Elgin, Illinois: History, Entertainment and More
If Elgin isn’t already on your list of weekend getaway destinations, it should be. With a population of 108,000, Elgin is the eighth-largest city in Illinois and one of the state’s fastest-growing cities.
Located in Kane County about 40 miles northwest of Chicago, Elgin sits along the picturesque Fox River. Its history dates back to 1854, and the city’s major early industries included watchmaking and dairy production.
Today, some of Elgin’s greatest assets are its warm, friendly community; an award-winning riverwalk; several excellent museums; stunning architecture; and the popular Grand Victoria Casino.
Experience living history by climbing aboard an old-fashioned trolley car at the Fox River Trolley Museum. Once an integral part of American life, the museum’s electric trolleys will take you on a four-mile ride along the banks of the Fox River over tracks that once connected Elgin with Carpentersville, Aurora and Yorkville. Stop in the museum store and gift shop inside the Castlemuir Depot, where you’ll find souvenirs and historic memorabilia.
See relics from the infamous Great Chicago Fire and discover the story of the Elgin Fire Department at the Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum. Open April through December, the museum houses Elgin’s first fire engine, an 1869 horse-drawn Silsby Steamer, and nozzles and fire extinguishers, past and present. Established in 1867 as a volunteer department, the Elgin Fire Department now includes seven stations and employs more than 135 firefighters.
If you like trains, don’t miss the Illinois Railway Museum in nearby Union. Known for its huge collection of historic railroad cars and locomotives, many of which you can board. The Illinois Railway Museum is a hit with train fans of all ages and hosts special events year round, including Mother’s Day specials and Living History Days during Memorial Day weekend featuring World War II re-enactors, battles and rides on the Anzio Express. It is open April through September and for special events throughout the year.
Feeling lucky? Roll the dice at Elgin’s Grand Victoria Casino, an elegant riverboat on the scenic Fox River. The Grand Victoria Casino attracts nearly 4 million visitors annually and is the fifth most popular tourist attraction in Illinois. You’ll think you’re in Las Vegas with the casino’s 1,100-plus slot machines and table games, including blackjack, roulette, three card poker and craps. The casino also houses the award-winning Buckinghams Steakhouse and Lounge, which serves a variety of steaks, seafood, poultry, lamb, pork and an impressive wine selection.
Brush elbows with stars at the Hemmens Cultural Center, a 1,200-seat theater along the banks of Elgin’s riverwalk that hosts a stellar line up of nationally known performers such as B.B. King and Willie Nelson each season. The Hemmens is also the home of the Elgin Symphony Orchestra (ESO), one of the largest orchestras in Illinois. The ESO’s season includes more than 50 concerts annually ranging from classics and pops to educational programs and holiday performances.
Elgin OPERA also provides a chance for area audiences to enjoy the fine arts. The operatic ensemble performs a variety of classic and contemporary works at the Kimball Street Theatre on the Elgin Academy campus, as well as at community festivals and events.
Soak up some springtime sunshine at Lords Park, Elgin’s largest park with more than 400 acres of picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, a family aquatic center, a nature trail and three lagoons. The Lords Park Pavilion is a historic landmark built in 1898, and visitors enjoy viewing the park’s resident American bison, elk and white-tailed deer that live in wooded enclosures.
Festival Park in downtown Elgin is another lovely place to savor the outdoors, with lighted jumping fountains, sculptures, gardens, a children’s play area and the Elgin Express, a trackless train that runs from June to September.
To burn off even more energy, spend an afternoon at the Elgin Sports Complex, which has 10 lighted softball fields, 10 soccer fields, two sand volleyball courts and a BMX track.
Baseball fans should not miss the Trout Park baseball fields, the home of baseball in Elgin since the early 1900s. Treat the family to an all-American night at the ballpark, complete with a full-service concession stand run by local high school and college students.