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Columns

Newsletter sampler: Thompson's Build Illinois program proved key to Oswego's growth

Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson at the White House in 1986
Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson at the White House in 1986

You could have seen this newsletter in your inbox last Thursday, Sept. 3. How do you do it? Sign up for our free Kendall County Government Insider newsletter here.

Welcome to the Record Newspapers/Oswego Ledger Kendall County local government newsletter. Each Thursday, Editor John Etheredge provides exclusive content and commentary on topics and issues involving Kendall County area governmental agencies and the communities they serve.

Most of the tributes I've read to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson who died last month at the age of 84 list the massive Build Illinois public works improvement program among his top achievements during his lengthy tenure as governor.

One columnist hailed the General Assembly's passage of the legislation that created Build Illinois in 1985 as Thompson's "signature achievement."

State historians can debate that point if they wish from here on out, but I've always believed that Build Illinois was indeed a signature achievement for the village of Oswego.

Among the many public infrastructure improvement projects funded under the Build Illinois program was the installation of a water line and water tower in Oswego. That project, completed in the late 1980s, served to establish once and for all the village's boundaries east of the Fox River with neighboring Montgomery and Aurora, and set the stage for the village's Route 34 corridor to become a regional shopping destination.

Back in 1985, the village's eastern most boundary ended along Route 34 about a half mile east of Boulder Hill Pass. At that time, the Route 34 corridor from the Fox Bend Golf course all the way east to Route 30 was still almost exclusively farmland. With development accelerating along Route 34 in nearby Aurora, Jim Detzler, Oswego's then village president, sought to extend the village's boundaries to the south side of Route 30 between Route 34 and Douglas Road. In so doing, Detzler sought to prevent Montgomery and Aurora from annexing property south of Route 30 along Route 34. At stake was the right to control development along the corridor and the sales and property tax revenues that the new development was expected to generate.

Though Oswego had entered into a boundary agreement with Montgomery in 1976 that set Route 30 as the planning border between the two communities, there was a level of distrust between the two villages about their intentions to abide by the agreement. In fact, Detzler's predecessor as village president, Milton "Les" Penn, upset Montgomery officials at one point in the early 1980s by suggesting during a public meeting that Montgomery officials would be willing to break the agreement and annex property south of Route 30 in their quest for greater sales tax revenues. Penn's comments, when reported in the Ledger at that time, prompted Montgomery Village President Stu Johnson to send a terse letter to Penn and the Oswego Village Board reiterating the board's intention to abide by the agreement. "We seek no expansion to the south," Johnson wrote.

As much as Oswego officials wanted to extend the village's border to Route 30, they had no funding and no politically palatable way of getting there until Thompson came along with his Build Illinois program. Though the village's representatives in the General Assembly at that time, Republican State Sen. George "Ray" Hudson and State Rep. Dennis Hastert, split their ballots on the vote to approve the Build Illinois program with Hastert voting in favor and Hudson opposed, Hastert managed to secure funding in the legislation for a grant to the village to pay for the installation of a water line extension and a new water tower to serve the properties bounded by Route 34, Route 30 and Douglas Road.

The extension of water service served to secure the annexation of properties in the area and established the village's border with Montgomery as envisioned in that 1976 boundary agreement. The water service also led directly to the opening of the second industrial park in the village, the Kendall Point Business Center at the southwest corner of Route 34 and Route 30, and the village's first major retail center, the Jewel-Osco anchored Townes' Crossing center at the southeast corner of Douglas Road and Route 30.

I had a history prof at Northern Illinois University who always said he refused to deal in speculative "what if?" history, but I still like to. So what if there had been no Build Illinois program and no grant for Oswego back in 1985? It's not out of the realm of possibility that Aurora, which did not have a boundary agreement with Oswego until years later, might have continued to annex property further into Kendall County, down Route 34 and south of Route 30. If that had happened, Oswego would be a far different and likely much smaller community than it is today.

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