Aurora originated in the 1880s as the town of Fletcher, taking its name from Denver businessman Donald Fletcher who saw it as a real estate opportunity. He and his partners staked out four square miles east of Denver, but the town - and Colorado - struggled mightily after the Silver Crash of 1893. At that point Fletcher skipped town, leaving the community with a huge water debt. Inhabitants decided to rename the town Aurora in 1907, after one of the subdivisions composing the town, and Aurora slowly began to grow in Denver's shadow becoming the fastest-growing city in the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Aurora is composed of hundreds of subdivisions thus carries the name of one of the original development plats from which it sprang.
Although Aurora has long been considered by many[who?] only as one of Denver's larger suburbs, Aurora's growing population in recent decades (now over half the size of Denver) has led to efforts for co-equal recognition with its larger neighbor. Former mayor Dennis Champine once expressed the somewhat whimsical notion that eventually the area would be called the "Aurora/Denver Metropolitan Area". Indeed, since the 2000 Census Aurora has surpassed Denver in land area, and much of Aurora is undeveloped, while Denver is more fully built-out. However, such efforts are somewhat hampered by the lack of a large, historically important central business district in the city. Aurora is largely suburban in character, as evidenced by the city's modest collection of tall buildings.
A large military presence has existed in Aurora since the early 20th century. In 1918, Army General Hospital #21 (later renamed Fitzsimons Army Hospital) opened, with the U.S. government expanding and upgrading the hospital facilities in 1941 just in time to care for the wounded servicemen of World War II. Lowry Air Force Base was opened in 1938, straddling the border of Aurora and Denver. It eventually closed in 1994, and was redeveloped into a master-planned community featuring residential, commercial, business and educational facilities. In 1942, the Army Air Corps built Buckley Field, which over the course of history has been renamed Naval Air Station, Buckley Air National Guard Base and finally Buckley Air Force Base. The base, home of the 460th Space Wing and the 140th Wing Colorado Air National Guard, is Aurora's largest employer.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower recovered from a heart attack at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center for seven weeks during the fall of 1955. In 1943 the hospital was the birthplace of 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Decommissioned in 1999, the facility is part of the Anschutz Medical Campus of the University of Colorado Denver, and the Fitzsimons Life Science District. The Anschutz Medical Campus also includes the University of Colorado Hospital, which moved to Aurora from Denver in 2007, and the Children's Hospital. The first carbon-ion radiotherapy research and treatment facility in the U.S. has been proposed at the site. These facilities will employ a workforce of 32,000 at build-out.
In 1965, mayor Norma O. Walker became the first woman to head a U.S. city with a population over 60,000.
In 1993, Cherry Creek State Park on the southwestern edge of Aurora was the location for the papal mass of the 8th World Youth Day with Pope John Paul II, attended by an estimated 500,000 people.
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