bicyclists and pedestrians from the Aurora Transportation Center to the Fox River Trail.
Aurora does not have a stop for Amtrak trains, as the old station closed in the 1980s. The closest Amtrak station is in Naperville. Aurora City Lines, the old city bus lines, was closed in the late 1980s in favor of regional bus service. Greyhound buses used to stop at the Aurora Transportation Center, but service was discontinued on September 7, 2011. 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 included a third station at Ferry Rd. north of the BNSF Line.
Aurora has two hospitals, one on the west side, Ascension Mercy Medical Center, and one in Fox Valley, Rush–Copley Medical Center.
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. All three have been converted into senior living centers.
Dreyer Medical Clinic and several other independent clinics and medical groups are spread throughout the city. The area surrounding Ascension 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.
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 p.m. 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 killed 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 operated 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).