As a boy growing up in Kendall County, 62-year-old Roger Matile remembers his family left their small, rural town to shop for Christmas presents in a bigger city nearby.
But those days are long gone. The county about 50 miles west of Chicago was the fastest growing in the nation between 2000 and 2007, according to new Census data.
Kendall, one of the outlying counties that collars Chicago's five traditional collar counties, saw its population grow 77.5 percent, to 96,818 in July 2007 from 54,560 in April 2000.
The spreading suburban sprawl has brought with it stores, restaurants and other development.
"You don't have to leave town for anything," said Matile, a retired local newspaper editor who lives in the village of Oswego.
The county's growth edged out Florida's Flagler County to take the top spot.
Other Illinois counties that made a list of the 100 fastest-growing counties were Will and Boone.
Will, a Chicago collar county south of the city, ranked No. 54 with 34.1 percent growth and a 2007 population of 673,586. Boone, in northern Illinois near the city of Rockford, was No. 99 with 28.1 percent growth and 53,531 people last year.
Evidence of the population boom is easy to spot in Kendall, a county that has farming roots.
"One of the main things that people notice is certainly an increase in traffic," said Kendall County Board chairman John Church.
More people means new challenges for local government, including transportation, infrastructure and public safety issues, Church said. For example, there's a $30 million courthouse expansion in the works and the jail has had to be expanded, he said.
The spreading suburban sprawl is doing more than just jamming roads. Democrats and Republicans say the changing demographics could affect elections.
Earlier this month, Republicans lost former House Speaker Dennis Hastert's seat to a Democrat in a traditionally Republican district that includes Kendall. Democrat Bill Foster won the remainder of Hastert's term, which ends next January, but he'll have to beat Republican businessman Jim Oberweis again in November to win a new, full term.
Matile, a local history buff, has mixed feelings about the changes to the county that has been his lifelong home.
"I like the new and I miss the old," he said.