In 1853 the Illinois Central Railroad began surveying the land and grading a railroad route through Stephenson County. The rail line through West Point Township was completed in 1854 and Dodds and Illinois Central set aside 160 acres in southwest corner of the township and named it Lena. Before the arrival of the railroad the population of Lena was limited to 12 families. After the railroad came to town early businesses operating during the 1850s included, a lumber yard, a blacksmith shop, a post office, a grain dealer, two physicians and a dry goods store operated by William Allen which opened around the same time the railroad arrived.
Business continued to develop and in 1855 the 2½ story Lena Steam Mill was built. The brick, Greek Revival structure, built by Shemberhorn and Munns, housed a 35 horsepower steam engine which powered the mill. Other businesses started from the late 1850s to the early 1860s including Shannon Carriage Works, and Lena Foundry. The Lena Foundry made leather rollers, boot crimpers and feed cookers. In 1854 the Lena Hotel was erected.
By 1860 Lena was a prominent shipping point for grain and livestock to St. Louis, Chicago and other cities. The same year Lena's population had reached 600 and on April 16, 1866 Lena was first incorporated as a town. A year later the population had doubled to 1,200. In 1874, at a cost of $500, a one-story frame construction town hall was built.
Lena's first water well was established on May 15, 1868. The 44 foot deep well was equipped with a small pump. By 1870 Lena's population had reached 1,295 people and its social and business community continued its growth as well. The Lena Fire Department was one result of the growth, it was established in 1869 and officially met for the first time in 1870. Despite the presence of the fire department and well, fires continued to plague Lena. During the early 1870s structure fires consumed a warehouse, a stable, a rural school and several Lena houses. News of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire did not help the already fire-panicked residents of Lena. In 1874 fire nearly destroyed the old Illinois Central depot and freight houses.
Lena is located at (42.378595, -89.826308).
There were 1,164 households out of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.4% were married couples living together, 7.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 30.6% were non-families. 27.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.40 and the average family size was 2.95.
In the village the population was spread out with 24.5% under the age of 18, 7.1% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 21.7% from 45 to 64, and 22.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females there were 88.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.5 males.
The median income for a household in the village was $39,947, and the median income for a family was $49,375. Males had a median income of $40,202 versus $23,063 for females. The per capita income for the village was $18,613. About 2.2% of families and 4.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.3% of those under age 18 and 8.3% of those age 65 or over.
Lena is home to the Lena-Winslow Consolidated School District #202. Within the District are facilities in Winslow (kindergarten) and Lena (elementary, junior high, and high schools). Lena-Winslow High school is noted for its excellence in sports, music, theater, and competitive speech. The high school is also home to LWTV, one of the state's few community-access television stations that operates under the auspicies of a school facility.