During the American Civil War, 119 soldiers from Downers Grove served in the Union Army; at least one of these was interred in the cemetery downtown. There was an abolitionist presence in the village, and some of the older homes are thought to have been stops on the Underground Railroad.
The Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad was extended from Aurora to Chicago through Downers Grove in 1862, boosting its population. The town was incorporated in March 1873. Its somewhat unusual spelling ("Apostrophe-free since 1873") remains a minor historical mystery.
In April 1947, a Burlington Railroad Nebraska Zephyr passenger train wreck killed two people, including the engineer. The eastbound streamliner struck a large piece of farm equipment which had become loosened from its flat car, and was protruding onto the adjoining track from a westbound freight. Part of the train crashed through a wall of the Main Street Station.
The construction of two major toll roads along the village's northern and western boundaries, I-355 in 1989 and what is now referred to as I-88 in 1958, facilitated its access to the rest of Chicago metro area. Downers Grove has developed into a bustling Chicago suburb with many diverse businesses, including the headquarters for Rossi, FTD, Travelers Insurance, Lovejoy, ServiceMaster, Sara Lee, Swift-Eckrich, Arrow Gear, Magnetrol, Spiegel and Butterball.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the village has a total area of 14.3 square miles (36.9 km²), of which, 14.2 square miles (36.9 km²) of it is land and 0.07% is water. Only the DuPage County communities of Bartlett, Aurora, Naperville and Bolingbrook have larger land areas. The town is bordered by two forest preserves: Lyman Woods and Maple Grove Forest Preserve Downers Grove has been designated a Tree City USA for the past 22 years by the National Arbor Day Foundation..
Downers Grove prides itself on the presence of a large collection of Sears-Roebuck Catalog Homes, built using purchased kits between 1908 and 1940. During 2006 and 2007, a movement arose to establish the 1846 Blodgett House as a museum of the Underground Railroad. The house has now been moved onto the Downers Grove Museum Campus.
The Grove Commuter Shuttle runs four routes throughout the community to two of the three train depots that are in the village. The shuttle also operates for the Heritage Festival from remote parking lots on the north and south sides of the village located at the respective north and south high schools.
The high school sporting events draw large crowds, especially the annual football game between Downers Grove North and Downers Grove South high schools, the annual competition between the Hinsdale Central High School and the Downers Grove North football teams for the Old Oaken Bucket, and the football game for the Cannon between Hinsdale South High School and Downers Grove South.
The two high schools in Downers Grove, North High and South High, are part of Community High School District 99. They serve the entire community of Downers Grove, the majority of the village of Woodridge, and parts of Westmont, Darien, Lisle, Bolingbrook, Oak Brook and unincorporated Downers Grove and Lisle Townships.
Both high schools perform very well academically, with District 99 posting an average ACT score of 22.6 in the 2006 administration, 2.3 points above the state average. The 2004 Illinois School Report Card gave North High School an overall achievement rating of 73.4/100, while South High School received a score of 66.3, ranking them 7th and 13th respectively out of 22 DuPage County high schools.
Downers Grove is home to the Avery Coonley School.. Founded in 1906 and in its present location in Downers Grove since 1929, it is a highly prestigious private K-8 school, known for its math and science-oriented teaching as well as its focus on the arts and foreign language.
According to the 2000 United States Census, Downers Grove has one of the nation's most educated citizenry, with 36.4% of individuals over the age of 25 holding bachelor's or advanced degrees; the national average is 24.4%.
The Village of Downers Grove operates under a council-manager form of government. The Village Council is the policy-making body that authorizes a professional manager to oversee the daily operations of the village. In addition to the Municipal Code, which establishes many of the rules and regulations by which the Village operates, the Council has also adopted separate council policies on several matters related to municipal activities.
As of the April 17, 2007 election, the Village Council commissioners are Geoff Neustadt, William Waldack, Marilyn Schnell, Martin Tully, Sean Durkin, and Bruce Beckman. Ron Sandack is Mayor.
The elections for village positions in the village have traditionally been non-partisan; the candidates' party affiliations do not appear on the ballot, and direct party funding was not practiced. The local Republican Party and Democratic Party organizations have not, in the past, openly issued endorsements of the candidates. On January 12, 2007, the Downers Grove township Democratic organization issued a statement endorsing the non-partisan tradition; the statement made reference to a change in the corresponding Republican organization's bylaws, saying that "It has come to the organization’s attention that the Downers Grove Township Republican Organization has recently included in its bylaws the provision that it will henceforth officially endorse Republican candidates and commit funds to help elect these candidates".
Downers Grove is within the 13th US Congressional District of Illinois (map), and as of February 2007 is represented by Judy Biggert (Republican). It is part of the Illinois Senate's 21st Legislative District and the Illinois House of Representatives's 42nd Representative District.
In the November 2004 general election, George W. Bush received 39,966 votes in Downers Grove Township, John Kerry received 32,155 votes, and the Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik received 438 votes. By contrast, in the same election, the Illinois Democratic senatorial candidate Barack Obama received 45,721 votes, while his Republican opponent Alan Keyes received 22,167 votes. In 2006, the 4th of July parade in Downers Grove featured both of the major Illinois gubernatorial candidates, Judy Baar Topinka (R) and incumbent Rod Blagojevich (D).
Household waste pickup is contracted out by the village, as is yard waste pickup; these are paid for by household-purchased stickers. Curbside recycling is free.
There were 18,979 households out of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 59.1% were married couples living together, and 7.2% had a female householder with no husband present. 27.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.13.
In the village the population was spread out with 24.8% under the age of 18, 6.6% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 25.0% from 45 to 64, and 14.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 92.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.
The median income for a household in the village was $65,539, and the median income for a family was $80,604. The mean income for a family was $95,532. Males had a median income of $56,422 versus $36,938 for females. The per capita income for the village was $31,580. About 1.3% of families and 2.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 1.6% of those under age 18 and 4.4% of those age 65 or over.
Downers Grove is the home of the Tivoli Theater, which opened in 1928 as only the second theater in the world designed and built for sound motion pictures. It features an ornate interior and an original Wurlitzer organ that is played on most Friday and Saturday nights.
There are about a dozen automobile dealers in the city limits, part of one of the largest congregations of dealers in the state, along with Naperville and Westmont, called the "Highway to Hell." Between the three cities, every mainstream make and model of car available is found on or near Ogden Avenue Route 34. Some of the largest in the city are Bill Kay Auto Group, Pugi of Chicagoland, and Autonation, all of whom have multiple tickets. Ogden Avenue is one of the busiest automotive retail strips in the country, and second only to 159th street (Orland Park) in the state. Luxury Motors, located on Ogden and Fairview Ave, is one of the largest online automobile dealers in the world.
Frank Wainwright was born and raised in Downers Grove.
Downers Grove is also home to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital, a Level I trauma center that serves the entire Chicago area.
In 1928, the powerful transmitter and three tower array for radio station WCFL (1000 AM) was relocated from Navy Pier in Chicago to Downers Grove. Originally named for its owner, the Chicago Federation of Labor, and known as the "Chicago Voice of Labor," the station became WLUP-AM in 1987, and in 1990 became WMVP. The 1930s era transmitter building still displays the distinctive WCFL lettering.
Comedian Emo Philips, who grew up in the town, performs a humorous song entitled "Downtown Downers Grove" on his 1985 album E=mo². He has stated that "When I was ten, my parents moved to Downers Grove, Illinois... When I was twelve, I found them."
Downers Grove is also the property management headquarters for the Uniform-Foodservice-Real Estate company Aramark which is a Fortune 500 company.
In 2001, writer Michael Hornburg published a novel entitled Downers Grove, set in the town.
In 2008 it was reported that American Psycho" and "The Rules of Attraction" author Bret Easton Ellis has signed on to adapt a film script from the novel "Downers Grove" for Mangrove Entertainment
Downers Grove is host to the only Fry's Electronics in the Chicago area, located on the north side of the city limits.