The history of Aurora, Illinois

The first people that lived along the Fox River were about 500 Potawatomi Indians. The forest (now known as ‘Big Woods’), the Indian village, and the whole of the land now occupied by the city of Aurora, was set apart by the United States Government as an Indian reservation. It had been purchased afterwards by treaty with chief Waubonsie and his tribe, just previous to the arrival of McCarty. They cut a lot of wood from the Big Woods to built with and to export.


Location Big Woods - zoomed in

Location Big Woods – zoomed in

Location Big Woods, zoomed out

Location Big Woods, zoomed out

In 1834 the first settlement was called ‘McCarty’s Mills’, after the two brothers Samuel and Joseph McCarty from New York state who built a saw-mill on the East bank of the Fox River.

In 1837 McCarty’s Mills was re-named Aurora.

Across the Fox River to the West, Theodore and Zaphna Lake settled the Village of West Aurora. They established the first General Store. Later Zaphna built a sawmill and his brother got involved in real estate.

There was a lot of rivalry between the McCarty’s and the Lake’s. There still seems to be rivalry between the two. Especially when you look at th Football games between East and West Aurora High School, that started in 1893. Some people made comments about the video that Stef and I made about Aurora. They said there was too much from one side in the video. I never realized there was a difference between East and West, for me it is just Aurora. Even mayors served one year and took turns with one from the East and then one from the West side.

Aurora, Illinois from Stef Arends on Vimeo.

Joseph G. Stolp arrived in Aurora in 1837, aged 25. He started a Woolen Mill Factory in that same year and a brick factory in 1849. He also owned Stolp Woolen Mill Dye House (c. 1858). Stolp also financed the 1866 construction of the three-story building at 20 E. Downer. In 1871, he donated land for Aurora’s first YMCA. He was a founder and important stockholder of the Aurora Silver Plate Manufacturing Company, and he was a founder and officer of the First National Bank of Aurora. As you can see, Joseph Stolp was a very important man for Aurora.

From Mr. Stolp's obituary in the Aurora Daily Express, April 3, 1899.

From Mr. Stolp’s obituary in the Aurora Daily Express, April 3, 1899.Via Lisa Gerald.

Stolp Island was bought by W Frederick Stolp for $12.72.  In 1848, he gave the property right to his nephew Joseph Stolp. Joseph built a woolen mill on Stolp Island. The water power source was there, which McCarty, Lake and Stolp needed for their milling business. Stolp Island was neutral and that’s where they built the public buildings, such as the post office, the city hall and the library.

Frozen water fall on Stolp Island, near Hotel Aurora

Frozen water fall, near Hotel Aurora

In 1846 the Beacon News first published. The Beacon News is still there. I even got interviewed by Judy Buchenot which was featured today (Sunday March 29, 2015). During war time the newspapers were very important to Northern cities. The paper printed information about news on the army’s progress and updates on local soldiers. The paper printed letters from soldiers and civilians near the front lines as the source of news.

In 1849 The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad extended its line to Aurora. In 1856 major repair and railcar contruction shops were located at Aurora as well. The Roundhouse was built in 1856, which is the largest stone roundhouse in the country. As a result, the railroad became the largest employer until the 1960s.

Round House

Round House

In 1849 and 1854 there was a cholera epidemic,  which killed a lot of important citizens.

In 1851 the first free public school district in Illinois was a fact (now known as District 131). European immigrants arrived in Aurora, because of the Industrial jobs. They came from: Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg (Phillip Jungels, arrived with his wife Margaret, and baby William, from Waldbillig in 1850), Great-Britain, Germany, France and Norway (called ‘Sloopers’). After 1910, the Mexican immigrants arrived.

Abolitionist organizations (against slavery) appeared in Aurora before the start of the Civil War, they openly supported abolitionism. The city was tolerant and inclusive.

In 1857 the towns of West-Aurora and Aurora united into the City of Aurora, with almost 6000 residents. The first city election took place in the same year, on March 4th. The William Tanner House dates from that year too (you can visit the  Tanner House). William Tanner came to the Aurora area in 1835. Mr Tanner came from Watertown, New York, his job was land surveyor. He measured and mapped land. He bought a parcel on the West side of the River and build a Farm, which is still there (Tanner Road and Deerpath Road, North Aurora). Later he opened a Hardware Store in Aurora, together with Mr. Rice. He later became the only of the Tanner hardware store. In 1979 the store closed. It had been the longest  running business in town. It was located where the Old Second National Bank has its parking lot now.

The Tanner House

The Tanner House

Aurora Silverplate was founded in 1869. They made serving dishes, lamps, card receivers and trophies.

Piece of the Silverplate Manufacturing Company

Piece of the Silverplate Manufacturing Company

Other important bussinesses were: Lyon Workspace Products, Greene Company, the Chicago Corset Company, the Aurora Brewing Company (Two Brothers Brewery, in the Roundhouse), Stephens-Adamson Company (Stephens Adamson nowadays), Caterpillar Inc. (History Caterpillar), Allsteel Metals, National Metalwares ( Still in Aurora) and Western Wheeled Scraper Works. (for more companies in Aurora, click)

In 1881, Aurora was the first town in Illinois to light its streets with electric lights, which is why Aurora is called ‘The City of Lights’. (Just like Eindhoven is ‘the City of Lights’ in the Netherlands, where my husband was born, and where we lived as well).

Glow Eindhoven - picture by Bianca van Gestel

Glow Eindhoven – picture by Bianca van Gestel

In 1886 Aurora City Hospital opened their doors.


In 1892 Aurora had a population of 23,788. Its government was the mayor-council system, with five wards on the east side and two on the west.


In 1894, Fire house no. 3 was built (which is now a fire museum).


Aurora Fire Museum

Mayors of Aurora. In the beginning W.S. Frazier, J.C. Murphy, J.W. Battle, L.K. Scott, T.N. Holden, Theodore Howard, G.W. Alschuler, John M. Raymond, H.B. Douglas, E.C. Finch and Fred Fauth. Starting in 1919 until now; 1919: James E. Harley, 1925: Charles H. Greene, 1935-37: Conrad M. Bjorseth, 1938:Harry B. Warner,  1942-47: Andrew J. Carter, 1953: Loyd H. Markel, 1954-62: Paul Egan, 1969: Albert D. McCoy, 2007-now: Mayor Thomas J. Weisner.


In 1928-9 the addresses in Aurora were re-numbered.


The Paramount Theatre, Sept. 3, 1931. (This photo is circa Sept. 19, 1931.) - Steve Krampitz

The Paramount Theatre, Sept. 3, 1931. (This photo is circa Sept. 19, 1931.) – Steve Krampitz

In 1931 the Paramount Theatre  was built. The architects Rapp & Rapp designed it. It was the first airconditioned building outside of Chicago.

The airco inside the Paramount Theatre

The airco inside the Paramount Theatre


Aurora remained a manufacturing powerhouse during World War I & II and the Great Depression. In 1974 the railroad shops closed.

In the 1980s, many factories started to close and relocate. Unemployment at that time was about 16 percent.

In the late 1970s, early 1980s the development along Eola Road and Route 59 began. Money-wise this was a good move, but it partly caused the decline of the downtown area.

In 1993 the Hollywood Casino opened downtown Aurora.

Right now Aurora is a very cultural diverse city, with a population of over 200,000 people, including me and my family!

In the upcoming weeks, I will zoom in at the following buildings:

  1. The Roundhouse (1856).
  2. Stolp Woolen Mill Dye House (1858).
  3. Stolp Woolen Mill Store (1860).
  4. The (first) Aurora Public Library (1882).
  5. The Hobbs building (1892).
  6. Old Central Fire House (1894).
  7. Hotel Aurora (1917).
  8. The Keystone building (1922).
  9. The Graham building (1926)
  10. The Elks Lodge no. 705. (1926)
  11. The Leland Tower (1928).
  12. The United States Post Office  (1930) (now SciTech Museum).

I hope you will enjoy the journey through time in Aurora together with me!


If you would like to get all my new blogs the minute I post them, please LIKE my Facebookpage:


Or you can type your email address in the box below and click the “create subscription” button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.




  • The Civil War Era Architecture of Aurora Illinois – City of Aurora Illinois, Preservation Commission.
  • City of Aurora Historic Districts and Landmarks guidelines for the Near Eastside, Tanner, Palace Stret and Riddle Highlands Histroic Districts and for Individual Land marks – Prepared for Aurora Preservation Commission by Anne McGuire and Ass, Evanston, Illinois, January 2001.
  • Aurora in the Gay ’90s – Volume 5 – Published by Aurora Historical Museum, written by Marion James Price, edited and compiled by Vernon S. Derry.


Leave a comment