A lot has changed since settlers first arrived in the 1830s in what is now Yorkville. Rattlesnakes, bears and wolves no longer threaten the residents' safety. Early businesses including ice harvesting and making buttons from river shells were replaced by factories making chewing gum and fireplace mantels. Folks can buy their game at Jewel instead of shooting it in their back yards.
But a lot has not changed.
Yorkville still offers more than a glimpse of what lured the settlers into this Pottawatomi territory: rolling hills, groves of oaks and pines and the Fox River, which cuts an east-west path through the town and triggers a new bridge-design debate every 100 years. You can still buy live bait, don your waders and join fellow fishermen in the Fox. And many Yorkville residents still have roots linking them to the area's homesteaders.
Mayberry it's not, thanks to a healthy crop of big-box retailers and police who are more sophisticated than Andy and Barney. But Yorkville is still a small town, and that's what draws newcomers here. Its population grew slowly during the 20th Century, then climbed from 6,189 in 2000 to the current 15,240. Based on its current growth rate, it could reach about 70,000 by 2012, which would still be smaller than the nearby cities of Aurora and Naperville.
This suits home buyers like Kathy Neddo, who bought a four-bedroom house here in 2007 with her partner, Deb Kaiser.
"We wanted room for our three dogs, and we were able to get the house we wanted with a big yard here for much less than in towns to the north or east," says Neddo, who moved here from Lake-in-the-Hills. "This is a small enough town where people participate, but big enough that we have everything we need and can get to Chicago in about an hour."
Neddo's $360,000 purchase price included the upgrades she wanted–two home offices, a sunroom, wrought-iron stair railings, cherry kitchen cabinets, stainless-steel appliances and granite countertops.
Neddo says she appreciates the town's network of trails, which she uses to walk her dogs, skate and cross-country ski.
While Neddo was drawn to Yorkville's open spaces, its schools are a top draw for families.
"We wanted to stay in this school district," says Mary Kay Young, who hired McCue Builders Inc. to build their new house in Yorkville in 2007. Natives of Oswego and Aurora, she and her husband, Dolph, had moved to Yorkville 10 years earlier. They have two daughters in high school.
Like Neddo, Young says price helped clinch the deal for her. "You can get a lot of house for your money here," says Young. She estimates that her 4,000-square-foot house in the Heartland neighborhood, which cost $450,000, would go for twice that up river, in the Tri-Cities (St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia).
"It's not like when we came here and you knew everyone's name," says Young. "But it's still small enough that the kids are safe and you know their friends."
Indeed, safety is a Yorkville tenet. The police department reports the town's only murder was in 2004 and resulted from a domestic dispute. A recent police blotter is more typical: phone harassment, stolen license plate and a found bicycle.
The Neddo and Young houses are typical of Yorkville's new-home offerings, most of which range from $300,000 to $600,000. In 2005, Yorkville got its first clubhouse community, the 2,650-home Grande Reserve, which includes three swimming pools.
Old-house fans and those who are in the market for fixer-uppers can find a limited supply of houses in Yorkville's core. Recent sales include a 1950s ranch for $205,000 and a circa-1900, farmhouse-style residence for $305,000, reports real estate agent Heather Fennig of Re/Max Great American in Yorkville.
Many of Yorkville's historic homes surround its Town Square Park, which is the site of city-wide festivals and art shows and a summer farmers' market.
Like many of the Chicago area's far-flung suburbs, Yorkville saw a house-building boom in the last 10 years, then a bust. Residential permits (mostly single-family) grew from 130 in 2000 to a peak of 821 in 2006, then dropped sharply to 478 in 2007. It has its share of foreclosures too. As of July, 107 homes in Yorkville and the unincorporated area surrounding it were in pre-foreclosure status.
To avoid overcrowding from the increased population, Yorkville's school district (which also covers some nearby, smaller towns) has added two grade schools and a middle school in the last two years. The average ACT score at the Yorkville High School was the same as the state average in 2007: 20.3. That ranks it lower than white-collar high schools to the east or north such as those in Naperville or Geneva, but higher than many others in Kendall County.
Most of Yorkville's children attend public school, but there are two private, K-8 schools in town and several private high schools in nearby Aurora.
The current housing slowdown allows Yorkville's city government to catch its breath and evaluate its long-range comprehensive plan. Yorkville has boundary agreements with Montgomery to the north, Plano to the northwest, Oswego to the northeast and Plainfield to the east. Most of the undeveloped land is to Yorkville's south.
To get citizens' input on the plan's update, Yorkville formed the Citizens' Advisory Committee, which meets monthly. "They're telling us they want more housing for senior citizens (active-adult, no-maintenance houses on small lots), some 3- to 5-acre estate lots and the preservation of open space," reports Travis Miller, community development director. "And, they want more restaurants and specialty stores."
Like every growing community, Yorkville has seen some anti-growth sentiment.
"Twenty years ago, it was, 'Go away, developers. Go away, new residents,' " says Mayor Valerie Burd, a native of Chicago who has lived here for 21 years. "But that's changing; it's not a farming community anymore. Many farmers have made a lot of money selling their land and buying more land to the south. What I do hear is people lamenting the loss of long-time downtown shops."
Tiny downtown Yorkville, which consists primarily of a block-long strip along Illinois Highway 47, has lost its card shop, pharmacy and bakery to chain competitors, but a few favorites, including the Kendall Pub are still alive and well. The town's water cooler, the Silver Dollar Restaurant on Stagecoach Road, still feeds the locals while they complain of traffic jams and rising taxes.
Ironically, says Burd, the same people who escape to Yorkville from more crowded towns to the east want Yorkville to provide the amenities they left behind.
One amenity at a time, this is changing. Yorkville's commercial development projects in the works include Raging Waves Water Park, Rush-Copley Medical Center and the Kendall Marketplace mall, whose anchors are SuperTarget, Kohl's and Home Depot. Downtown, the Tuscan Plaza retail/residential development will replace three 19th Century buildings with six or seven retail units on the lower level and 20 condos on the upper floors.
As Yorkville's commercial sector grows, more residents find employment here. Others commute by Interstate Highway 88 to DuPage County or take the Metra from Aurora to Chicago. Caterpillar Inc. in nearby Montgomery remains a major employer for Yorkville's blue-collar workers.
Burd's greatest challenge, she says, is controlling growth while preserving open space. She backs the recent purchase of park land along the river and the linking of trails between the neighborhoods to the Silver Springs State Park.
In 2009, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will complete Yorkville's new dam and add a canoe/kayak chute and a pedestrian island for fishing.
Burd credits her predecessor for working with former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (a Yorkville native son known as "Denny" around here) to preserve the 400-acre Hoover Outdoor Educational Center, a former Boy Scout camp. The Kendall County Forest Preserve owns it but Yorkville has the rights to develop soccer and baseball fields there.
An outdoors person herself, Burd is enthusiastic about green initiatives such as the graywater system that will reuse residential and commercial waste water to irrigate the parks starting later this year, and the forming of a committee to encourage LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification of Yorkville buildings. Her to-do list includes the opening of 16 parks that are in various stages of planning and development.
Back in the early 1900s, when "green" still referred to the color of trees , the ladies of the Home Bureau in Yorkville wrote goals that still apply today: "To have every home economically sound, mechanically convenient, physically healthful, morally wholesome, mentally stimulating, artistically satisfying, socially responsible and spiritually inspiring."
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