By Jeanne Schultz Angel, Naper Settlement; All photos courtesy of Naper Settlement
Towns, Villages, Cities…What’s the difference?
Naperville was founded in 1831 but incorporated as a village in 1857. The founding of a community should not be confused with the incorporation date- they are almost always two different dates. There were three options in which a community could incorporate- as a town, village, or city (after 1870, towns were no longer allowed). How a community incorporated had little to do with size as one might assume but rather municipal governance structure. Villages and towns are governed by a board of trustees and cities have mayors and councils with an aldermanic, commission, or managerial form. Some villages and towns, like Naperville, changed structure as they grew.
Benchmarks in Naperville’s Growth
1818 – Illinois becomes the 18th State of the United States of America.
1831 – Joseph and John Naper, among dozens of others, form Naper Settlement in which a grist mill, school, trading post, and living structures are built along the banks of the DuPage River near where Centennial Beach is today. Stagecoach service and postal delivery starts by 1834.
1839 – DuPage County splits from Cook County and Naperville is named the county seat. It will retain that designation until 1867.
1842 – Naperville’s 19 sections were platted (surveyed and registered with the State) by Joseph Naper. In the 1800s, it added twenty-one additions forming today’s downtown area.
1848 – The Galena and Chicago Union Railroad opens with railroad stops through the central section of DuPage County. When Naperville is approached about establishing a station along the line, town officials who already invested in the plank road strenuously oppose the railroad opportunity in favor of building a plank road. The Plank Road is built in 1850 and tolls are collected until 1854 when it is disbanded.
1850 Population: 1628
1857 – Naper Settlement is incorporated as the Village of Naperville, and a common council is adopted. The first election after incorporation included 174 votes cast. The first elected President of the Village was Joseph Naper; four councilmen and one clerk were also elected. The first election to remove the county seat to Wheaton was held with the results in Naperville’s favor.
1860 Population: 2599
1864 – The Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad was completed through Naperville providing a boost for development.
1867 – The Illinois legislature votes to remove the county seat to Wheaton. Naperville refuses to acknowledge the results or to move the county records. A year later, Wheaton residents take the records in a midnight raid.
1870 Population: 1713
1874 – A volunteer company forms the Naperville Fire Department with the purchase of one hand engine, one hose cart, 700 feet of hose, and other equipment. Within a year, the Village Council purchases a hook and ladder truck. In 1888, the first Fire Station is constructed on Jefferson Avenue.
1880 Population: 2073
1890 Population: 2216
1890 – The village is reorganized as a city and elects J.J. Hunt as mayor, “inaugurating a new era of prosperity in the history of Naperville,” according to The Clarion newspaper. City Hall is completed the year before. Electricity comes to Naperville. Within 10 years, the City will purchase an electric plant from a private owner.
1900 Population: 2629
1900 – The first automobile appears in Naperville and parking problems began for the City. . From1948 to 1976, parking meters were used as a way to deal with parking shortages.
1903 – Naperville builds a water works system and water begins flowing through pipes into homes and businesses in 1904 along with the establishment of the Board of Local Improvements and the City’s sewers.
1905 – Natural gas service was established in Naperville.
1910 Population: 3449
1912 – Commission form of government is adopted and will begin the following year. Francis A. Kendall is elected Mayor. Within two years, the downtown roads were paved.
1917 – The City converts the First National Bank and Masonic Building into the City Hall.
1920 Population: 3830
1923 – The City begins to contract for electricity with Public Services Co. of Northern Illinois. A City ordinance is passed to establish garbage disposal.
1924 – As zoning laws are starting to be established around the nation, Naperville adopts the first zoning ordinance defining areas of growth and restrictions for the community. In several subdivisions and new homes in the first half of the 20th century, deeds included restrictive covenants with “Caucasian only” language. Also in 1924, the first traffic light is built at Jefferson and Washington to handle the increasing auto traffic. The first full-time firefighter is hired.
1925 – The northern City boundaries stretches to Ogden Avenue and City streets are renamed as “streets” for north-south routes and “avenues” for east-west routes.
1929 – The Police and Fire Departments are located next to each other on Jefferson Ave.
1930 Population: 5118
1931 – Naperville celebrates its 100th year with an extended festival with pageants, presentations, and parades. The community marks the anniversary with the opening of Centennial Beach and Park in 1937-all built during the Great Depression.
1934 – The Civilian Conservation Corps workers camp at McDowell Woods enrolled more than 250 men to work on public works projects.
1936 – Caroline Martin Mitchell bequeaths 212 acres adjacent to downtown Naperville to the City. One of her stipulations was that her home and surrounding land would remain a museum in perpetuity. The rest of the land was to be used for the community good and includes Knoch Park, parts of Edward Hospital, Naperville Central High School, Rotary Hill, Community Garden Plots, sections of Naperville Cemetery, and Sportsman’s Park.
1940 Population: 5272
1940 – City builds new Post Office on Washington Street.
1946 – Post-war growing pains include lack of housing for returning GIs. Naperville City Council establishes Planning Commission.
1950 Population: 7013
1950 – Harold Moser begins several housing developments including Burlington Park and Moser Highlands. By 1956, new homes bring the need for lawn sprinkling, and the City passes restrictions on watering for the first time.
1951 – Parking continues to be a significant problem for City administrators. City produces a future plan for growth.
1955 – A US government Nike guided missile anti-aircraft installation is built near Mill and Diehl and will be active until 1963. This land is now known as Nike Park.
1958 – The East-West Tollway is completed opening up Naperville to significant suburban sprawl. The arrival of the East-West Tollway (now I-88) connecting Naperville to Chicago and the larger region in ways that it previously had not been. As a result, the city boomed in both residential development and business growth. The tech corridor brought national companies like Bell Labs to Naperville. Many of these companies came with commitments to fair hiring practices and required housing that served their work force.
1960 Population: 12,933
1960 – The City annexes nearly 1600 acres and effectively doubles its size from 1724 to 3464 acres. City Council hires an outside planning consultant firm to manage growth. City telephone service is upgraded to direct dial. Future subdivisions are planned as Naperville grows.
1965 – Naperville Human Relations Council is formed from the Human Relations Study Group (which began in 1964) to bring community conversations around discrimination and Fair Housing to the forefront. The next year, an African American couple that was transferred to Bell Labs filed a complaint to the federal government on being unable to obtain housing in the community where they worked.
1967 – The Park District is formed. The City Plan Commission starts planning for a second Metra railroad stop for Naperville.
1968 – The City passes a Fair Housing Ordinance after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the passage of the Fair Housing Act. This year, the City also created a Budget Officer for the first time.
1969 – The City adopts a mayoral-council managerial form of government and the City Hall moves to the former electrical department building on Jackson Avenue.
1970 Population: 23,885
1971 – Barbara Bean is elected as the first councilwoman. Under a City-manager administrative structure, staff and leadership begin the re-organize how the City operates to keep up with the explosive growth.
1973 – Naperville-Aurora boundary agreement is approved. The City established boundary agreements with several surrounding communities during this time.
1975 – City Hall is remodeled and expanded to meet the changing needs of the growing community A downtown revitalization plan was formed to ensure vibrant growth for the City’s core.
1977 – East-West properties consisting of 700 acres are annexed.
1979 – Outhouses were banned by the City.
1980 Population: 42,346
1980 – Naperville covers 22 square miles in size. Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance is passed.
1981 – Sesquicentennial celebration marking the 150th anniversary of Naperville’s founding includes parade, galas, events, and the dedication of phase one construction of Naperville’s Riverwalk project.
1983 – Peg Price is the first woman elected as mayor.
1985 – The Historic Sites Commission is created.
1988 – Multiple floor parking facility is built in the downtown by the City.
1990 Population: 85,357
1990 – New 98,000 square foot Police Department is constructed on Aurora Ave. Second Metra stop opens near Route 59.
1992 – Municipal Center opens on Eagle Street. The Fire Department also opens a new administration building and includes seven stations total.
1995 – Naperville covers 32 square miles in size, and the planning area covers 50 square miles. Eagle Street bridge is rebuilt. The number of City Council members increases to nine.
2000 Population: 128,359
2000 – The Riverwalk 2000 campaign begins to raise funds to expand the park walkway. The 2000 Downtown Naperville Plan is drafted.
2005 – The City is ranked third most desirable place to live in US by Money Magazine.
2006 – Naperville celebrates its 175th anniversary with a “heritage, unity, vision” tagline. Gala events, special programs, commemorative collectables and custom beanie babies by Ty all marked the occasion.
2010 Population: 141,853
2010 – The City contracted with historic preservation consultants to intensively survey a select number of buildings within the city’s downtown as part of the preparations for an updated downtown plan.
2016 – The City received Illinois Governor’s Sustainability Award for successful and ongoing completion of all 49 goals in the City’s 2010 Sustainability Plan.
2017 – City named Alarms.org and SmartAsset.com Safest Cities in America Lists.
2019 – A new mission statement was adopted that prioritized diversity and inclusion: “To provide services that ensure a high quality of life, sound fiscal management, and a dynamic business environment, while creating an inclusive community that values diversity.”
2020 Population: 149,540
2022 Naperville was ranked No. 16 on Money’s Best Places to Live listing.