Community Profile: DeKalb, Illinois

By Stephen Manuszak

Named after the decorated war hero Johann de Kalb, who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, the city of DeKalb, Illinois, is home to more than 43,000 residents. The city was founded in 1837 as a small community along the Kishwaukee River, but DeKalb grew significantly after the arrival of the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1853.

Agriculture was a large part of the city’s early economy, and DeKalb’s central location made it easy to ship crops and access larger markets. The city continued to grow and add a variety of industries including research, manufacturing, a regional medical center, and warehouses for large retailers. DeKalb was also home to the Melville Clark Piano Company, whose three-story factory produced pianos and organs from 1905 to 1972.

A white colonial-style house with green shutters
The Gurler House, a historic 1857 home in DeKalb, Illinois, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Andy McMurray, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Fun Fact

DeKalb is home to the “Father of Barbed Wire.” In the mid-1800s, as ranchers moved out to the plains and needed to fence their land, people were searching for ways to create a durable wire fence with fixed barbs to deter animals and people from crossing. In 1874, a DeKalb farmer named Joseph Glidden patented his new creation, which twisted two wires together to hold barbs in place. Glidden and his colleague Isaac Ellwood then established the Barb Fence Company in DeKalb, and barbed wire became widespread among ranches across the United States.

Community Partner

Northern Illinois University, College of Visual and Performing Arts

Northern Illinois University was founded as a public research university in 1895. Based in DeKalb with four satellite centers in nearby cities, the school has grown to a total enrollment of nearly 22,000. Although originally founded to train teachers, the school is known today for its excellent business, engineering, nursing, visual arts, and music as well as education programs.

The College of Visual and Performing Arts at Northern Illinois University is a major provider of artistic presentation and services to the Northern Illinois region. Through these efforts, the College seeks to continue the richness of the area’s cultural landscape while strengthening the learning, artistry, and research of students and faculty. Alumni of the College can be found in local groups as well as internationally recognized ensembles and museums, and the College is proud to be the primary source for public school teachers in the arts in Northern Illinois.

Residency Dates

September 22 – 28, 2013 | Baladino
January 13 – 18, 2014 | Le Vent du Nord
October 26 – November 1, 2014 | Shanren
Spring 2015 | Paulo Padilha & Group


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