Kane County History: Turn Around in Aurora And You'll Bump Into a Luxembourger

Kane County History: Turn Around in Aurora And You’ll Bump Into a Luxembourger

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Aurora Historical Society‘s Mary Clark Ormond. All images are courtesy of the Aurora Historical Society.

Aurora has been built by people of many ethnicities since the first white settlers arrived in 1834, but none harder working, more dedicated to their city and prouder of their heritage than the Luxembourgers.

Early History in Aurora

The American Luxemburger Club at 416 High St. in 1921.

Luxembourg immigrants were among the earliest Europeans to arrive in Aurora, with brothers Phillip, George and John Jungels immigrating about 1850 and initiating waves of new arrivals. Those who followed were at first farmers and, later, laborers who found plenty of work on our rich farmland and in the woodworking and metal shops of the Chicago Burlington and Quincy rail yard.

For 170 years, citizens of Luxembourger descent have been important to this city, holding jobs, raising families, building houses and neighborhoods, supporting churches and schools and — we’ll get to this in a moment — building a formidable social hall on High Street in 1917 that still serves as the heart of their community.

The Aurora neighborhood chosen by many Luxembourgers, Pigeon Hill, has long been the melting pot of the city. As melting pots do, it has changed over time. But the Luxie Club and the two Catholic churches founded by the Luxembourgers just steps away on High Street, St. Nicholas (1862) and St. Joseph (1899), are all flourishing and able to boast a mix of old and new ethnicities.

A tiny country of 500,000 citizens that could be tucked inside the boundaries of Kane and Kendall counties with no problem, Luxembourg is a constitutional monarchy today, with a complicated history that saw it buffeted about for centuries by larger and more powerful neighbors.

A quarter of its population left for North America during the 1800s and experts estimate that in 2020 there are more people in the United States with Luxembourgish blood than there are in Luxembourg. Today the country is peaceful, neutral and a big player on the European financial stage.

People of Luxembourg descent have a lively sense of identity. There is brisk back-and-forth tourism between the countries, and having the national headquarters of the fantastically active Luxembourg American Cultural Society in nearby New Belgium, WI, is a bonus for Aurorans. There is even a dual-citizenship program available to qualified Americans.

The Aurora Historical Society has deep ties with the local Luxembourger community. We have many members and more than a few past and current trustees who claim Luxie heritage.

You can hardly turn around in Aurora without bumping into a Luxembourger.

The Club

A page from the Aurora Historical Society calendar for 2020 depicting the club’s building committee about 1917. (Calendar available at the Pierce Art and History Center, 20 E. Downer, or online at www.aurorahistory.net. Price is $14.95 plus tax, 10% discount to AHS members.)

Still thriving after 130 years, the American-Luxemburg Club, the last of its kind in the United States, is living history.

Chartered in 1890 by the state of Illinois, and using the German spelling of the word, the Luxemburg Independent Club of Aurora was founded with the following objectives: “Promotion of social, musical and vocal entertainment and to bury their dead members.”

Even today, Luxembourgers love music and singing, and a private club where members and their families could gather to relax was important. Also important was the burial benefit that membership offered. Many of the members, generally farmers from the Marywood area and railroad laborers, were barely getting by during their early years in this country, and might not have been able to afford a proper funeral without assistance.

By 1915, the club had 300 members and was doing so well that the membership voted unanimously to build its own building instead of renting quarters downtown.

Nick Frisch and William Assell were chosen as contractors. The new building, at 416 High St. on Aurora’s near east side, opened in 1917 and has been in continuous use ever since.

The names of those early club founders read like a Who’s Who of Aurora. Weiland, Biever, Olinger, Lies, Johns, Dickes, Hartz, May, and Michels. There are dozens more names, as well. Reuland, Medernach, Oberweis, Fichtel, Probst, Cigrand, Hastert, Frieders, Schindelbeck, Brummel, Jakious, Wolsfelt, Hankes, Hettinger, Gengler, Dickes and many more.

It seems you can’t turn around in Aurora without bumping into a proud Luxembourg-American.

Time has wrought some changes. In 1919, the name of the club was changed to American Luxemburg Independent Club and the official language was changed to English to publicly align the group with an American identity.

Most Americans of the time could not locate Luxembourg on a map, and the multilingualism of the people (many spoke German and French — the languages of their European neighbors — as well as their native tongue, Luxembourgish, and English) was confusing to Americans in the era of world wars and shifting alliances .

Today

Aurora historian Mike Fichtel as the Luxembourg lion, Aurora restaurateur Jeff Reuland and former executive director of the Lux-Am Cultural Society, Sara Jacoby, representing their heritage at the Roots Aurora festival in 2013.

In the last century or so, the “provision of musical entertainment” and the “burying of the dead” has segued to serving as a social center for not just Luxembourg-Americans but the entire town. The upstairs ballroom of the club is a popular venue for wedding receptions, quinceaneras and family celebrations.

Downstairs, in the bar and restaurant, a sense of timelessness envelopes you. The place has barely changed.

Members can still step up to the bar for drinks at surprising prices, and if you can snag a table — which you might have to share with other members because, well, there aren’t that many — loosen up your belt because after placing your order with the nice person at the little kitchen window, you’ll soon be feasting on the special of the day, which can be Italian beef one day, pork chops another, pizza, steak sandwiches, you name it, there’s a day of the week for it.

If you are ready to unwind on a Friday, come early. Their fish fry is justly famous.

An Invitation

If you haven’t had the entertainingly-throwback, all-Aurora experience of dinner at the Luxie Club, the AHS invites you to join us at an upcoming get-together at the club, 416 High St. Dinner will cost about $10 per person and drinks run to less than $5 apiece.

You don’t need to be a member for this. The public is welcome and, anyway, you’ll be with us. Just keep in mind that the club encourages membership if you plan on visiting often. That costs $40 a year. It’s a great investment if you want history, relaxed fellowship and good eats all rolled up in a legendary neighborhood cellar.

We are working on the details of the get-together. If you’d like to be put on the interest list, please write to aurorahistoricalsocietyevents@gmail.com and include your name, phone number and email.  We’ll get back to you with date and time.

Meanwhile, here is the traditional Luxembourger wish: Ad multos annos — To many years!!

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