Kankakee, City of

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The official logo of the City of Kankakee
Court Street at night in 2007
A Googlemap of Kanakee
The location of the City of Kankakee in Illinois

Kankakee is a city in Kankakee County, Illinois in the United States. As of the United States Census 2000, the city population was 27,491. It is the county seat of Kankakee County, Illinois. It lies approximately 60 miles south of Chicago, Illinois on Interstate 57 in the northeastern section of the state. Since 1990, the area of the City has grown from 10.2 square miles to the current 14.2 square miles, an increase of 39% in land area. Kankakee acts as the industrial and service center of a metropolitan populace of approximately 65,000 people in a county of of 103,833 people. [1]


The Etymology of the name "Kankakee" is a difficult and somewhat ill-documented phenomenon; scholars tend to disagree on a singular origin. Indian Place Names[2], for example, cites no less than 17 spellings, notes and meanings behind the name, varying between deviations of "wolf", "wonderful land" and "swampy place." Of the People[3] cites a French Fur Trader, Gurdon Hubbard, as noting the "wonderful land" moniker as being most accurate, he himself claiming that the Native Americans of the region dubbed the land "T-yar-ack-naunk" or 'wonderful land home'. Hubbard was, in fact, a speaker and sometimes translator of the Patowannomi tongue, so his assumption is noted as mostly accurate. Of the People[3] also notes that another earlier story behind the name exists from one Father Charlevoix, who came through the area at a much earlier time. He attributed the name to another native tribe called the "Mahnigans". "The-a-ki-ki, which, by a corruption, our Indians call Ki-a-ki-ki... "Theak" signifies wolf, in which language I do not remember, but the river bears that name because the Mahnigans, who are likewise called wolves, had formerly taken refuge on its banks." (p 3)[4]. The History of Kankakee County further speculates that The-ak-ki-ki was transliterated into "quin-que-que' by French inhabitants and their English counterparts further mutated the name into 'Kan-ka-kee'


As of the census of 2000, there were 27,491 people, 10,020 households and 6,272 families residing within the city. The population density was 2,239.8 people per square mile (865.1/km²). There were 10,965 housing units at an average density of 893.4/sq mi (345.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 50.92% White 41.07% African American, 0.27% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 5.50% from other races, and 1.90% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 9.25% of the population.

There were 10,020 households out of which 34.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.4% were married couples living together, 21.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 37.4% were non-families. 31.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 13.9% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.60 and the average family size was 3.28.

In the city the population was spread out with 29.5% under the age of 18, 9.7% from 18 to 24, 28.7% from 25 to 44, 18.7% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 91.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,469, and the median income for a family was $36,428. Males had a median income of $30,894 versus $22,928 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,479. About 18.1% of families and 21.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.3% of those under age 18, and 11.7% of those age 65 or over [5]

Organizational chart for the City of Kankakee

City Government

The City of Kankakee was incorportated in 1865 and operates as a home rule municipality pursuant to the 1970 Illinois Constitution. The City is governed by an elected mayor and City Council consisting of 14 aldermen. The City provides a full range of public services including: public safety (police, fire, emergency ambulance, and code enforcement), street and public infrastructure maintenance, sanitation, sanitary sewer collection, storm drainage, health and social services, culture and recreation, municipal planning and zoning, and general administrative services. [1]


The chief executive officer of the City of Kankakee is the Mayor. The Mayor serves a four-year-term and holds the following powers enumerated in the Kankakee City Code.

Powers and duties

The Mayor shall sign all commissions, licenses and permits granted by authority of the City Council, except as otherwise provided, and such other acts and deeds as by law or ordinance may require his official signature. The Mayor shall grant licenses for the purposes authorized by the Code, to such persons as he may deem proper, unless the Council shall otherwise designate and provide, and he may revoke the same for cause. The Mayor shall supervise the conduct of all officers of the City, inquire into all reasonable complaints made against them or any of them, and cause their neglect or violation of official duty to be promptly corrected, or reported to the proper tribunal for punishment. The Mayor shall appoint, by and with the advice and consent of the Council, all officers of the City whose appointment is not otherwise provided for by law, or this Code. Whenever a vacancy occurs in any office, which by law or ordinance he is empowered and required to fill, he shall, within thirty days after such vacancy occurs, communicate to the Council the name of his appointee to such office, and pending the concurrence of the Council in such appointment, he may designate some suitable person to discharge the function of such office. [6]

City Council

The City of Kankakee is divided into seven wards divided as equally as possible according to population within each ward. Each ward is represented in City Council by two elected alderman. Alderman server four-year-terms. [7]


  1. Regular meetings. The regular meetings of the City Council shall be held on every first and third Monday of each month at 7:00 p.m. When the first or third Monday falls on a public holiday, the Council shall meet at the same hour on the next day following. Adjourned meetings may be held at such time as may be determined by the Council. The day and time of a regular meeting may be changed by resolution adopted by the City Council.
  2. Special meetings. Special meetings of the Council may be called by the Mayor or any five or more aldermen by filing a request therefore in writing with the City Clerk, specifying the purpose for which such special meeting is called and directing the City Clerk to notify the members of the Council of the time, place, and purpose of such meeting. No business shall be transacted at such special meeting except that specified in the request, unless by unanimous consent of a quorum of the Council.
  3. Place of meeting. The Council shall meet in the Council room in the City Hall building, located at the northwest corner of North Indiana Avenue and East Oak Street. [8]

City Departments

The Government of the City of Kankakee is made up of the following departments under the ultimate leadership of the Mayor:

Court Street in 1888 [9]


Early Pioneers

About 1680, the Cavalier De LaSalle formed an expedition to find the outlet of the great Mississippi River. His travels brought him through the Kankakee River Valley, making him one of the first white men to see the area. Among his 30 companions were Father Hannepin, who chronicled much of their adventures, and Francois Bourbonnais, Sr., whose family name became that of the settlement two miles north of Kankakee. White settlement did not begin until the Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe in 1832, when members of the Potawatomi tribe received certain lands in the Kankakee River Valley. Starting in the 1830’s there was a steady migration of settlers into the Kankakee River Valley. In 1853 the City of Kankakee, then known as Kankakee Depot, experienced its first growth when the Illinois Central Railroad line was built through the area.[10].

Birth of the City

A new county was created from parts of Will and Iroquois County, and election was held, and Kankakee Depot was chosen as the new county seat. The development of the county had been along the east-west axis of the river prior to the railroad, but the pattern of growth then changed to a north-south axis. The undeveloped point at which the river and railroad intersected became the City of Kankakee. [10] At a meeting to organize the village, the final name to be affixed upon the city was discussed. Though ‘’Kankakee’’ was popular, ‘’Winnemac’’ was the choice of the majority. However when the final charter to the city was granted in 1855 it was called Kankakee City, with ‘’City’’ removed in 1865. The first charter of March 1855 vested power in the president, appointing Charles R. Starr in that office. Initially, Kankakee was divided into four wards.[11]

Timeline of City Growth

1853 Illinois Central Railroad comes to Kankakee, spurring its century long economic growth. 1860's Emory Cobb of Chicago began purchasing land in and around Kankakee. 1871 The First National Bank of Kankakee was chartered with Emory Cobb as first president. 1881 A telephone exchange was being established with 31 citizens subscribing. 1884 The Arcade Building is constructed on the corner of Merchant and Schuyler Ave. 1887 The Luxurious Hotel Riverview opens. 1891 The Riverview neighborhood is added to the City. 1891 $1,096,900 in improvements were made, which includes new factories and over 150 new homes. 1895 The David Bradley Company (later Roper Corp.) comes to North Kankakee. North Kankakee is renamed "Bradley" as part of the deal. 1897 The Emergency Hospital (now Provena St. Mary's Hospital) was dedicated. 1897 The Hotel Riverview burnt to the ground and was not rebuilt. 1904 The site of the former Hotel Riverview was turned into "Cobb Park." 1904 The first automobiles began appearing in Kankakee. 1916 Plans were put forward for the establishment of the Kankakee Country Club. 1926 The site of the Electric Park is acquired and turned into Waterman Park, then later Beckman Park. [10]

Depression and The War Years

Kankakee participated in WWI as did most of the country, primarily through contribution of manpower. Instruction of German was discontinued in local schools. As the 1920’s opened, the City managed under the restrictions of Prohibition, dabbling in the inflating stock market. With the crash of 1929, Kankakee managed to stay insulated from the national depression for nearly two years until the closing of the American and Savings Bank when the local economy collapsed along national trends. Relief rolls lengthened until the establishment of the National Recovery Administration. World War II brought an end to the depression when Kankakee geared up for a war economy. The Kankakee Ordinance Works was built in nearby Wilmington. An explosion there would claim 50 lives on June 5, 1942. The Commercial Uniform Factory at 803 S. 4th Avenue was the first local company to get a war contract. On October 15, 1940, 6,615 Kankakee County residents registered for the draft. Maurice Spotz of Kankakee perished on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. Eventually more than 100 local service members died in the war.[9]

Boom Years

Kankakee experienced a boom period that lasted from the late 1940’s until the mid 1980’s. Industry flocked to the area to satisfy the growing post-war economy. 1947 and 1948 saw the arrival of A.O. Smith, Armstrong Cork Company, and the General Food dog food plant. Local radio station WKAN went on the air in 1946 while downtown small business thrived. Life magazine told a success story of 1946 in which the subject was Romy Hammes of Kankakee, a Ford automobile dealer. Evidence of local growth was seen in the need for increased school facilities. A $2,125,000 school bond issue passed in 1947 to build two new junior high school buildings and additions to Steuben and Washington elementary schools. Housing shot up as well in 1946 with 95 permits issues to build new homes. 1948 saw the building of the Marycrest development on the City’s east side, and Meadowview subdivision on North 5th Avenue. Through the occasional economic ups and downs, Kankakee’s industrial base proved solid enough to maintain stability.[3]


In the mid-1980's, the trend toward industrial relocation to the southern United States and Latin America hit Kankakee particularly hard. The loss of the Roper facilities in Bradley and West Kankakee in the summer of 1983 was the first of a series of major blows to the local economy. Roper had employed a peak workforce of 2,800 in 1978. With the loss of these vital industrial jobs, Kankakee County unemployment skyrocketed to 21.4% by February 1984. [12] Not long after, another major employer, A.O. Smith began a slower decline. The first dark signs came in the May 26, 1982 Daily Journal with the head line "Smith freezes Manager' pay to reduce costs." By 1988, A.O. Smith was sold, leaving only 5% of the peak 1,350 employees at the Kankakee plant. Kroehler's Furniture Manufacturing declared bankruptcy in 1986 under new owners Luxor Corporation. [13] The General Foods dog food plant gradually declined as well, before finally closing its doors in Kankakee forever in 1998. [14] With the economic collapse came a serious outflow of population as workers sought jobs elsewhere. According to the United States census, the population of the City of Kankakee declined from 29,364 in 1970 to an estimated population of 26,995 in 2003.[15] A concurrent increase in crime and racial tensions evolved as those remaining competed for the scarce resources. The murder rate in Kankakee increased to 30 per 100,000 in 1989 to a peak of 80 per 100,000 in 1994. In 1994, the murder rate in Chicago was 33 per 100,000 and the state rate was 11 per 100,000. This increase can be attributed to a gang war that took place that year, with nearly all the homicides being committed between individuals who were engaged in some criminal enterprise. This period, along with the kidnap for ransom murder of prominent Kankakeen Stephen Small in 1987, has branded the City of Kankakee with a reputation for being unsafe that has stayed with it to the present. [16]


The City of Kankakee has experienced a solid economic recovery since the election of Mayor Donald Green in 1993. A significant act of the incoming mayor was to appoint William Doster as Chief of Police in 1994. Doster initiated a community policing program to diminish the hostility between minority communities and the police department that had arisen out of the violence of the early 1990's. He also initiated the Violent Crime Task Force to clear many of the unsolved homicides in the City and decrease violent crime over all.[16] These tactics proved successful. In 2006 Kankakee County's murder rate was 3.7 per 100,000, 1/10 of what it had been in 1994 and substantially lower than the 6.1 per 100,000 rate of the State of Illinois. [17] Another accomplishment of the Green administration was the entering into of a sales tax sharing agreements with a variety of retail firms. These agreements are based on a firm's willingness to site a purchasing or sales approval office within the City of Kankakee. The City will then partially share in the sales tax generated by the firm's activities. This arrangement has resulted in an increase of sales tax revenue from $2.99 million in 2002 to $6.0 million in 2007.[1] The City has also experienced employment recovery since the dark days of the mid 80's. Some large corporations have remained in or come to the area in the recent past. For example, Armstrong World Industries, Cognis Corporation, Aventis Behring, CIGNA Insurance Claims, Sears Distribution Center, Baker & Taylor, and K-Mart Distribution Center are major employers in the county. The City of Kankakee has annexed land around exit 308 of Interstate 57 for commercial growth. Already a Hilton Garden Inn and Convention Center, a Super Wal-Mart, and a Gas City have located there, with more expected in the near future. [1] In 2004 the Kankakee Public Library moved from its undersized facility on Indiana Avenue to the first three floors of the Executive Centre on Merchant Street. Provena Heatlth Care had recently vacated a large portion of the building, leaving the Executive Centre at risk of becoming a white elephant in the heart of downtown.[18] Unexpectedly, the arrival of the Library in the downtown spurred an explosion of revitalization, including the building of new banks, and the remodeling of the historic Arcade building, old City Hall and the old library. A visit to the Library by award-winning author Luis Urrea in 2005 lead to an article in the New York Times by Urrea about Kankakee’s amazing recovery entitled, “Kankakee Gets its Groove Back”. This article is sited as a factor in Kankakee getting an increased bond rating. [19]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 City of Kankakee, Illinois, Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the Fiscal Year Ended April 30, 2007
  2. Indian Place Names in Illinois, Virgil J. Vogel, Illinois State Historical, 1963
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Of the People: A Popular History of Kankakee County, Mary Jean Houde, General Print, Co., Chicago Ill., 1968
  4. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and the History of Kankakee County, Vol. II., Middle-West Publishing Co., 1906, (622-623),
  5. U.S. Census Bureau Fact Sheet for the City of Kankakee.
  6. Kankakee City Code (Code 1965, Sec. 4.01)
  7. Kankakee City Code (Ord. No. 84‑32, Sec. 2, 10‑2‑84)(Ord. No. 01-73,11/19/01)
  8. Kankakee City Code (Code 1965, Sec. 3.01; Ord. No. 80-84, Sec. 1, 12-15-80; Ord. No. 90-22, Sec. 1, 5-7-90).
  9. 9.0 9.1 Days Gone By: A Pictorial History of Kankakee County Edited by William P. Byrns with William Seil and Donald L. Wasson, The Kankakee County Bicentennial Commission, 1977.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Riverview Historic District: 1866-1935, Don des Lauriers & Mardene Hinton, Kankakee County Historical Society, 1997,
  11. Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and the History of Kankakee County, Vol. II., Middle-West Publishing Co., 1906, (764-766)
  12. "3 face kidnap, murder charges, ",The Daily Journal, Tuesday, July 15, 1986.
  13. "Kankakee area has faced hard times before",The Daily Journal, January 14, 1994.
  14. "Heinz plant sold, to be redeveloped",The Daily Journal, June 12, 1998.
  15. www.census.gov/
  16. 16.0 16.1 Final Report Evaluation of the Kankakee County: Violent Crime Task Force, Timothy S. Bynum, Ph.D., Scott H. Decker, Ph.D., Dan Swift, M.S., Justice Research Associates East Lansing, MI, August 1999
  17. www.isp.state.il.us/crime/cii2006.cfm
  18. www.lions-online.org
  19. Kankakee Gets its Groove Back