One of the reasons for Aurora’s strong growth over the past 20 years has been its excellent quality of life. During the past two decades the city and its economic base have expanded considerably -- as has its size, doubling from 15.68 square miles to 32.4 square miles.
The centerpiece of the community is its historic downtown district, placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Downtown Aurora is home to Stolp Island. The Historic Preservation Commission describes Stolp Island as “literally an outdoor museum of architecture. It is the ‘address’ of over 20 significant historic structures, many of which are outstanding examples of terra cotta work displayed on ‘china front’ buildings… Stolp Island early on became a functional transportation link as well as an emotional link between Aurora's east and west developments. In this regard, it symbolizes all of Aurora…"
The downtown Aurora "neighborhood" includes an ever-growing range of businesses and organizations: real estate and financial services providers, information technology specialists, unique light manufacturing operations, Waubonsee Community College, social service agencies, governmental offices, and a state-of-the art postal facility. Downtown is also home to varied retail shops, specialty restaurants, unique apartments, public gathering spaces, and cultural and entertainment gems like the Aurora Public Arts Commission, the Historical Society Museum, the Aurora Public Library, the Aurora Regional Fire Museum, the Copley Theatre at North Island Center, the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra, the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall, the Hollywood Casino, the Paramount Arts Centre, the Riverfront Playhouse and the SciTech Science and Technology Interactive Center.
The Aurora Transportation Center houses the Metra (Burlington/Northern) Commuter Rail line and a Greyhound bus terminal. The Transportation Center is also the site of Aurora's popular Farmers Market, which has been in existence since 1912 and is held on Saturday mornings from mid-June through mid-October.
Fox Valley Park District trails and open spaces are easily accessible from all parts of downtown Aurora, as is the Prisco Community Center. Other delightful public open spaces in downtown include Rotary Park, Millennium Plaza, and Sesquicentennial Park. Aurora's FoxWalk -- an urban walkway lined with flowers, benches, fountains, and plazas -- traverses much of Stolp Island and offers an opportunity to view the scenic Fox River from multiple vantage points.
Six public school districts serve Aurora, and there are a number of private schools, including three Catholic high schools and one Christian high school. The Illinois Math and Science Academy is one of only three schools in the nation of its kind. It is a three-year, public residential high school. Students at this school scored an average of 31.1 on the ACT in 1998, the highest in the nation. Institutions of higher learning include Waubonsee Community College and Aurora University, a private, independent institution with an enrollment of more than 2,000 students. Other nearby colleges and universities are Northern Illinois University, College of Du Page, Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, De Paul University, University of Chicago, Loyola University, University of Illinois - Chicago, Benedictine University, and North Central College.
The quality of life in Aurora is enhanced by many cultural and historical centers of activity, as well as numerous recreational and entertainment opportunities. Aurora is home to eight city parks, including two water parks, as well as the Aurora City Zoo, numerous bike trails, 75 tennis courts and numerous ball fields. There 50 golf courses within a 30-mile radius, including six in the Aurora area: Stonebridge Country Club, White Eagle Country Club, Orchard Valley Golf Course, Fox Valley Country Club, Fox Bend Country Club, and Phillips Park Golf Course.
Joseph and Samuel McCarty, who named it after a city in their native state, New York, founded Aurora in 1837. Located in the fertile Fox Valley, the town grew quickly with settlers from the east. Aurora had everything the settlers could dream of -- fresh water, game for hunting, lumber for building and a burgeoning population to trade with. It is known as "The City of Lights" because it was the world's first community to use electric streetlights. It was home to the first free school in the state, the first YMCA building to be constructed in Illinois, and the location for the launching of the Republican Party. In 1995, Aurora became the first large city in the U.S. to connect all its schools to the Worldwide Web. Today, Aurora is poised to be the second largest city in Illinois by the year 2010.
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