Elgin, Illinois is about 40 miles northwest of Chicago, Illinois, which is probably the only city you’ve heard of if you’re not from Illinois. Elgin sits along the mighty Fox River and is currently home to roughly 110,000 people.
Arguably the biggest claim to fame Elgin has is the Elgin Watch Company. For roughly 100 years starting in the 1860s until 1964, Elgin’s watch factory produced some of the best watches in the world. For a time, the factory was the biggest watch making factory in the world. Their attention to detail was so cherished that the company opened a observatory just to ensure meticulous attention be paid to proper time on every single watch that came off the line. In fact, this blog’s first post about Elgin is dedicated to that exactly observatory.
As with all cities and small towns across the United States, the houses in and around Elgin’s downtown mark their various historical connections, mainly rooted in the history of Elgin’s Watch Factory. Factory related worker housing and homes with ancillary business ties are just two examples of the many layers to Elgin’s architectural history. But the factory itself truly was, and in many ways still is, a large part of Elgin’s identity.
One of my favorite things about architectural history is the way changing architectural styles directly tie into large historical contexts. Elgin is no different. One can watch the city expand and move from its downtown center with older Victorian era homes, to the ranch houses west of the river that nest around Larkin High School which was founded in 1962 and read into the changing styles a similarly changing Elgin.
Elgin may not have the population size or stories history of Chicago. It may not have the money of other cities along the Fox River like St. Charles or Geneva, but one thing it does now have is this blog dedicated to telling the stories of some of its buildings on a medium well-suited for my generation’s digital disposition. While Pedaling Preservation may not be the greatest blog ever written, nor the first entity to tell Elgin’s story, it certainly is a source of pride, and a project with a lot of heart. And trust me, if you stick around you’ll see some cool buildings and hear some cool stories.
The best part is, Pedaling Preservation is not alone! Amazing people who have been working much longer than us on Elgin’s history are constantly producing fantastic work. Such as:
NENA, or Northeast Neighborhood Association of Elgin: A local group which aims to keep downtown Elgin beautiful and conserve and protect natural and architectural resources within NENA’s borders and beyond. Here’s a link to their Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NENAofElgin.
Local historian Steve Stroud’s “There Used to Be” which is based from a publication by the Elgin Historical Society and has a ton of great photographs of old Elgin homes, with it containing some great information.
GPA, or Gifford Park Association. In their own words, “The Gifford Park Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the Elgin Historic District. The GPA is perhaps most well-known to the general public for the annual Historic Elgin House Tour. Other major projects that we do during the year are Architectural Salvages, problem property rehabs, pocket park and The Great Unveiling.”
Not to mention the City of Elgin itself hosting a number of tours and allowing for information to be readily available on their website.