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DeKalb, Illinois
City of DeKalb
The Egyptian Theatre in Downtown DeKalb
The Egyptian Theatre in Downtown DeKalb
Barb City
Location of DeKalb in DeKalb County, Illinois.
Location of DeKalb in DeKalb County, Illinois.
DeKalb, Illinois is located in Illinois
DeKalb, Illinois
DeKalb, Illinois
Location in Illinois
Country United States
State Illinois
County DeKalb
Incorporated 1856
 • City 17.12 sq mi (44.33 km2)
 • Land 16.95 sq mi (43.91 km2)
 • Water 0.17 sq mi (0.43 km2)
879 ft (268 m)
 • City 40,290
 • Density 2,376.71/sq mi (917.66/km2)
 • Urban
Time zone UTC−6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP codes
Area code(s) 815
FIPS code 17-19161

DeKalb ( DIH-kalb) is a city in DeKalb County, Illinois, United States. The population was 43,862 according to the 2010 census, up from 39,018 at the 2000 census. The city is named after decorated Franconian-French war hero Johann de Kalb, who died during the American Revolutionary War.

Founded in 1856, DeKalb became important in the development and manufacture of barbed wire, especially for agriculture and raising livestock. While agricultural-related industries remain a facet of the city, along with health and services, the city's largest employer in the 21st century is Northern Illinois University, founded in 1895. DeKalb is about 65 miles (105 km) from downtown Chicago.


DeKalb was originally called DeKalb Centre, and under the latter name was platted in 1853. The name is for Baron Johann de Kalb, a major general in the American Revolutionary War. A post office has been in operation at DeKalb since 1849.


DeKalb is located at 41°55′53″N 88°45′1″W / 41.93139°N 88.75028°W / 41.93139; -88.75028 (41.931274, -88.750151).

According to the 2010 census, DeKalb has a total area of 14.812 square miles (38.36 km2), of which 14.65 square miles (37.94 km2) (or 98.91%) is land and 0.162 square miles (0.42 km2) (or 1.09%) is water.

The Kishwaukee River flows northward through the city of DeKalb.

On August 24, 2007, the Kishwaukee River at DeKalb crested at 15.27 feet (4.65 m) (all-time record 15.8 feet (4.8 m)) causing major flooding. This was only the second time the river has risen above 15 feet (4.6 m) since the level of the river has been recorded.


DeKalb has a humid continental climate (Köppen climate classification Dfa) typical of northern Illinois, with four distinct seasons. Summers can be hot, while winters are cold and snowy. Precipitation is somewhat uniform year-round, although it can be heavier in the spring and summer when the area is prone to strong thunderstorms.

Climate data for DeKalb, Illinois (1981–2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 28.1
Daily mean °F (°C) 20.5
Average low °F (°C) 12.8
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.47
Average snowfall inches (cm) 10.2
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10 8 11 11 12 11 10 9 9 10 10 11 119
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 7 5 3 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 6 24
Source: NOAA

Park facilities

The DeKalb Park District is responsible for the 44 parks and recreation facilities in DeKalb. The park district was established in 1935 through the initiative of members of the League of Women Voters, to address the need for a public swimming pool in the community. The City of DeKalb gave the first four parks to the District: Annie’s Woods, Huntley Park, Liberty Park, and Hopkins Park. By 1960, the district had eight parks and by 1970 twelve. Initially the main services provided focused on swimming and use of the outdoor parks. But as lifestyles changed, so did the district.

In the mid 1960s, the City gave the Ellwood House mansion to the district. In 1970, the park district hired its first full-time executive director and by 1980, the district had a pool, acquired Haish Gymnasium and Buena Vista, a nine-hole golf course. In 1985, the park district purchased River Heights, a second nine-hole golf course, which was later developed into an 18-hole course.

New parks were acquired as conservation areas in order to preserve floodplain lands and wildlife habitat. Other parks were established as community-wide active recreation facilities designed to serve all types of recreational uses. In addition to this system of parks the district established the Kishwaukee Kiwanis pathway system totaling over 8 miles in length, connecting DeKalb with Sycamore and the Great Western Trail to the east.

In 2000 the district opened the Sports and Recreation Center, a multi-function facility that features in indoor field of over 1 acre, clear-span space with synthetic field turf. The park district provides year-round athletic and recreation programs including day camps, youth baseball and softball, adult softball leagues both indoors and outdoors, swimming lessons, golf lessons, karate, tennis, adult and youth basketball leagues, indoor soccer, fitness classes, and preschool.

Today the DeKalb Park District park system includes 44 parks totaling over 700 acres: community parks, neighborhood parks, passive parks and linear parks. Notable parks and facilities include:

  • River Heights Golf Course
  • Buena Vista Golf Course
  • Hopkins Park Pool and Community Center
  • Nehring Center for Culture and Tourism
  • Ellwood House Museum and Park


Home in DeKalb Third Street
A home in the neighborhood north of downtown DeKalb, near the Gurler House
Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 1,598
1890 2,579 61.4%
1900 5,904 128.9%
1910 8,102 37.2%
1920 7,871 −2.9%
1930 8,545 8.6%
1940 9,146 7.0%
1950 11,708 28.0%
1960 18,486 57.9%
1970 32,949 78.2%
1980 33,099 0.5%
1990 34,925 5.5%
2000 39,018 11.7%
2010 43,862 12.4%
2020 40,290 −8.1%
Census Quickfacts [1]

As of the census of 2010, there were 43,862 people, 15,386 households, and 7,508 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,993.8 people per square mile (1,157.3/km2). There were 16,436 housing units at an average density of 1,121.9 per square mile (433.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 74.9% white, 12.8% African American, 0.3% Native American, 4.1% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 5.5% from other races, and 2.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.5% of the population.

There were 15,386 households, out of which 26.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 33.2% were married couples living together, 11.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 51.2% were non-families. 29.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 6.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.07.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 17.6% under the age of 18, 37.3% from 18 to 24, 22.6% from 25 to 44, 15.0% from 45 to 64, and 7.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23.6 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 100.4 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,719, and the median income for a family was $59,671. Males had a median income of $43,819 versus $36,488 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,155. About 19.6% of families and 32.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.0% of those under the age of 18 and 5.7% of those age 65 or over.


DeKalb IL aerial
Aerial view of DeKalb, with airport (center)


The first railroad entered DeKalb on August 22, 1853. In 1864, the line became part of the Chicago and North Western Railway main line from Chicago to Omaha, which carried passengers until 1971. A depot between 6th and 7th Streets was built in 1891. The Union Pacific Railroad took control of the line in 1995. Since 2006, the nearest passenger rail service is at the Metra commuter system station in Elburn, 15 miles (24 km) east of DeKalb, which is accessible by bus.

The transcontinental Lincoln Highway was established through DeKalb in 1913. The first "seedling mile" of concrete pavement was built in 1914 at Malta, six miles west of DeKalb. The rest of Lincoln Highway across DeKalb County was paved in 1920. The highway is now part of Illinois Route 38. The main north-south highway through DeKalb is Illinois Route 23, which forms an unusual intersection of two state highways and a major railroad at the corner of Fourth and Lincoln. Interstate Highway 88, part of the Illinois Tollway system, was completed to DeKalb around 1975 and passes just south of town, where there are two toll plazas and a service oasis that includes restaurants and a gas station. Via the tollway, DeKalb is 30 miles (48 km) west of Aurora and 65 miles (105 km) west of downtown Chicago.

Scheduled local bus service throughout the DeKalb area is provided by the city in partnership with Northern Illinois University. Routes extend through the university, the city, and Sycamore with extensions west to Kishwaukee College and east to the passenger rail station at Elburn. Schedules on the main routes vary depending on whether the university is in session. The system began in 1971 as the Huskie Bus Line under contract to the NIU Student Association. By 1982 the system served 3 million riders per year, second only in Illinois to the Chicago Transit Authority. In 2018, it merged with a smaller City of DeKalb bus system, which had been operated by the local Voluntary Action Center (VAC). Paratransit operations were added in 2021, also by transfer from VAC. VAC continues to serve a wider surrounding area with on-demand transportation for people with special needs and to out-of-town medical appointments.

DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport (DTMA) (ICAO: KDKBFAA LID: DKB), serving the general aviation community, is on the east side of the city at 3232 Pleasant Street. The airport opened in April 1944 in association with a factory making Interstate TDR assault drone aircraft. The city took ownership in 1948. There is no commercial service directly to DeKalb, but the city center is 43.43 miles away from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, making commercial air access relatively easy.


  • Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital

Sister cities

DeKalb is partnered with Sycamore, Illinois, which is just north of DeKalb and the county seat of their county (DeKalb County).


DeKalb is home to Northern Illinois University, the city's largest employer and Illinois's third-largest campus. Other large employers include Northwestern Medicine, General Electric, Monsanto (originally as DeKalb Corn), the local school district, and a large retail district along Route 23 (shared with Sycamore) that includes Walmart, Target, Lowe's, Best Buy, Meijer, Kohl's, Ross, and dozens of other chain and local stores.

DeKalb is also home to warehouses for several major companies, including Target, 3M, Nestlé, and Ferrara Candy Company, in part due to DeKalb's proximity to major highways such as I-88 and I-39. 3M's complex serves as the distribution hub for three of 3M's four business units and export operations to North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

In 1984, the intersection of two streets in a popular NIU housing district in DeKalb begot the name of a regional consulting firm, "Greenbrier & Russel" (subsequently acquired by Fujitsu Consulting in 2006). In 2011, DeKalb was the broadcast base of Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast with Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks. The town was also the filming location for the 2012 film At Any Price.


There are 11 public schools, one private school, one university and one public library.

Northern Illinois University

Altgeld Hall-1st bldg on campus ever
Altgeld Hall, the first building to be constructed at NIU

Northern Illinois University (NIU) was founded in DeKalb as the Northern Illinois State Normal School in 1895. NIU is a comprehensive teaching and research institution with total enrollment around 20,000 (including about 16,000 undergraduates and 300 law school students), which makes NIU the third largest campus in Illinois. NIU is home of the Huskies. Notable NIU alumni include Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson and Krusty the Clown), Jimmy Chamberlin (The Smashing Pumpkins drummer), former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz, Oscar-nominated actress Joan Allen in Pleasantville (film), NFL players Michael Turner, Doug Free, Chandler Harnish, Jordan Lynch and Ryan Diem, former NBA Players Kenny Battle and Paul Dawkins, and actor Steve Harris from David E. Kelley's legal Drama The Practice.

Public schools

DeKalb is served by both public and private school systems. DeKalb Community Unit School District 428 operates eight elementary schools (Grades K-5), Clinton Rosette and Huntley Middle Schools (Grades 6-8), and DeKalb High School (Grades 9-12), which is the home of the Barbs. DeKalb is also home to St. Mary's Catholic Grade School (Grades K-8).

Notable people

  • George Franklin Barber, architect, known as one of the most successful American domestic architects of the late Victorian period. He was born in DeKalb.
  • A. J. Bramlett, former professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
  • Dennis J. Collins, Illinois lawyer and state legislator
  • Cindy Crawford, model and actress, appeared on hundreds of magazine covers throughout her career and in 1995 was named the world's highest-paid model by Forbes. She was born and raised in DeKalb.
  • Joseph B. Ebbesen, optometrist and Illinois state legislator.
  • Isaac L. Ellwood, rancher, businessman and barbed wire entrepreneur.
  • Fred Eychaner, media mogul and philanthropist. He was raised in DeKalb.
  • Joseph Glidden, farmer who patented barbed wire in 1874, which changed the development of the American West.
  • Jacob Haish, one of the inventors of barbed wire.
  • Barbara Hale, film actress and Emmy Award-winning co-star of Perry Mason television series.
  • Mike Heimerdinger, assistant coach for several NFL teams including the Denver Broncos and Tennessee Titans. He was born and raised in DeKalb.
  • Richard Jenkins, actor, nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for his performances in The Visitor (2007) and The Shape of Water (2017) respectively. He was born and raised in DeKalb.
  • Alan and Dale Klapmeier, co-founders of the Cirrus Design Corporation and 2014 inductees into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. They were raised in DeKalb and graduated from DeKalb High School.
  • Doug Mallory, coach of the Atlanta Falcons. He attended DeKalb High School while his father was coach of the Northern Illinois Huskies.
  • Karl Nelson, offensive tackle for the New York Giants. He played football for the DeKalb High School Barbs.
  • Mel Owens, linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams from 1981 to 1989. He played football for the DeKalb High School Barbs.
  • Richard Powers, author and winner of the 2006 National Book Award for Fiction for The Echo Maker.
  • Weekend Nachos, powerviolence punk band. They were formed in DeKalb.
  • Sue Vicory, writer, film producer and filmmaker
  • W. Willard Wirtz, United States Secretary of Labor during the Kennedy administration and Johnson administration. He was born and raised in DeKalb where his home is preserved on the campus of Northern Illinois University.

See also

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