Aurora is the second most populous city in the State of Illinois, the 19th largest city in the Midwestern Region, and the 112th largest city in the United States. The population was 199,932 at the 2012 census.
Once a mid-sized manufacturing city, Aurora has grown tremendously over the past 50 years. Originally founded within Kane County, Aurora's city limits and population now spill over into DuPage, Will and Kendall counties. Between 2000 and 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked Aurora as the 34th fastest growing city in the United States. 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 officially adopted the nickname "City of Lights", because it was one of the first cities in the United States to implement an all-electric street lighting system in 1881. 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, located on the west side of the Fox River, The East Side, located 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.
The Aurora area is home to an impressive collection of architecture, including structures by Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bruce Goff and George Grant Elmslie. The Hollywood Casino Aurora, a dockside gaming facility with and 1,200 gaming positions, is located on the river in downtown Aurora. Aurora is also home to a large collection of Sears Catalog Homes (over 50 homes) and Lustron all-steel homes (seven homes).
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 arrived and initially owned land on both sides of the river, but sold their lands to the Lake Brothers on the west side. The Lake Brothers opened a mill on the opposite side of the river. The McCartys lived and operated their mill on the east side. A post office was established in 1837, officially creating Aurora. Actually, however, Aurora was originally 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 officially incorporated as the city of Aurora. The two sides could not agree on which side of the river should house the public buildings, so most public buildings were built on or around Stolp Island in the middle of the Fox River.
As the city grew, many factories and jobs came to Aurora, along with many people. In 1856, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad located its roundhouse and locomotive shop in Aurora to become the town's largest employer until the 1960s. Many of the heavy industries were located on the East side which provided employment for many generations of European immigrants. Many immigrants flocked to the city, mainly from Great Britain, Ireland, Scandinavia, Luxembourg, Germany, France, and Italy. Aurora became the main 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's shops—accounted for much of the dynamics of Aurora's political, economic, and social history. The city was inclusive and tolerant, and welcomed a variety of immigrants and openly supported abolitionism prior to 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 and a high school for girls came four years later.
The city was a manufacturing powerhouse until the early 1970s, when the railroad shops closed. Soon 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 of the Far East side along the Eola Road and Route 59 areas began. While this was financially beneficial to the city, it also contributed to the decline of the downtown and the manufacturing sectors on the near East and West Sides. Crime rates soared and street gangs started to form in the mid-1980s. It was during this time that Aurora became a much more culturally diverse city. The Latino population started to grow rapidly in the city in the 1980s. In the late 1980s, several business and industrial parks were established on the outskirts of the city. 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 of Aurora. Subdivisions sprouted up all around the city, and Aurora's population soared.
Today, Aurora is a culturally diverse city of around 200,000 residents. Historic areas downtown are being redeveloped, and new developments are being built all over the city.