In 1834, Hezekiah Brink built the first cabin in what was to become Harrisburg. Two years later, William Kirkpatrick settled downstream in an area that became Chatham. In 1838, the small towns of Harrisburg and Chatham combined to become the Town of Sterling in an effort to attract the county seat. The name "Sterling" was bestowed to the new town in honor of Major James Sterling, who distinguished himself in the area during the Blackhawk War in 1832. On February 16th, 1857 Sterling was incorporated as a city by state law.
The Rock River failed to become a major navigational route as once hoped, but the river provided power for the saw and grist mills, and later it provided power to a booming industrial base. In 1856, the first rail lines were laid in the area. With the power from the river and the transportation provided by the railroads, Sterling's business and industry began to grow. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, the industrial bedrocks of the community were laid with the founding of Northwestern Steel & Wire, Lawrence Brothers Hardware, and the Wahl Clipper Corporation.
Today, Sterling is continuing to diversify and adapt. Our industrial base has expanded as the City has filled two industrial parks and continues development of a third and fourth. Retail sales for the region have expanded as Sterling has emerged as a regional retail hub. Just outside the City, the landscape is dominated by agricultural fields that typify most of the Midwest. Sterling is quite proud of its hard working heritage and depends on it for continued success.
The cities of Sterling, Nebraska and Sterling, Colorado were both founded by former residents of Sterling, Illinois as they branched out across the West.
Dillon Home Museum
The Dillon Home and property were donated to the Sterling Park District in 1980 in memory of Paul W. Dillon and his wife. Inside, the Dillon Home boasts a vast collection of artifacts and antique furnishings all used by the Dillon family. The Dillon Home functions primarily as a museum but weddings can also be hosted on the grounds.
The Dillon Home provides an extraordinary opportunity to view examples of Italianate architecture, a popular choice of builders in the Midwest from 1830-1880. The home was built circa 1858 by Edwin G. Allen for Colonel Edward N. Kirk. Washington M. Dillon purchased the property in 1882.