Tune-in Thursday, September 28 as WGN Radio’s Your Hometown series shines the spotlight on St. Charles.
The city of St. Charles, 35 miles west of the Loop, is located within DuPage and Kane Counties in the Fox River Valley and has used the slogan the “Pride of the Fox” since 1969. St. Charles has a vibrant downtown with an active restaurant scene, live entertainment venues, parks, public art and year-round events.
Once home to the Potawatomi, the first settlers were Evan Shelby, Ira Minard and Read Ferson who came to the area around 1833. They named it Charleston, after the town in Vermont. The name would change to St. Charles in 1839, the year it was first incorporated. St. Charles incorporated again on October 17, 1874.
Once upon a time, it would take a traveler three days to make the journey from St. Charles to Chicago. That changed in the 1880s when a direct connection was established through the Great Western Chicago Railway, followed by automobile access on Route 64 in 1920. The abandoned railway line was later developed into what is today the Great Western Trail, a popular 17-mile biking and nature path.
St. Charles is home to more than 60 parks including Pottawatomie Park (8 North Avenue), the first public park in Illinois, that hosts year-round events including the upcoming Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Fox Valley on September 30. The city’s park district also manages Primrose Farm (5N726 Crane Road), a living history farm that encompasses one of the original late 1830s St. Charles farmsteads. The Fox River, flowing directly through the town’s center, offers additional recreation with kayaking and paddlewheel riverboat cruises originating from Pottawatomie Park.
Hotel Baker (100 W. Main Street) was built alongside the river by Col. Edward J. Baker. On the National Register of Historic Places, the hotel opened on June 2, 1928, and boasted its own parking garage, an innovative lighted dance floor and even a radio station in what today is the Penthouse Suite. The hotel’s oval Rainbow Room first served as the hotel’s restaurant and ballroom and hosted performers including Louis Armstrong, Guy Lombardo, and Lawrence Welk. In 2014, celebrity couple Jenny McCarthy and Donnie Wahlberg married at the hotel and keep a St. Charles residence.
Across the river from the Hotel Baker is the Arcada Theatre (105 E. Main Street). The Arcada, also on the National Register of Historic Places, opened on Labor Day in 1926 and first showed silent movies and hosted live vaudeville acts with stars like George Burns and Gracie Allen, Judy Garland, Liberace, and the Von Trapp Family Singers. The Arcada is unique amongst theatres of its kind in that it has remained continuously open outside of renovations. The Arcada Theatre continues operating today as a popular live music and entertainment venue.
Dig in further to the history of St. Charles at the town’s history museum, located at 215 E. Main Street inside the 1928 McCornack Oil Company building. From there you can also find a self-guided walking tour of more than 25 spots within St. Charles’ Central Historic District which encompasses both the downtown area and original 1830s town layout. The heart of the city is First Street and the First Street Plaza, currently undergoing an expansion project.
St. Charles is also the “water garden capital of the world” and home to the largest water feature design and installation company in the world.
Your Hometown featuring St. Charles is sponsored by Illinois Lottery – Anything is possible in your hometown. The Illinois Lottery’s “Wild Tripler Win” Instant Ticket provides 100% of its proceeds to the Alzheimer’s Awareness Fund, which supports expanded care, education and awareness programs provided by the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois. Learn more about this ticket at illinoislottery.com/giving-back/specialty-tickets/alzheimers-support.