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Waukegan, IL

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Waukegan, IL

Waukegan, Illinois

Downtown Waukegan Skyline
Nickname(s): WaukTown, Green Town
Motto: "An Illinois Arts-Friendly Community"

Coordinates: 42°22′21″N 87°51′41″W / 42.37250°N 87.86139°W / 42.37250; -87.86139

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 669 ft (203.9 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 89,078
 • Rank 9th largest in Illinois[1]
 • Density 3,700/sq mi (1,400/km2)
Demonym Waukeganite
Time zone CST (UTC−6)
 • Summer (DST) CDT (UTC−5)

Waukegan /wɔːˈkɡən/ is a city and the county seat of Lake County, Illinois, United States. As of the 2012 census estimate, the city had a population of 94,267.[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.[3]


Waukegan is located at 42°22′21″N 87°51′41″W / 42.37250°N 87.86139°W / 42.37250; -87.86139 (42.372471, −87.861521).[4] 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 669 feet (204 m) above sea level.

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.[5]


Historical population
Census Pop.
Est. 201288,862−0.2%

As of the census[6] of 2000, there were 89,426 people, 27,787 households, and 19,450 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,819.8 inhabitants per square mile (1,475.0/km²). There were 29,243 housing units at an average density of 1,270.8 per square mile (490.7/km²). 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 44.82% of the population. 6.9% were of German ancestry according to Census 2000.

Unlike the rest of the Metro Chicago area's Hispanic population, which is predominantly Mexican, Waukegan is home to a diverse array of Hispanics hailing from Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Peru and Argentina. Waukegan also boasts a large Filipino, Polish, Italian and Greek population.

At the 2012 census, 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.

At the 2000 census, 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.


Residents of Waukegan take pride in Waukegan's diversity. Waukegan's population is diverse with many different ethnicities. Its neighborhoods are also diverse; it is possible to be in the very urban inner city with houses in the $100Ks to the southwest side with houses in the $1Ms to farms on the north to an urban downtown to a commercial hub.


Top employers

According to Waukegan's 2010 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[7] 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.[8] 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".[9]


Popular events

  • 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

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.[10] 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[11] 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.[12][13]

The Yeoman Creek Landfill[14] 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.[15]

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

Notable people

Jack Benny

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.[16]

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[17]), 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.[18]

Ray Bradbury

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.[19][20]


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.


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).[21][22][23]

The Lake County McClory recreational trail passes through Waukegan.

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.

Artistic references

  • Waukegan's Amstutz Expressway, locally known as the "Expressway to Nowhere", has been used as a shooting location for such films as Groundhog Day, The Ice Harvest, The Blues Brothers, Contagion and Batman Begins. The music video "In Love with a Thug" sung by Sharissa featuring R. Kelly was filmed in Waukegan predominantly on the corner of Water Street and Genesee Street.
  • In 2005 Ringo Starr and the Roundheads recorded a concert for an episode of Soundstage at the Genesee Theatre in Waukegan.
  • In their novel "Stardance", Spider & Jeanne Robinson refer to Waukegan as if it were a prototypical Earth location, as identified by gravity vs. free fall.
  • The hip-hop group Atmosphere namechecks the city in live performances of the song "You."
  • Tom Waits mentions Waukegan in the song "Gun Street Girl" from his album Raindogs (1985): "He left Waukegan at the slammin' of the door".

Twin towns and sister cities

Waukegan has one sister city:[26]


External links

Chicago portal
  • City of Waukegan official website
  • Waukegan Historical Society
  • DMOZ
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