The history of Aurora is very rich and dates back over 150 years. The City of Lights started the same way other area communities began – with a handful of settlers and an idea. In 1834, the McCarty Brothers Samuel and Joseph came to the area from New York. They were looking for a good location to built a mill and found a great spot along the banks of the Fox River near where the waterway was split by a large island. The brothers purchased land from the government and began a settlement they called McCarty’s Mill. A year later, the settlement had collected several more families who were allowed to squat on Joseph and Samuel’s land with the intent of purchasing. The settlement of McCarty’s Mill soon became a known stopover on the stagecoach journey from Chicago to parts west.
In 1835, the enterprising Joseph McCarty platted out a section of land and sold lots at $5 a piece to the other residents in the community. A grist mill and sawmill were the first industrial structures constructed in McCarty’s Mill. Other residents of the community including Joseph Stolp whos name adorns the island in the middle of the Fox River soon brought textiles and other manufacturing industry to the area. The first hotel was founded in 1837 and in the same year, the U.S. postal service decided to establish a post office in the area and a more official name for the community was requested. The first choice was “Waubonsie” after a well-known local Potawatomi chief, but that name was already taken. So the community leaders settled on Aurora after a similarly-named city in New York (many of the early residents of the city were from New York).
In 1849, the City of Aurora was given a huge boost when the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad extended its service into the area. Shortly thereafter, the railroad gave the new city another plum by deciding to locate the railroad repair and construction facilities to the city. In 1854, a settlement was founded on the opposite bank of the Fox River by the Lake brothers and was named Hartford. Both settlements continued to grow at a fairly steady pace. In 1857, the two communities decided to unite under the municipality of Aurora. From the beginning there was a strong east-west rivalry – so much so that it couldn’t be decided which side would house the local government buildings. To solve the issue, the community leaders decide to locate the new city hall on Stolp Island – directly in the middle of the Fox River between the two sides.
Industry continued to thrive in Aurora buoyed by the railroad and location on the river making the city the economic center of the Fox Valley. In 1881, the City of Aurora gained the distinction of being one of the first American cities to install street lights. This fact (perhaps in conjunction with other meanings of the word “Aurora”) caused the city to become known as the “City of Lights”. This nickname was later adopted as the city’s official motto in 1908. Through the early and mid-1900’s, industry continued to drive the development of the community. In the mid 1970’s and early 1980’s, the region suffered a recession that saw the closing of several major local factories. At the same time, retailers began moving out of the city center and relocating to areas on the far east side. This combination created many empty storefronts and vacant buildings in the downtown area of the city. In the mid-1990’s the city began to place greater emphasis on bringing industry and entertainment back to the downtown area. The Aurora Sci-Tech museum and Paramount Theater were joined by the new Hollywood Casino and the Aurora Economic Development Commission began plans for
re-vitalizing the city center.
Today, Aurora’s future looks extremely bright. Because of its strong economy and tax basis, Aurora just recently joined 9 other municipalities in Illinois with the distinction of being given a AA+ bond rating by Standard & Poor’s Rating Services due to the city’s strong financial outlook. The downtown area is going through an incredible surge of development – adding several up-scale condo developments, a new campus of the Waubonsie Community College and additional plans include a hotel and convention center as well as several entertainment venues.
Although the community of North Aurora shares part of its name with the City of Aurora, it is in fact an entirely different municipality.