Sterling is a city in Whiteside County, Illinois, United States. The population was 15,370 at the 2010 census, down from 15,451 in 2000. Formerly nicknamed “Hardware Capital of the World”, Sterling has long been associated with manufacturing and the steel industry. Sterling lies along the north bank of the Rock River, opposite its twin city, Rock Falls. The terrain is mostly flat. The land immediately outside of town is almost entirely farmland. The prairie soil is part of one of the world’s most fertile growing areas. According to the 2010 census, Sterling has a total area of 5.943 square miles (15.39 km2), of which 5.71 square miles (14.79 km2) (or 96.08%) is land and 0.233 square miles (0.60 km2) (or 3.92%) is water.
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, Harrisburg and Chatham merged to become the Town of Sterling in an effort to attract the county seat. The name “Sterling” was given to the new town in honor of Major James Sterling, who distinguished himself in the area during the Blackhawk War in 1832. On February 16, 1857, Sterling was incorporated as a city by state law. The Rock River failed to become a major navigational route as once hoped, but it provided power for the saw and grist mills, and later to a booming industrial base.
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