Spotlight on Burlington: ‘Small-Town America With a Big, Big Heart’
- Editor’s Note: This summer, Kane County Connects interns Annabel Sengstock and Lizzy Kramer are putting the spotlight on 26 Kane County communities, from burgeoning Aurora to serene Sleepy Hollow, looking at each community through the eyes of a civic leader. This article, the second of the series, is written by Kramer and profiles the village of Burlington and Village President Bob Walsh.
- FEATURE PHOTO IMAGE BY BRENDON LAKE
A village with a population of less than a thousand people — 618, to be exact — Burlington is a farming community that has come a long way in the past four years. But while officials say there’s little doubt growth is coming, they are also taking steps to ensure their home town always holds onto its small-town charm.
In the words of Village President Bob Walsh, Burlington is “small-town America with a big, big, big heart.
Life in Burlington 2017
What is life like in a village with such a small population?
To answer that question, all you need to do is walk into the Burlington Village Hall. Comfortable chairs in the corner of the room await villagers ready to participate in town meetings. American flags drape every corner.
And behind a desk sits Village President Bob Walsh, proudly describing the annual fireworks show, held on July 3 every year.
“Every villager turns out to take a seat on the grass and listen to the speeches of war veterans,” he says. “There is a sense of unity and devotion to America in the town that allows it to stand out from others.”
Farming is a way of life in this part of Kane County, and Walsh remembers his first time helping out with the town Fall Fest, when the cow being used for “chip bingo” — a game where a cow stands in a fenced area and bets are placed as to where the cow chips will fall — got away from the playing field.
Virtually everyone in town participated in the chase to bring it back safely.
The residents of Burlington greatly value that sense of community, Walsh said, which is why village officials take that sentiment into consideration with virtually every policy decision. The important thing, Walsh said, is to strike a balance between progress and protection.
When he was elected to the Village Board more than 16 years ago, Walsh said his primary focus was simply “going with the flow” — fixing problems as they cropped up. But he soon came to realize that “little Burlington” had some important issues to resolve, so when he became village president four years ago and with the economy starting to rebound from a recession, Walsh began to move forward with plans to stimulate growth.
Burlington has undergone three major changes during Walsh’s time as village president.
The first and most prominent is the realignment of Plank Road. The regional enhancement to the transportation system, conducted through a partnership with the Kane County Division of Transportation, includes the village’s first traffic signal, but more importantly it removes the jog in Plank Road created 164 years ago by Burlington founders James and S.S. Mann as they laid out the plat for the original village in September 1851.
Walsh fondly recalls the cutting of the ribbon on the new and improved road as his favorite memory in Burlington — closely seconded by that runaway cow incident. He said he’s most proud of that accomplishment because the realignment preserved the historical district of Burlington while opening up much more land for residential and farming uses.
Second, Burlington has also repaved its historic Main Street, preserving a cornerstone that was placed there in 1853 that now stands as a monument in the center of town. Walsh says the project will make it easier to attract businesses and people to the town, adding that you have to see the transformation to believe it.
“Pictures do not do the Main Street justice,” he said.
Finally, the village recently repaired its water tower, which now shows off the colors of another of the community’s great assets: Burlington Central High School.
What’s Walsh’s next step?
“I set the table and see who comes to dinner,” he says.
While Walsh notes the necessity of “gradual” change in a tradition-based community, he also knows the importance of seizing the day. Development, he says, doesn’t “just walk in the door.”
“It’s a matter of taking every tool you have at your disposal,” he said. “Then finding more tools to make this village even better in the future.”
- Population: 618
- Year Founded: 1906
- Tourist Attractions: Mott’s Lounge (a restaurant that has been passed down for three generations that stands in the center of Burlington), Art and Alma’s Century Inn.
- Top Employer: D & M Plastics (a locally based company).
- Events / Festivals: Fall Fest and July 3 Fireworks.
- Most People Don’t Know: The village is built upon the values of small-town America.
- What Are Challenges Facing Burlington Today? Not having the same resources as bigger towns, Walsh says: “It’s all trying to reach out and grow, even in our older tow …. The village has grown slowly to get up to today’s pace; it takes a little more than people think.”
- What Are Some of the Top Development Projects in the Coming Year? Better roads, infrastructure, sewer treatment plant, more houses, industrial and commercial growth, A few more restaurants.
About Village President Bob Walsh
- Family: Married his high school sweetheart. They are now in their 37th year of marriage.
- Profession: Starting as a concrete laborer, Walsh has worked his way to be in charge of the concrete side of construction on buildings all around Illinois. He has built five Target stores and worked on the Riverboat Casino in Aurora.
- How Long Have You Been a Resident? 19 years.
- How Long Have You Been Village President? Four years as village president, entering his second term this year. Prior to this he served 12 years as a village trustee.
- Favorite Memory of Your Town? Cutting the ribbon on the Plank Road realignment.
- What Are Some Accomplishments of Your Administration? Repairing the village water tower, repaving Main Street, realignment of Plank Road.
- What Do You HopeYour Community Looks Like in The Next Four Years? Walsh expresses hope that the community realizes its potential to grow.