Elgin is a city in northern Illinois located roughly northwest of Chicago on the Fox River. Most of Elgin lies within Kane County, Illinois, with a portion in Cook County, Illinois. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 108,188, making it the eighth-largest city in Illinois and the 241st largest city in the United States.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832 led to the expulsion of the Native Americans who had settlements and burial mounds in the area, and set the stage for the founding of Elgin. Thousands of militiamen and soldiers of Gen. Winfield Scott's army marched through the Fox River valley during the war and accounts of the area's fertile soils and flowing springs soon filtered east.
In New York, James T. Gifford and his brother Hezekiah Gifford heard tales of this area ripe for settlement, and travelled west. Looking for a site on the stagecoach route from Chicago to Galena, they eventually settled on a spot where the Fox River could be bridged. In April 1835, they established the city, naming it after the Scottish hymn "Elgin".
In 1849, the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad reached Elgin, which later would be served by railroads running along both banks of the Fox River, linking the growing town to Chicago and other urban centers. Early Elgin achieved fame for the butter and dairy goods it sold to the city of Chicago. Gail Borden established a condensed milk factory here in 1866, and the local library is named in his honor. The dairy industry became less important with the arrival of the Elgin Watch Company. The watch factory employed three generations of Elginites from the late 19th to the mid 20th century, when it was the largest producer of fine watches in the United States (the factory ceased production in the early 1960s and was torn down in 1965). Today, the clocks at Chicago's Union Station still bear the Elgin name.
In 1872, Elgin attracted a major state institution, the Northern Illinois State Mental Hospital and later a Veterans Administration Hospital.
Elgin has a long tradition of education and invention. Elgin is home to the Elgin Academy, the oldest coeducational, non-sectarian college preparatory school west of the Allegheny Mountains. Elgin High School boasts five navy admirals, a Nobel Prize winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a Tony Award winner, two Academy Award–winning producers, Olympic athletes and a General Motors CEO among its alumni. Elgin resident John Murphy invented the motorized streetsweeper in 1914 and later formed the Elgin Sweeper Corporation. Pioneering African-American chemist Lloyd Hall was an Elgin native, as was the legendary marketer and car stereo pioneer Earl "Madman" Muntz and Max Adler, founder of the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, America's first planetarium.
Local historian E.C. Alft has written several books and an ongoing newspaper column about Elgin's history.
Architecture and historic preservation
The city is known for its historic architecture and landmarks from the Victorian era, including some fine examples of homes in the Queen Anne style. Many of the most remarkable homes once belonged to National Watch Company executives. Many interesting Sears Catalog Homes arrived in Elgin as kits from 1908 to 1940.
Predating Victorian homes were homes made of native cobblestone. It is believed that Elgin had at one time the largest concentration of cobblestone homes outside of Rochester, New York. Several such homes built by the earliest settlers still stand. They can be seen in Elgin's historic districts, two of which are recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.
The Elgin Public Museum at Lords Park is the oldest building in Illinois built expressly as a museum that is still serving that purpose.
The 9-member Elgin Heritage Commission promotes historic preservation activity. The Gifford Park Association is also active in historic preservation, and conducts a popular annual house tour.