Community Information

History of Oswego, Illinois


Looking Back

By Roger Matile

Located about 50 miles west of Chicago in Kendall County at the confluence of Waubonsie Creek and the Fox River, Oswego was settled, at least in part, for its transportation potential. A limestone shelf creates a natural, smooth-bottomed, ford across the river just above the mouth of the creek, making it a favored crossing, first for Native Americans and then for the American settlers who began arriving in the 1830s.

William Smith Wilson and his wife, Rebecca (Pearce) Wilson, were the first to settle where today's Oswego is located. Wilson and his brother-in-law, Daniel Pearce, scouted the area in 1832, and moved their families to their claims in 1833. Just two years later, in 1835, two newly arrived businessmen, Lewis Brinsmaid Judson and Levi F. Arnold, laid out the village of Oswego on land then still officially owned by the local Potowatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa tribes. A year later, the U.S. Government removed the local Native Americans and began surveying land up and down the Fox River. Not until 1842 did the U.S. Government finally put the land up for sale at the established price of $1.25 per acre.

Judson and Arnold, both native New Yorkers, named their new village Hudson. When the U.S. Government established a post office in the new village in January 1837, it was named Lodi. Clarification was needed and later that same year, citizens gathered and picked a permanent name that was neither Hudson nor Lodi. Instead, they picked Oswego, another name familiar to the area's New York settlers.

The ford across the Fox River was an economic draw from the very beginning. Decoalia Towle and his wife Elizabeth established an inn and tavern at Oswego on the road to the ford, joining Arnold 's general store and post office ( Arnold served as the community's first postmaster), in Oswego 's growing business district. According to the chief of the crew surveying the area for the U.S. Government in 1837, Oswego consisted of about 30 wooden buildings that year. An early road from Joliet to Galena passed through Oswego , using the ford across the river. Another road, this one from Chicago to Ottawa on the Illinois River also passed through the village, as did a third major road that followed the Fox River north from Ottawa to the small village of La Fox.

In 1841, Kendall County was established with the county seat located in Yorkville. But by 1845, Oswego Township had enough population to win a referendum on moving the county seat to Oswego . The first term of the circuit court was held that year in the National Hotel. A few years later, a new courthouse was ready for use in Oswego . The county seat remained in Oswego until it was moved back to the more centrally located Yorkville in 1864 following a second referendum.

Although Oswego lost the county seat, the extension of the Fox River Branch of the Chicago Burlington & Quincy Railroad through the village in 1870 proved another economic boost. In 1900, the Aurora Elgin & Yorkville Railway, an interurban trolley line, made another connection to Oswego from Aurora to the north and Yorkville to the south.

With the advent of inexpensive automobiles in the early years of this century, and the paved roads they required, Oswego once again found itself to be a transportation hub where three state highways--Ill. Route 25, Ill. Route 71, and Ill. Route 31--originated and through which a U.S. highway--U.S. Route 34--passes. All four highways follow portions of the old stagecoach routes that originally passed through the village. And thanks to recent annexations, village limits have grown to include a portion of U.S. Route 30, increasing transportation options for residents and business owners.

For nearly a century after the removal of the county seat, Oswego was the mercantile hub of a large surrounding agricultural area. Then in the mid-1950s, Caterpillar, Inc. and Western Electric (then the telephone equipment manufacturing division of AT&T) announced plans to locate facilities within Oswego Township close to the village. Plans for the two large industrial plants led to the development of the sprawling Boulder Hill Subdivision in unincorporated Oswego Township just north of Oswego . For the next 40 years, Boulder Hill was the largest community in Kendall County.

Then in the mid 1980s, the homebuilding boom in Naperville and Aurora advanced west along the Route 34 corridor, and housing developments began springing up around Oswego . As the pace of development quickened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Oswego began annexing contiguous properties as a way of exerting some control over the inevitable growth. The village limits extended west of the Fox River for the first time in its history, and also grew east and north to U.S. Route 30.

The village's population growth has been robust. In the 1990 U.S. Census, Oswego 's population stood at 3,875. Just seven years later, a special census showed its population had risen above 9,000, finally surpassing Boulder Hill and making it the largest community in Kendall County . In the 2000 census, Oswego 's population had grown to 13,326. Four years later, a special census counted nearly 20,000 residents living in Oswego 's municipal limits.

As Oswego continues to grow, its location on two rail lines, three state highways, and two U.S. highways, along with its continuing economic development and growth, the village is experiencing a period of rapid economic and population growth very similar to that which took place right after Judson and Arnold laid out their new town 160 years ago.