Downtown Elgin Walkability is a Big Perk for Neighboring Community Residents & Visitors
Take a walk today to see some sights, get some exercise and enjoy your neighborhood while safely maintaining social distance guidelines. The five neighborhoods surrounding Downtown Elgin each offer hidden gems and unique attractions. You can walk to a park, walk to pick-up take out food, walk by a historic home or take a self-guided neighborhood tour. Help us showcase the hidden gems in our town and show off why we all enjoy living in Elgin!
Share pictures of your walk on social media using #ELGINWALKS and tag a Downtown business or organization for your chance to win 1 of 2 $50 Downtown Elgin gift certificates! When the Stay-at-Home order is lifted we will randomly draw 2 winners. Read a story about ElginWalks in the Chicago Tribune.
The Gifford Park Association (GPA) is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in 1979. The goal of this neighborhood organization is the revitalization, enhancement and preservation of Elgin’s historic homes and public buildings with a focus on the Elgin Historic District.
The neighborhood is located in one of the oldest portions of the city, roughly bound by Park Street on the north, Center Street/Villa Court on the west, Villa Street on the south, and Liberty Street on the east. Click here for a map of the Elgin Historic District boundaries.
Founded by a small group of neighbors who lived around Elgin’s first park, GPA’s first accomplishment was to gain National Register of Historic Places’ status for the city’s oldest neighborhood. Its second was to institute the Historic Elgin House Tour, which, since 1982, has educated the public about the historic character and architectural value of the city’s older neighborhoods. Explore the area by taking a self-guided walking tour of the Gifford Park Neighborhood.
Sights to See in the Elgin Historic District
After YMCA Channing was razed and the 2008 economic recession ended a developer’s plan to build 13 single-family homes on the 3-acre property at the corners of Division and N. Channing streets, GPA spearheaded the effort to establish a community garden there. Its first year, 2019, had 30 raised beds; 2020 will have 40; 2021 is expected to have even more. From this point, it’s a 15-minute walk to downtown.
Built in 1885 in the Chateauesque style for the founder of the nation’s largest interdenominational publishing house, this once-impressive mansion at the corner of Division and N. Gifford streets suffered unsympathetic additions during the many years it served as a health center. Subsequently it sat vacant and suffered further damage until an exhaustive search by GPA resulted in its sale in 2018 to a couple who are at work restoring it to a single-family home. GPA has also committed $50,000 to an exterior restoration project for it. Located at 105 N. Gifford Street.
Built in 1887 for a real estate subdivider and stepson of Gail Borden for whom Elgin’s library is named, this massive masonry mansion has a blending of Eastlake, Romanesque and Chateauesque detailing. Though converted to a funeral home in 1940, it retains its original appearance, due in no small part to the efforts of its current owners, GPA members Tom and Donna Leetz. Learn more here. Located at 364 Division Street.
An excellent example of the Queen Anne style, this mansion was built in 1889 for one of the founders of the Elgin Board of Trade and whose ownership and control of more than 50 creameries made him one of America’s leading butter men. After serving as a private club/restaurant in the 1980s, it reverted to a single-family home. Learn more here. Located at 321 Division Street.
Northeast Neighborhood Association of Elgin (NENA) works year round to enrich the lives of those of us that live in the community. They are 100% volunteer driven and host numerous public meetings and social events. The geographic boundaries of NENA spans from Kimball Street to Trout Park and from Dundee Avenue to the Fox River. They support the local schools and work closely with law enforcement to ensure safety on streets within their community. Dedicated volunteers created and maintain the NENA Butterfly Garden at the corner of Ann Street and Douglas Avenue and continually work with the City of Elgin to assure that development in the neighborhood meets the needs of residents with amenities like parks and open space, and that any new construction or renovation is appropriate to the neighborhood.
NENA offers many ways to meet neighbors and have fun together while making a friendlier, safer, more beautiful place for residents and your their families while also advocating for historic preservation through the creation and promotion of historic districts along with community outreach. NENA host the routes for Elgin’s annual Fourth of July Parade and the Elgin Valley Fox Trot, in addition to their popular Homes for the Holidays house tour held every December.
Sights to See in the North East Neighborhood
Formally a vacant lot at the south end of the Spring-Douglas historic neighborhood, the Ann Street-Douglas Avenue Butterfly Garden is the creation of volunteers and local residents who wanted to bring a natural, tranquil and butterfly-friendly garden to the northeast neighborhood. Working with the City of Elgin through a Neighborhood Improvement Grant and through generous donations from private individuals, local businesses and service organizations, the garden was built in 2008 and expanded in 2010. The western portion of the garden was designed based on Pat Hill’s book “Design Your Natural Midwest Garden.” The eastern portion of the garden was designed by Laura Anderson. The garden serves as a focal point in the neighborhood where people, pollinators (the butterfly and bee variety) and native perennials meet.
Trout Park is located near the intersection of Interstate 90 and Route 25 and stretches west to the Fox River. Originally a trout farm, this site has been home to an amusement park, a botanical garden, and the Trails & Treasures Tea Room. Today, the City of Elgin Parks & Recreation Department continues to maintain the park along with the Friends of Trout Park, a committed group of volunteers. The group monitors species, collect and disperse seeds of native wildflowers, grasses, and trees, remove invasive vegetation, maintain trails, and lead wildflower walks for the general public. Please note the playground is temporarily closed.
Photo courtesy of Somdeb of theamazingexposure.
The Boys & Girls Club of Elgin is dedicated to making a positive difference in the live of our local youth and being a leader in community enrichment. From April 1st – April 23rd, help BGC Slash The Trash! All are encouraged to get out of the house, go for a walk, and help pick up the litter around our communities. Their goal is to collect 500 bags of trash or recycling.
To be counted, snap a picture, upload to Facebook and tag @BGClubElgin & #SlashtheTrash. Then tag 3 of your friends and encourage them to do the same. You can also upload your picture and read safety tips on their website.
The North East Neighborhood Association is working to save the iconic DC Cook Building, currently threatened by a potential demolition. Talk a walk by this impressive building located at 850 N. Grove Avenue.
Just south of downtown is a neighborhood closely associated with the Elgin National Watch Company. The company established in 1864 and built its factory on a 35-acre site on the east bank of the Fox River. Housing for watch factory workers was provided through land purchased by the company for the construction of cottages, and through the construction of National House, a boarding house for single workers. At its peak in 1919, it contained 350 rooms. The structure was unfortunately demolished in 1932.
With the doubling of the size of the company by 1880, many new houses were constructed around the factor by employees of the company. Most of these were simple vernacular house types such as Gable Front cottages, Gable Ells, or Upright and Wings. Of the high style buildings most were Italianate with some Greek Revival and Second Empire. Construction reached its peak during the prosperous years of the company until 1920 when many new structures were built.
Sights to See in the Elgin National Watch Historic District
The Elgin Fire Barn No. 5 Museum is a Nationally Registered Historical Building and second official landmark in Elgin, Illinois. Established in 1903, it was the fifth original fire barn in Elgin which originally housed horses and a firefighting carriage. The Fire Barn has been out of operation since 1991, but it now operates as a museum which contain historical firefighting artifacts. Its rich history and spirit keep the Barn feeling lively with visitors coming from near and far to learn about decades worth of stories and services from our brave firefighters. Walk by to admire the architecture and take a virtual tour of the museum collection. Located at 533 St. Charles Street.
One of the few remaining artifacts from the site of the Elgin National Watch Company is the Railroad Depot that served the factory. Those of you with old Elgin Watch postcards or tins can see this building in the fore corner. The depot continues to be in the restoration process. Watch a video about the history of the Watch Factory Depot here.
The Elgin School District U-46 Planetarium opened its doors in September 1963 for students to learn about astronomy under the dome. It was built to serve the burgeoning U-46 population during the space race that eventually landed us on the Moon. It is an addition to the back of the original part of the building, the 1909 Elgin National Watch Company Observatory. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places. Located at 312 Watch Street.
The Elgin National Watch Company Historical Landmark marker is located at the intersection of East National Street and South Grove Avenue, at the entrance to the Clock Tower Plaza. Walk by and imagine the grand old Elgin National Watch Company that stood in this very place!
Garfield Elementary School is one of Elgin’s oldest schools, celebrating its 130th anniversary in 2020. In honor of the anniversary, a display is being created for the front of the school to display its original bell, which was recently dug up by School District U-46′s plant operations team. The bell will be placed on pillars in a small plaza in front of the school, surrounded by 100 personalized bricks and two flag poles. Located at 420 May Street.
The NearWest Neighbors Association was founded by a group of residents in 1996 and encompasses Elgin’s oldest west-side neighborhood, from Highland Avenue to Walnut Street and from the Fox River west to Edison Avenue. Since its inception the NWNA has taken on numerous special projects and initiatives focused on community building, crime prevention, cleanliness and maintenance standards, and historic preservation efforts. The NWNA motto is “Near West, near Everything!” Watch a video of the NearWest neighborhood here.
Sights to See in the Near West Neighborhood
Built in 1846, the Nancy Kimball house is the oldest cobblestone building in Elgin, and one of the last ones left standing. It was built for the widow of one of Elgin’s founders, Joseph Kimball by her sons, William and Samuel. The Kimball brothers later served as mayors of the city. This building is unique and important to Elgin as one of the last old architectural styles left in Elgin, with 16 inch thick cobblestone walls, a source of neighborhood pride and a project that promotes architectural preservation and adaptive re-use.
The Elgin History Museum, Near West Neighbors Association and the City of Elgin have created a team dedicated to restoring the Nancy Kimball Cobblestone Home into a gallery space for exhibition of local history, decorative art and the work of craftsmen. A work room for hands on demonstrations and community projects. A venue for education programs serving the nearby schools, as well as adult learners and a small group meeting space. Walk by to see the progress! Located at 302 W. Chicago Street.
Washington Elementary School celebrated 125 years in 2017. To mark the day students planted a tree in the front yard and a community celebration took place. Over the years expansions have been carefully done to preserve some of the original 1890s Richardson Romanesque look. The original school bell that used to hang in the attic was on display and a portrait of George Washington made a surprise return to its original home. Donated to the school in 1899, the artwork went missing until it showed up in the mail one day in the fall of 2016. A man from Colorado found it in a frame he purchased at a Goodwill Store. The portrait now hangs in the school for all to enjoy. Take a walk by this historic school, located at 819 W. Chicago Street.
St. Laurence Catholic Church officially opened with Forty Hours Devotion on November 24, 1929. A dedication occurred May 18, 1930. The church underwent a renovation on the interior beginning in 1971 under the guidance of Father Philip O’Neil. The church was closed for about 5 weeks with mass being celebrated in the auditorium. The re-dedication took place on November 28, 1971.
In 2003 the parish undertook a major renovation on the building to add a narthax, elevator and sacristy. The renovation also enlarged the balcony and returned the church to a more traditional look. It is how the church stands today. Talk a walk by this beautiful church located at 225 Jewett Street.
This Elgin school has been located at 335 Locust Street since 1855. It was burned down and rebuilt three times, the last in 1906, at which time it was re-named the George P. Lord School, in honor of the philanthropist, and designed by Elgin architect, W.W. Abell. The Lord School closed in 1939. In 1941 it was sold to the three Elgin Catholic parishes and re-named St. Edward High School, which opened in the fall of 1941. In 1950-51 St. Ed’s built a gymnasium addition, which is now the oldest building on campus. The former Lord School, which became St. Ed’s core building, was razed in 1967. St. Ed’s has also had additions in 1963, 1970 and 2002. Located at 335 Locust Street.
South West Area Neighbors promotes community pride and civic involvement for Elgin residents living in the area bounded by the Fox River on the east, Walnut Street on the north, Route 20 on the south and Commonwealth Avenue on the west. The group encourages all residents to get involved with making the neighborhood a better place to live, grow and raise a family by attending monthly meetings for the opportunity to meet neighbors and help plan the future for the community.
Sights to See in the South West Area Neighborhood
Grolich Park is on the city’s near southwest side, along Souster Avenue between Ryerson Avenue and Willis Street. It borders Route 20 to its south. The park features a smartphone interactive playground, renovated picnic shelter and sand volleyball court and bags games, a paved walking path and a five-station fitness area. While the playground is currently closed, visitors are still welcome to enjoy the park. Located at 37 Souster Avenue.
Zion Lutheran Church was founded in 1882 by immigrant families who moved to Elgin looking for work, mostly in the Elgin Watch Company. Today it is a lively congregation committed to serving in the community, connecting to neighbors, and joining in doing God’s work. This is a friendly, connected and creative congregation with a progressive mindset where ALL are welcome and invited to join in God’s work. Walk by this lovely church located at 330 Griswold Street.
Lowrie Elementary School is standing strong after opening in 1889. Over the past 131 years the school has served the Elgin community and is one of the oldest schools in the U-46 District. Some classrooms still have hardwood floors and coat closets. The original bell tower is now outside by the announcement sign. Years ago the school was threatened to be demolished but the school’s parent-teacher association and neighborhood residents joined together to physically hug the school in protest. Talk a walk by this beautiful old school located at 264 Oak Street.
Ryerson Park is charming one-acre neighborhood park located on Route 31, just south of National Street. While the playground equipment is currently closed, you can still walk through and enjoy the park. Located at 355 S. State Street.
#ELGINWALKS MAP INSTRUCTIONS
The interactive map below includes star icons showing locations of sights to see in the neighborhoods surrounding Downtown Elgin.
Click on a star for more details. You can also click on the colored lines denoting ideal walking routes from the neighborhoods to the Downtown area.
For a map legend click the icon near the upper left corner of the map next to the words #ELGINWALKS.
When you go out for your walk remember to take a picture and post it to social media with #ELGINWALKS.
Please remember parks are open however playgrounds are temporarily closed. Happy walking!
Gifford Park Neighborhood
North East Neighborhood
Watch Factory District
Near West Neighborhood
South West Neighborhood