Waukegan, Illinois

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Waukegan, Illinois
City of Waukegan
Downtown Waukegan Skyline
Downtown Waukegan Skyline
Nickname(s): WaukTown, Green Town
Motto: "An Illinois Arts-Friendly Community"
Coordinates: 42°22′13″N 87°52′16″W / 42.37028°N 87.87111°W / 42.37028; -87.87111Coordinates: 42°22′13″N 87°52′16″W / 42.37028°N 87.87111°W / 42.37028; -87.87111
Country United States
State Illinois
Counties Lake
Founded 1829
Incorporated 1849 (town), 1859 (city)
 • Type Mayor–council
 • Mayor Wayne Motley (D)
 • Total 23.88 sq mi (61.8 km2)
 • Land 23.67 sq mi (61.3 km2)
 • Water 0.21 sq mi (0.5 km2)  0.88%
Elevation[1] 715 ft (218 m)
Population (2013)[2]
 • Total 88,826
 • Rank 9th largest in Illinois[3]
 • Density 3,700/sq mi (1,400/km2)
Demonym(s) Waukeganite
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC−5)
Area code(s) 847 & 224
Website www.waukeganil.gov

Waukegan /wɔːˈkɡən/ is a city and the county seat of Lake County, Illinois, United States.[4] As of the 2013 census estimate, the city had a population of 88,826.[2] It is the ninth-largest city in Illinois by population. It is the fifth-largest city on the western shore of Lake Michigan, after Chicago, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Kenosha.


The site of present-day Waukegan was recorded as Riviere du Vieux Fort ("Old Fort River") and Wakaygagh on a 1778 map by Thomas Hutchins. By the 1820s, the French name had become "Small Fort River" in English, and the settlement was known as "Little Fort". The name "Waukegance" and then "Waukegan" (meaning "little fort"; cf. Potawatomi wakaigin "little fort") was created by John H. Kinzie and Solomon Juneau, and the new name was adopted in 1849.[5][6]

Waukegan had an abolitionist community dating to these early days. In 1853, residents commemorated the anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the British Empire with a meeting.[7] Waukegan arguably has the distinction of being the only place where Abraham Lincoln failed to finish a speech; when he campaigned in the town in 1860, a fire alarm rang, and the man soon-to-be president had his words interrupted.[8]

Waukegan's development began in many ways with the arrival of Washburn & Moen, a barbed-wire manufacturer that prompted both labor migration and land speculation beginning in 1891.[9] Immigrants followed, mostly hailing from southeastern Europe and Scandinavia, with especially large groups from Sweden, Finland, and Lithuania.[10][11] The town also became home to a considerable Armenian population.[12] One member of this community, Monoog Curezhin, even became embroiled in an aborted plot to assassinate Sultan Abdul Hamid II, reviled for his involvement in massacres of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Curezhin lost two fingers on his right hand while testing explosives for this purpose in Waukegan in 1904.[13]

By the 1920s and 1930s, African-Americans began to migrate to the city, mostly from the south.[14] The town was no stranger to racial strife. In June 1920, an African-American boy allegedly hit the car of an off-duty sailor from nearby Great Lakes Naval Base with a rock, and hundreds of white sailors gathered at Sherman House, a hotel reserved for African-Americans. Although newspaper reports and rumors suggested that the officer's wife was hit with glass from the broken windshield, subsequent reports revealed that the officer was not even married.[15] The sailors cried "lynch 'em," but were successfully kept back by the intervention of the police.[16] Marines and sailors renewed their attack on the hotel several days later. The Sherman's residents fled for their lives as the military members carried torches, gasoline, and the American flag.[17] The Waukegan police once again turned them away, but not before firing and wounding two members of the crowd.[18] The police were not always so willing to protect Waukegan's citizens. The chief of police and the state's attorney in the 1920s, for example, were avowed members of the Ku Klux Klan, facts that came to light when a wrongfully convicted African-American war veteran was released from prison on appeal after 25 years.[19][20] Labor unrest also occurred regularly. In 1919, a strike at the US Steel and Wire Company - which had acquired Washburn & Moen - led to a call for intervention from the state militia.[21][22]

Noted organized crime figure Johnny Torrio served time in Waukegan's Lake County jail in 1925. He installed bulletproof covers on the windows of his cell at his own expense for fear of assassination attempts.[23]

The city retained a distinct industrial character in contrast to many of the residential suburbs along Chicago's North Shore.[11] The unequal distribution of wealth created by the disappearance of manufacturing from the city in part contributed to the Waukegan Riot of 1966. Central to this event and the remainder of Waukegan's 20th century history was Robert Sabonjian, who served as mayor for 24 years, and earned the nickname the "Mayor Daley of Waukegan" for his personal and sometimes controversial style of politics.[24]


Waukegan is located at 42°22′13″N 87°52′16″W / 42.37028°N 87.87111°W / 42.37028; -87.87111 (42.3703140, -87.8711404).[1] Waukegan is on the shore of Lake Michigan, about 8 miles (13 km) south of the border with Wisconsin and 40 miles (64 km) north of downtown Chicago, at an elevation of about 715 feet (218 m) above sea level.[1]

According to the 2010 census, the city has a total area of 23.88 square miles (61.8 km2), of which 23.67 square miles (61.3 km2) (or 99.12%) is land and 0.21 square miles (0.54 km2) (or 0.88%) is water.[25]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 3,433
1870 4,507 31.3%
1880 4,012 −11.0%
1890 4,915 22.5%
1900 9,426 91.8%
1910 16,069 70.5%
1920 19,226 19.6%
1930 33,499 74.2%
1940 34,241 2.2%
1950 46,698 36.4%
1960 61,784 32.3%
1970 65,134 5.4%
1980 67,653 3.9%
1990 69,392 2.6%
2000 89,426 28.9%
2010 89,078 −0.4%
Est. 2014 88,915 [26] −0.2%
U.S. Decennial Census[27]

As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 89,078 people residing in the city. 46.6% were White, 19.2% Black or African American, 4.3% Asian, 1.2% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 24.6% of some other race and 4.1% of two or more races. 53.4% were Hispanic or Latino (of any race). 5.3% were of German ancestry.[28]

As of the census[28] of 2000, there were 87,901 people, 27,787 households, and 19,450 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,475.0/km² (3,819.8/mi²). There were 29,243 housing units at an average density of 490.7/km² (1,270.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 30.92% White, 19.21% African American, 0.54% Native American, 3.58% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 22.96% from other races, and 3.50% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 44.818% of the population.

There were 27,787 households out of which 40.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 49.5% were married couples living together, 14.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.0% were non-families. 24.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.09 and the average family size was 3.68.

In the city the population was spread out with 30.2% under the age of 18, 12.1% from 18 to 24, 33.4% from 25 to 44, 16.4% from 45 to 64, and 7.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females there were 103.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 103.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $42,335, and the median income for a family was $47,341. Males had a median income of $30,556 versus $25,632 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,368. About 10.7% of families and 13.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.1% of those under age 18 and 8.0% of those age 65 or over.


Top employers[edit]

According to Waukegan's 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[29] the top employers in the city were:

# Employer # of Employees
1 Lake County 2,000
2 Waukegan Community Unit School District 60 1,900
3 Cardinal Health 1,500
4 Vista Health System 1,350
5 Uline 1,200
6 Coleman Cable 1,000
7 Medline Industries 850
8 Illinois Department of Human Services 725
9 City of Waukegan 508
10 WMS Industries 500


The city has plans for redevelopment of the lakefront.[30] The lakefront and harbor plan calls for most industrial activity to be removed, except for the Midwest Generation power plant and North Shore wastewater treatment facilities. The existing industry would be replaced by residential and recreational space. The city also set up several tax increment financing zones which have been successful in attracting new developers. The first step in the revitalization effort, the opening of the Genesee Theatre, has been completed, many new restaurants have opened, buildings have been renovated, and the City of Waukegan has made substantial investments in the pedestrian areas and other infrastructure.

The city had an annual "Scoop the Loop" summer festival of cruising since 1998, which since 2010 became a monthly event during the summer. The current incarnation is known as "Scoop Unplugged".[31]


Popular events[edit]

  • ArtWauk

ArtWauk (ArtWalk) is an art event that happens every third Saturday of the month in Downtown Waukegan. ArtWauk features paintings, sculptures, films, dance, theatre, comedy, music, performance art, food, pedicabs, all in the Waukegan Arts District in Downtown Waukegan.

The Fiestas Patrias Parade and Festival in Downtown Waukegan highlights and celebrates the independence of the many Hispanic countries that are represented in Waukegan, including Mexico, Belize, Honduras, etc.

  • HolidayWAUK

HolidayWAUK (HolidayWalk) is Downtown Waukegan's holiday festival.

Popular tourist destinations[edit]

Superfund sites[edit]

Waukegan Harbor, with OMC (purple), WCP (red), and Johns-Manville (yellow) Superfund sites

Waukegan contains three Superfund sites of hazardous substances that are on the National Priorities List.

In 1975, PCBs were discovered in Waukegan Harbor sediments. Investigation revealed that during manufacturing activities at Outboard Marine Corporation (OMC), hydraulic fluids containing PCBs had been discharged through floor drains at the OMC plant, directly to Waukegan Harbor and into ditches discharging into Lake Michigan.[32] The OMC plants were subsequently added to the National Priorities List, and was designated as one of 43 Great Lakes Areas of Concern. Cleanup of the site began in 1990, with OMC providing $20–25 million in funding. During the OMC cleanup, additional soil contaminants were found at the location of the former Waukegan Manufactured Gas and Coke company. Soil removal was completed at the Coke site in 2005, and cleanup of that soil will continue for several years.

The Johns Manville site is located one mile (1.6 km) north[33] of the OMC site. In 1988, asbestos contamination found in groundwater and air prompted listing on the National Priorities List and subsequent cleanup. In 1991, the soil cover of the asbestos was completed. However, additional asbestos contamination was found outside the Johns-Manville property which will require further cleanup.[34][35]

The Yeoman Creek Landfill[36] is a Superfund site located 1.5 miles (2.4 km) west of the Johns Manville site. The site operated as a landfill from 1959 to 1969. In 1970, it was discovered that the lack of a bottom liner in the landfill had allowed leachate to enter groundwater, contaminating the water with volatile organic compounds and PCBs, and releasing gases that presented an explosion hazard. All major cleanup construction activities were completed in 2005, and monitoring of local water and air continues.[37]

The book Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols gives an account of the effects of PCBs on Waukegan residents.

Notable people[edit]

Jack Benny[edit]

Waukegan is the hometown of comedian Jack Benny (1894–1974), one of the 20th century's most notable and enduring entertainers, but although he claimed for decades on his radio and television shows to have been born there, he was actually born at Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Benny's affection for the town in which he grew up can clearly be felt by this exchange with his co-star (and wife) Mary Livingstone during a conversation they had on The Jack Benny Program on Mother's Day of 1950 while they were discussing the itinerary for his summer tour that year:

Mary Livingstone: Aren't you going to bring your show to Waukegan?
Jack Benny: Mary, I was born in Waukegan — how can you follow that?!.

On a 1959 episode of the television game show What's My Line?, Benny quipped to host John Charles Daly

They say that I put Waukegan on the map. But it's not true. Waukegan really put me on the map. That's a fact.[38]

Nevertheless, Benny did put Waukegan on the map for millions of his listeners (and later viewers) over the years, and the community was proud of his success. A Waukegan middle school is named in his honor (which he said was the greatest thrill he had ever experienced[39]), and a statue of him, dedicated in 2002, stands in the downtown facing the Genesee Theater, which hosted the world premiere of his film Man about Town in 1939, with Jack, Mary, Dorothy Lamour, Phil Harris, Andy Devine, Don Wilson and Rochester (Eddie Anderson) appearing onstage.

Jack Benny's family lived in several buildings in Waukegan during the time he was growing up there, but the house at 518 Clayton Street is the only one of them that still stands. It was designated a landmark by the city on April 17, 2006.[40]

Ray Bradbury[edit]

The science-fiction writer and romancier Ray Bradbury was born in Waukegan, and though he moved with his family to the west coast while still a child, many of his stories explicitly build on Waukegan (often called Green Town in his stories, such as Dandelion Wine) his formative years there.[41][42]


Waukegan is served by the Waukegan Public School District 60. It serves about 17,000 students in preschool through grade twelve. Waukegan has three early childhood schools, fifteen elementary schools, five middle schools, and three high schools. The early childhood schools are EPIC Early Learning Center at 540 S. McAlister Street, EPIC North Shore at 326 Julian Street, and EPIC AOEC at 1020 Glen Rock Avenue. The elementary schools are Carman-Buckner Elementary School at 520 Helmholz Street, John S. Clark Elementary School at 601 Blanchard Road, Clearview Elementary School at 1700 Delaware Road, Andrew Cooke Magnet School at 522 Belvidere Road, Glen Flora Elementary School at 1110 Chestnut Street, Glenwood Elementary School at 2500 Northmoor Avenue, Greenwood Elementary School at 1919 North Avenue, Hyde Park Elementary School at 1525 Hyde Park Avenue, Little Fort Elementary School at 1775 Blanchard Road, Lyon Magnet School at 800 S. Elmwood Avenue, H. R. McCall Elementary School at 3215 McAree Road, North Elementary School at 410 Franklin Street, Oakdale Elementary School at 2230 McAree Road, Washington Elementary School at 110 S. Orchard Avenue, Whittier Elementary School at 901 N. Lewis Avenue. The middle schools are Robert Abbott Middle School at 1319 Washington Street, Jack Benny Middle School at 1401 Montesano Avenue, Thomas Jefferson Middle School at 600 S. Lewis Avenue, Miguel Juarez Middle School at 201 N. Butrick Street, and Daniel Webster Middle School at 930 New York Street. The high schools are Waukegan High School-Washington Campus at 1011 Washington Street, Waukegan High School-Brookside Campus at 2325 Brookside Avenue, and Alternative/Optional Education Center at 1020 Glen Rock Avenue.

Waukegan High School was established in 1870. It was split into two separate high schools in 1975, as the Waukegan West Raiders and Waukegan East Bulldogs. In 1990, the school's sports teams were combined, and the high school was combined in the fall of 1991. The school became the Bulldogs, but added an eye patch to commemorate the Raiders and school colors of purple, green, and gold. In the fall of 2000, the school created a separate 9th grade center to accommodate a larger school population.

Government services[edit]


Waukegan has a port district which operates the city harbor and regional airport.

  • Waukegan Harbor:
    • Marina provides services and facilities for recreational boaters.
    • Industrial port provides access for 90–100 large shipping vessels yearly. Companies with cargo facilities at the port currently include Gold Bond Building Products (capacity for 100,000 tons of gypsum), LaFarge Corp (12 cement silos), and St Mary's Cement Co (2 cement silos).[43][44][45]
  • Waukegan Regional Airport:
  • The Lake County McClory recreational trail passes through Waukegan. It provides a non-motor route spanning from Kenosha, Wisconsin, to the North Shore, along the right of way of the former Chicago North Shore and Milwaukee Railroad.
  • Metra provides service between Waukegan and downtown Chicago via the Union Pacific/North Line. Service runs daily from early morning to late evening. Pace provides public bus service throughout Waukegan and surrounding areas. Most buses run Monday thru Saturday with limited Sunday/Holiday service on two routes.
  • Waukegan has three licensed taxi companies. 303 Taxi, Metro Yellow&Checker Cabs and Speedy Taxi which operate under city ordinances.

Fire department[edit]

The Waukegan Fire Department provides fire protection and paramedic services for city. There are five fire stations. Firefighters, lieutenants, and captains are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters.

Historical sites[edit]

Artistic references[edit]

Twin towns and sister cities[edit]

Waukegan has one sister city:[48]


  1. ^ a b c U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: City of Waukegan
  2. ^ a b "Waukegan (city), Illinois". State & County QuickFacts. U.S. Census Bureau. 8 July 2014. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  3. ^ "All cities, towns, villages and unincorporated places in Illinois of more than 15,000 inhabitants.". Retrieved November 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07. 
  5. ^ Callary, Edward. 2009. Place Names of Illinois. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, p. 368.
  6. ^ Chicago and North Western Railway Company (1908). A History of the Origin of the Place Names Connected with the Chicago & North Western and Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis & Omaha Railways. p. 136. 
  7. ^ "West India Emancipation". The National Era (Washington, DC). 18 August 1853. 
  8. ^ Fitzpatrick, Rita (29 June 1947). "Waukegan has City's Din Amid Rural Scenes". Chicago Daily Tribune. 
  9. ^ "Wild Activity at Waukegan: the Town is Fairly Overrun with Enthusiastic Acre Speculators". Chicago Daily Tribune. 25 January 1891. 
  10. ^ "Places". Waukegan Historical Society. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  11. ^ a b Kirkpatrick, Clayton (31 January 1951). "Waukegan: It's Working Man's Town - and How! City Glories in Smoking Stacks along Lake". Chicago Daily Tribune. 
  12. ^ "Armenians in Waukegan - St. George Armenian Church". sites.google.com. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  13. ^ "Armenian Plotter is Taken: Chicagoan Admits Having Been Assigned to Kill the Sultan". Chicago Daily Tribune. 20 August 1907. 
  14. ^ "Places". Waukegan Historical Society. Retrieved 2015-10-10. 
  15. ^ Racial Clashes, 1920.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  16. ^ "Sailors Riot in Waukegan Race Clash". Chicago Daily Tribune. 1 June 1920. 
  17. ^ "2 Marines Shot as Sailors and Police Clash: Waukegan Site of New Race Riot". Chicago Daily Tribune. 3 June 1920. 
  18. ^ "Sailors Renew Race Riots". New York Times. 3 June 1920. 
  19. ^ "Crime Non-Existent, Trial 'Sham,' Court Frees Negro After 26 Years". New York Times. 11 August 1949. 
  20. ^ Coleman, Ted (24 September 1949). "Ku Kluxers Still Stalking 'Big Jim' After 25 Years". The Pittsburgh Courier. 
  21. ^ "2,000 in Riot at Waukegan". The Washington Herald. 30 September 1919. 
  22. ^ "State Militia Sent". The Daily Gate City and Constitution Democrat. 26 September 1919. 
  23. ^ "Torrio Fortifies Jail Cell; Rumors of War". Chicago Daily Tribune. 25 June 1925. 
  24. ^ Myers, Linner (9 June 1985). "'Mayor Daley of Waukegan' Back to Show 'Em Who's Boss". Chicago Tribune. 
  25. ^ "2010 Census U.S. Gazetteer Files for Places – Illinois". United States Census. Retrieved 2012-10-13. 
  26. ^ "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  27. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015. 
  28. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  29. ^ City of Waukegan AFR. (PDF).
  30. ^ Plans for redevelopment of the lakefront. Waukeganvision.com.
  31. ^ "Scoop Unplugged and Oktoberfest". Waukegan Arts Council. Retrieved 17 September 2014. 
  32. ^ "Waukegan Harbor River Area of Concern". US EPA. 
  33. ^ Coordinates of Johns Mannville site. Maps.google.com (January 1, 1970).
  34. ^ "Johns-Manville Corp". EPA. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  35. ^ "Asbestos contaminated shore". Dunesland Peservation Society. November 2006. 
  36. ^ Yeoman Creek Landfill Archived March 24, 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  37. ^ "ILD980500102, NPL Fact Sheet - Region 5 Superfund - US EPA". epa.gov. Retrieved February 26, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Jack Benny—What's My Line (HQ Version)". June 21, 1959. Retrieved April 17, 2012. 
  39. ^ Wolters, Larry (October 23, 1961). "Jack Benny at Best on Waukegan Show". The Chicago Tribune: C9. 
  40. ^ [1] The Waukegan Historical Society – Waukegan Landmarks. Accessed 4/16/2010
  41. ^ "Ray Bradbury". waukeganpl.org. Retrieved February 26, 2015. 
  42. ^ Keilman, John (June 7, 2012). "Waukegan's landscape, values never left Bradbury". Chicago Tribune. 
  43. ^ seriesmain_rpt. (PDF).
  44. ^ "Harbor cleanup moves forward". Chicago Tribune. August 8, 2007. 
  45. ^ "Waukegan Harbor". U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Archived from the original on June 13, 2007. Retrieved 2007-08-13. 
  46. ^ http://www.who-dunnit.com/authors/45/
  47. ^ Ghost Rider. Marveldirectory.com.
  48. ^ "Sister Cities – Waukegan, Illinois, USA & Kiyotake-cho, Miyazaki-gun, Japan". City Of Waukegan, City Hall. 2008. Retrieved October 3, 2010. 

External links[edit]