- 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 fifth of the series, is written by Kramer and profiles Village President Jeff Walter. The feature photo is by Laura Stoecker.
When Village President Jeff Walter tells you Elburn is “one of a kind,” he’s not kidding.
As legend and a quick Google search will tell you, there is no other place on the planet named Elburn. There are no family forefathers, or foremothers for that matter, from whom the village takes its name.
Originally called Blackberry Station, the train line running through what we now know as Elburn, the name was deemed too common, so it was changed to Melborn. Again, there were complications, and after a few more tweaks, the friendly town of Elburn was born.
What else sets Elburn apart from Midwest suburbia? The town’s greatest tourist attraction is a meat market. Yes, a meat market. And not just any meat market: Ream’s is home to the National Grand Champion Bratwurst.
Cured meat not your thing? OK, how about this fun fact:
Elburn holds the largest Lions Club in all of Illinois. The non-profit organization’s mission is to promote peace, community service and understanding, and the level of participation in the Lions Club showcases the character of Elburn as a town.
Elburn has a “small town feel even though we are up to 6,000 people,” Walter says.
Staying Small While Getting Bigger
When Walter was considering towns his family might move to, he happened to drive through Elburn one day. He was immediately captured by the charm of the little meat market, florist and pharmacy that decorated the main street.
Everyone was “super friendly,” he says.
And they still are. Ride your bike down the street, and everyone in your path will smile and wave at you, Walter says. He affectionately refers to Elburn as a “nice, little, quaint, small town.”
That said, in the 12 years since the Walter family moved to Elburn, it might have outgrown the title of a small town. About an hour and 10 minutes away from Chicago by train, Elburn has attracted many commuters who wish to have the peace of a quiet town when they come home from work in the “big city.”
Walter says the subdivision he lives in has multiplied in size and notes that big-name companies such as Jewel have edged into Elburn to cater to the population. In the future, Walter sees a commercial area growing around the Elburn train station, which started providing passenger rail service in January 2006.
Like the village of Big Rock, profiled last week in this “Spotlight” series, one of the Elburn Village Board’s top priorities is to not let growth destroy the friendly and close community. Walter says the strict motto of the Elburn Village Board is “better, not bigger,” and he’s used that three-word mantra to guide all of his decisions during his past eight years on the board.
The Elburn Station subdivision, he says, is a good example. Promising to bring as many as 2,000 new residents to the community in the next 20 years, ShoDeen Construction broke ground in May. But the process of approving the subdivision took more than two years, and village officials made sure each stage of the agreement was not rushed.
“We want to make sure we grow smartly, make the right decisions and not just be an overwhelmed, sprawling bedroom community,” Walter says. “We want to do it right.”
What’s next for Elburn?
Aside from another national bratwurst championship, Walter says “one of my priorities as mayor is to find ways to bring businesses back to town.”
When he was sworn in as village president this past spring, Walter said the downtown area had too many vacancies. Over the years, the opening of Jewel Osco in Elburn put a local grocery and pharmacy out of business, and Ream’s Meat Market relocated from the downtown area to the edge of Elburn.
After experiencing this flight from the downtown, Walter hopes to see it become “full and thriving.”
The village recently created a Parks Commission, which will have its fifth meeting this week and serves to oversee and regulate all of the forests and parks, will also play a role in Elburn’s future. The commission already has completed five-year and 20-year plans and commissioners are discussing the possibility of building an ice skating rink on the elevated ballpark field north of the Elburn and Countryside Community Center, according to a recent article in the Kane Count Chronicle.
With enhanced community parks, a diversity of downtown businesses and an anchor position on the Union Pacific West line, Walter acknowledges that his little town is likely to attract more than a few new residents.
“You couldn’t move to a more accepting, friendly town,” he said.
- Population: 5,682
- Year Founded: 1881
- Famous Residents: Eric Ferguson of 101.9 The Mix’s Eric and Kathy morning talk show
- Tourist Attractions: Ream’s Meat Market, Larsen Family Light Show
- Top Employer: Jewel Osco
- Events/Festivals: Elburn Days, Christmas Stroll
- Most People Don’t Know: “Elburn” is a made up word
- What Are Some Challenges Facing Elburn Today? Making sure all growth is smart growth and working with state budgets
- What are some of the top development projects in the coming years? Restore the downtown; the construction of the Elburn Station subdivision.
Meet the Village President: Jeff Walter
- Family: Married with two children
- Profession: IT Manager at Optum
- How Long Have You Been a Resident? 12 years
- How Long Have You Been Village President? Since May
- Favorite Memory of Your Town? Walking his kids to school on the first day of school
- What Are Some of the Accomplishments of Your Time on Village Board? Establishing the Parks Commission
- What Do You Hope Your Vommunity Looks Like in Five Years? To see the downtown revitalized and commercial development around the train station.
Read the Spotlight Series
- SPOTLIGHT ON ALGONQUIN: Scenic Beauty, Economic Growth Set ‘The Green City’ Apart
- SPOTLIGHT ON BURLINGTON: ‘Small-Town America With a Big, Big Heart’
- SPOTLIGHT ON AURORA: New Mayor Hopes to Bring Innovation To ‘City of Lights’
- SPOTLIGHT ON BIG ROCK: Improving the Quality of Life in Rural Kane County