Site Menu

The Capitol
First Floor
Second Floor
Third Floor
Fourth Floor
Exterior Views
Exterior Statuary
Basement, Etc.
Past Capitols
The Kid Zone

News From The Past
Souvenir of Springfield
Babeuf's 1881-82 Springfield Directory





            Before proceeding to the consideration of a review of the business of the city for the year past, it may be a matter of considerable interest to a portion of our citizens to record briefly some matters connected with the settlement and organization of the town gleaned from such records as we have been able to find and the “word of mouth” of our oldest citizens, several of whom are among its founders.  It would indeed be a racy record, could the early history of this place be written, one which should contain a full amount of events and anecdotes of many men who were here at an early day, and who afterwards took rank among the eminent men of the period.  Among this number might be named Lincoln, the Martyred President; Col. E. D. Baker, killed at Ball’s Bluff during the late was; Stephan A. Douglas, the talented leader of the Democratic Party, then in its glory; Gen. James Shields, afterward a United States Senator from this State; Maj. J. T. Stuart, Judge B. S. Edwards, Stephen T. Logan, the eminent judge and lawyer, and many others whose names do not occur to us while writing.

            Those were great days for Springfield, its bar embracing more talent than any other this side of the Alleghany Mountains.  Those were days when people knew little of railroads; when heavy wagons were the only cars; when it took a week to go to St. Louis and return; when Beardstown was the port of entry, and heavy supplies were landed there and freighted in wagons across the country to the various towns in this section of the State.  Then Beardstown slaughtered and packed a hundred thousand hogs in a season, and felt herself a city.  But we are getting ahead of our story, and will now give a few brief notes in relation to the settlement of the town and organization of the city.

First Settlers

            The county of Sangamon was formed out Bond and Madison, by an act of the Legislature, Jan. 30, 1821, and among its first settlers were several members of a family named Kelley, who, sometime during the year during the year 1818 or 1819, located upon the present site of the city.

First Cabin

John Kelley, a member of the family, built a rude cabin at what is now the northwest corner of Jefferson and Klein Streets.  The residence of Gen. M. K. Anderson stands upon the site of Kelley’s cabin.  This was the first habitation within the present limits of the city, and perhaps in the county.  Another cabin was built by one of the Kelleys a short distance to the west of the first one, and near the house formerly occupied by Mrs. Trotter, standing on the south side of Madison Street, about one block west of Mill Street, and nearly opposite the residence of the late Mr. Singleton.  The third cabin, or more properly, house, was a frame building, and stood on the corner of Third and Pine Streets, on the site now occupied by the fine residence of C. A. Gehrmann, Esq., who pulled the old structure down.  This was, probably, the first frame house built in Sangamon County.  The spaces between the studding were filled with brick and mortar, and the weatherboards were of hard wood, split out and finished by hand, and when the house was torn down were as sound apparently, as when put on.

Second Family

Sometime during the year 1820, a second family, named Doggett, settled on the block directly east of the southern part of Hutchinson’s Cemetery.  A few houses standing there went by the name of Newsomville.  The Mr. Newsom after whom the hamlet was called, moved to Oregon, and is now living there.  During the year 1821, some half dozen other families arrived and joined the settlement.

First School House

            The first school house erected within the limits of the city was constructed of logs, and stood in the northwest corner of the plat now known as Hutchinson’s Cemetery.  The late Erastus Wright, Esq., was one of the first teachers to occupy the house.

Founding of the City

            The first County Commissioners Court was held at the house (or cabin) of the before mentioned John Kelley, on the 3d day of April, 1821.  The first County Commissioners were Zachariah Peter, Wm. Drennon, Rivers Cormac and Charles R. Matheny, the first County Clerk.  A special term of the County Commissioners’ Court was held at John Kelley’s house, April 10th, 1821, and the County Commissioners made a temporary location of the county seat, and returned into court a certificate of such location, which, after the preamble, reads as follows:

            “THEREFORE, We, the undersigned, County Commissioners, do certify that we, after full examination of the situation of the present population of said county, have fixed and designated a certain point in the prairie, near John Kelley’s field, on the waters of Spring Creek, at a stake set, marked Z. D., as a temporary seat of justice for the county, and do further agree that said county seat be called and known by the name of Springfield.”

            The place designated as above was at the northeast corner of Second and Jefferson Streets (opposite Fixmer’s grocery store.)  The first Court House and County Jail was built at this point in the latter part of 1821.  The jail was built by contract for $84.  At the March term, 1822, of the County Commissioners’ Court, it was ordered, “That fourteen rods east and west, including the street, and twelve rods north and south, including the street, in the town of Springfield (on which the Court House now  stands) be set apart for public purposes, and the accommodation of the Court House and public buildings.”

            The first term of the Circuit Court after the organization of the county, which was attached to the First Judicial District, was held May 21st, 1821, at the house of John Kelley, Judge John Reynolds presiding.  The lands upon which this town was located (formerly called Calhoun) were entered as follows; S. W. quarter, sec. 27, by Elijah Iles; S. E. quarter, sec. 28, by Thomas Cox; N. E. quarter, sec. 33 by John Taylor; N. W. quarter, sec. 34, by Paschal Enos.  The entries were made in November, 1823.

Seat of Government

            The act of the Legislature making Springfield the seat of the State government, instead of Vandalia, were approved February 25 and March3d, 1837.  The location was made here upon the condition that the inhabitants of the town would subscribe $50,000 towards the State Capital, and donate the grounds to the State.  The cornerstone of the State House was laid July 4, 1837, with great demonstrations.

City Government

            On the 6th of April, 1840, the town of Springfield was incorporated as a city, and on the 29th of the same month, the first election for city officers was held, and Benjamin S. Clements was chosen Mayor, and the following named gentlemen Councilmen: James R. Gray, Joseph Klein, Washington Iles, William Prentiss.

            From the time of the incorporation of the town of Springfield, April 2d, 1832 to 1840, the corporate powers were vested in a President and Board of Trustees, the first being as follows: Charles R. Matheny, President; Trustees, Cyrus Anderson, John Taylor, Elisha Tabor, Mordecai Mobley, Wm. Carpenter.

            Among the names of the Trustees for 1833, we find that of Stephen T. Logan; among those of 1838, the name of Samuel H. Treat, and in 1838 and 1840 the names of Samuel H. Treat and Abraham Lincoln.  At the time of the incorporation of the city, the population amounted to 2, 579, and the total assessment of property for taxation, $939,174, so far as the records show.  In 1848 the population was 3,912; in 1850 it had increased to 4,533; in 1854 it was 6,218; in 1860 it amounted to 9,320, and in 1862 in was 10,709; in 1870 it was 17,370, and the census taken by order of the city government shows an actual population of 25,161.  This, it should be remembered, does not include the large population just outside the Grand Avenues, amounting to several thousands, who are really a part of our population, a street only dividing them from the city proper.

            It will be seen that Springfield has had no mushroom growth, like some Western cities, but a strong and healthy increase, the benefits of which our citizens are now reaping, in the stability of her institutions and general prosperity of all classes of our business men.  In the above we have no attempted to give a full history of the early times in Springfield, but only to record some few incidents of the period which may prove interesting to many of the younger class of our citizens.  Although a full and particular history of the city would, no doubt, prove interesting, we are obliged to omit it in this connection.

Location of Springfield

            The location of Springfield is in many respects superior to that of any inland city of the great West, as every intelligent person can see by an examination of the map.  Situated within about twelve miles of the geographical center of the State, and in the midst of one of the richest agricultural regions of the great West, it could not well fail of becoming an important and easily accessible point, as it is.  The site of the city is not commanding in a literal sense, but it is beautiful in many respects, as all visiting strangers acknowledge.  It presents the pleasant appearance of a city built within a vast park, so numerous are the shade trees and the islands of timber on the outskirts of the city.  On the north and west, beautiful groves are easily accessible, and are places of resorts not only of our citizens, but visited by thousands of people from the surrounding towns during the season of travel, of picnics and excursion parties.  Oak Ridge Park, within sight of the resting place of the late President Lincoln, is one of the most popular places in the vicinity of the city, and thousands of travelers from a distance visit it every season on their way to visit Oak Ridge and the Lincoln Monument.  To the pleasure seeker, our city affords quite as many attractions as any place in Central Illinois

Pleasant Drives

            In every direction there are pleasant drives over excellent roads, through prairie, woodland and pleasant groves, to the famed and “gentle flowing Sangamon” and the shady and picturesque banks of Clear Lake.  No prairie country has more beauties than this, a fact which travelers are beginning to find out.

            Central Illinois, until within a few years, has been looked upon principally in light of a rich agricultural region – in fact the great corn zone of the continent – and that no large cities or manufacturing interests would or could spring up; but such opinions were formed before the extent and value of the coal fields were fully known.  Science and skill have, however, shown Illinois possesses an almost inexhaustible supply of coal, for all purposes.  The location of Springfield is in the midst of the richest portion of this vast coal-field, a fact which has excited a most marked and important influence on the growth and material prosperity of our city.

Immense Coal Field

            Underlying the site of this place, and also the surface of the surrounding country, is a vein of coal from six to seven feet in thickness, and of the best quality.  There is coal enough underneath the site of this place, which, if mined, would produce a sum sufficiently large to five times pay the amount of public debt of the city.  If any one has doubts of this, let him take the usual mining estimate for the productive capacity of a coal seam, viz: “One million tons to the square mile for every foot in thickness that a seam will measure,” and then make the estimate for himself.  The fact is, the coal underneath our rich soil is worth more than the land itself; but the necessary expense attending the preliminary measures necessary to raising coal, will place this business in the hands of companies, as it is at the present time, in most sections of the country.
Illinois State Journal - January 1876

Heavy Losses and Small Insurance
Prisoners Removed, and Escape of Seven of Them

            The most disastrous conflagration that has visited our city for many years occurred at an early hour this morning, involving complete destruction of the Opera House block, and the stocks of a number of business men occupying store rooms therein, besides damaging seriously three adjoining buildings.  The origin of the fire has not, so far as we can learn, been ascertained, but it is believed to have commenced about the stage, in the Opera House.  An entertainment was given in the house last night by the pupils of the ward schools, after which it was closed as usual.  At about half past two o’clock a fire was discovered by someone passing, and it then had made considerable headway.  If our information on that point is correct, the flames had burst through the building just below the eaves, and were consuming the cornice.  At that hour, of course, the city was wrapped in slumber, the night was very inclement, a strong northwest wind prevailed, and the streets were almost impassable.  An alarm was sounded, and as this was borne on the wintry blasts, arousing people from their sleep, all trembled in view of the possible results.  Garments were hastily donned, and in a short time the streets were filled with excited people rushing toward the scene of the fire, which was easily found, as the spot by this time was brilliantly illuminated by the lurid glare of the flames.

            Both engines were, with the utmost difficulty, got to the place, and as soon thereafter as possible were at work, but it was evident that the Opera House was doomed, and all that could be hoped for was the saving of adjoining property, and to this end every effort was directed.  The fire made rapid headway, fanned as it was by the high wind; wood work was consumed, the air was thick with flying embers, and for a time it was feared that the flames might get wholly beyond control.  After the burning of the upper part of the building, the destruction of the store-rooms below was commenced.  These were occupied by Mr. Schultz, druggist; Mueller Bros., wholesale liquor dealers; O. Hanratty, gas-fitter, and Anton Gus and Philip Spies, saloon keepers.  When the fire reached the rooms occupied by Mueller Bros., a succession of explosions of barrels filled with spirits followed, causing jets of flame to shoot upward, and filling the air with fire brands.  Mean time the walls were falling, a shout was raised for the release of the prisoners in the county jail, people in the adjoining buildings were engaged in removing their effects, the steamers were emitting dense volumes of smoke and flame, men and boys hooted, and altogether the occasion was one of the wildest excitement, and the scene long to be remembered.  In compliance with the clamor for the release of the prisoners, and in view of the fact that the jail was deemed in imminent danger, the inmates of that institution were taken from their cells, and an effort made to form them into a chain gang, but in the excitement of the hour this failed, and they were taken out under guard and removed to the court house.  There were over twenty of them, and of this number seven escaped.  The flames meanwhile continued to do their work.  Finally, however, everything of an inflammable nature entering into the construction of the Opera House block was consumed, the adjoining buildings were flooded with water, and the fire, with the exception of the smouldering embers beneath the heaps of bricks, was over.

            This morning the scene was a sad one.  Where a few hours before had stood the spacious Opera House block, covering half a square, naught remained but a huge pile of debris and a portion of the blackened walls, and to the south of it the shell of a two-story brick building, belonging to John O. Piper, occupied by John Nelch & Son, as a bakery, and by Henry Nelch, as a dwelling.  The contents were removed, but the building was completely flooded.  The loss is in large part, if not wholly, attributable to water.  Next south of that stands the building belonging to the estate of Joseph Eck.  A portion of the roof in the rear end of the building was crushed by a falling wall, and there was some damage by water.


            Of the losses and insurance it is impossible at this time to speak with absolute certainty, except so far as the principal losses are concerned.  They are as follows:

            Jacob Bunn, Opera House, total loss; no insurance.

            Mueller & Bro., wholesale liquor dealers, total loss of stock, $20,000 to $25,000; insurance, $2,000.

            O. Hanratty, gas-fitter and plumber, total loss of stock and tools, $5,000 to $6,000; insurance, $1,000.

            Anton, Gus. and Philip Spies, saloon, total loss of stock and fixtures, $2,000; no insurance.

A.    L. Ide, steam heater, loss on pipe, pumps, drill, etc., $3,000; no insurance.

-------- Schultz, druggist, total loss of stock, estimated at $3,500 to $5,000; no insurance.

            John O. Piper, loss on building, “gutted,” say, $1,500 or $2,000; insurance, $1,500.

            German Turners’ Society, loss on fixtures in hall, say $500 or $600; no insurance.

            The loss of John and Henry Nelch, baker’s stock, and dwelling in second story, and of Gotlieb Burkhardt, saloon, and dwelling in second story, we have not estimated.  It could not have been very heavy, however, as we understand it to have been caused almost wholly, if not entirely, by removal of stock and household goods.

            The damage to the building belonging to the estate of Joseph Eck, was, perhaps, $300 or $400, caused by falling wall and by water; insurance not stated.  The damage to Mrs. Landour’s building was principally from water.  She is absent from the city, but we understand that she was insured.

            Mr. James, piano repairer, in the Opera House block, lost all of his tools.  He was uninsured.  He had in his room a number of pianos belonging to different citizens, all of which were lost.  Mr. Pearson is stated to have lost three, L. H. Bradley one, and Frank Fleury one, (an old one of little value).  A seven-hundred dollar instrument from the house of George B. Kalb, which had been used at the entertainment, was lost.

            The above comprise all the losses of which we have knowledge.  It will be noticed that the insurance was insignificant.


            The firemen worked gallantly from the time they reached the scene of the conflagration until seven o’clock this morning, and certainly deserve well at the hands of our citizens.  The night was intensely disagreeable and a portion of the time they literally worked beneath a shower of fire.  Had it not been for the almost superhuman efforts put forth by them the devastation must of necessity have been much more widespread.  The wonder is that, notwithstanding their effort, the destruction was no greater, in view of the high wind.  We hear of people as far east as Sixteenth Street sweeping brands from the roofs of their buildings.


            Rudolph’s Opera House was built in 1866, at a cost, it is said, of about $125,000, and was then considered one of the handsomest buildings in the state.  It was the individual property of Mr. R. Rudolph, and was but one evidence of his enterprise and public spirit.  The design of the building was very handsome, and was made by Col. Adolph Schwartz, then a professional architect of this city.  The material of the building was Quincy brick, richly adorned with Joliet cut stone.  The principal front on Jefferson Street was 181 feet in length, and the business front on Sixth Street was 60 feet in length.  These two fronts were joined by a rounded corner, which ten years ago was more of a novelty than now.

            On the Sixth Street front were three stores, and there were two smaller stores on Jefferson Street, and also an apartment originally intended for “the Opera House restaurant,” but which was never used for that purpose.

            The fine auditorium was 80 feet long, 56 feet wide and 36 feet high in the center.  The stage and all its appointments, including the scenery, were of the best and most tasty which could be procured at the time of the building.

            The Opera House was first opened to the people on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th, 1866.  The company was under charge of George J. Deagle, of St. Louis, and the opening night drew together a very large audience of the best people of Springfield.

            The bill for the opening was “Eustache Baudin,” in which J. B. Studley took the title role, and was followed by the farce, “Your Life’s in Danger,” by Ed. Wight and his wife.  Before the play commenced the company sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” and in an interval in the play Mr. Rudolph was called for by the audience, and in response to the compliment, appeared before the curtain and made a brief address.  The company and the play were considered by the audience so unworthy of the fine building and the occasion, and in spite of the promises of the lessee, Mr. Deagle, no improvement was made in either, so that the first season of the Opera House ended disastrously.

            Notwithstanding the misfortunes of that season the fact remained that the building was most elegant and convenient in its appointments, and it remained until this morning, one of the few first class houses of amusement in the state outside Chicago.  Many fine companies of operatic and theatrical artists have appeared there during the ten years of the life of the building; and it was also the place chosen for holding the state convention of all political parties.  One of the most notable gatherings was the reunion of the Armies of the Tennessee and Cumberland, on October 14th, 15th and 16th, 1874, Gen. W. T. Sherman presiding.  Gen. Grant and his family were present, and the stage and auditorium were occupied by men of national reputation in the field and forum.

            On August 26th, 1874, the Democratic state convention met in the Opera House.  The attendance was very large, as the financial question was the absorbing question of the day.  The committee on resolutions reported a “hard money” platform at the afternoon session, beginning at 2 P. M. on that day, and the adoption of this was vigorously contested and vigorously and successfully defended.  No such debate in a political convention was ever witnessed.  The speakers on both sides were men of great weight, fully informed as to the grand underlying principles of finance, and the debate was literally a battle of giants.  The result was the platform was adopted as reported by the committee, but this result was not attained until the debate had lasted four hours, in which intellectual and argumentative blows were given and repelled with a force which has no parallel except in the debates of the United State Senate in its best days.

            Mr. Rudolph, the original proprietor of the Opera House, died some years since, after suffering from mental and nervous disorders, and the property then fell into the hands of Mr. Bunn.  Mr. Bunn had arranged to completely renovate and repair the building this spring.


            By the destruction of the Opera House the city is without any hall suitable for first class amusements.  In the emergency Gen. John Cook proposes to fit up his hall, on the east side of the square, which for years was the best place of the kind of which the city could boast.  It will answer until the “New Opera House” shall be built, on Monroe Street.


            Following are the names of the escaped prisoners, with a brief description of each:

                Henry C. Haveclift, 20 years old, slim built, blue eyes, light mustache and imperial, fair complexion, about five feet nine inches high, had on a dark coat, vest and pants and slouch hat; charge, arson.

                Alvin Cline, 20 years old, dark eyes, sharp nose, long black hair, about five feet seven inches high, had on white shirt, dark pants and black slouch hat; charge, larceny.

                Jesse Lewis, about 18 years old, dark hair, about five feet seven inches high, scar on each side of throat and white hat; charge, larceny.

                Richard Kelly, about 26 years old, about five feet seven inches high, slim built, sharp features, very large ears, scar on left ear from bite, had on gray coat; charge assault; sentenced eight months to jail – three months to serve.

                John McMahon, Irishman, moulder, about 5 feet seven inches high, pock-marked, light complexion, dark hair, heavy set, sandy mustache, about 34 years old; charge larceny; sentence three months in jail.

                James Thompson, about 22 years old, black, curly hair, sandy mustache, 5 feet 6 inches high; charge vagrancy; sentence three months.

                Albert E. Francis, about 27 years old, about 5 feet 8 inches high, heavy and well built, dark hair and mustache, blind in left eye, had on blue overalls; larceny, four months in jail.

                Kelly was picked up during the day, in a jolly state of inebriety, and returned to his old quarters.  It is probable that others of those still at large will yet be apprehended.

            The sheriff announces that he will pay fifty dollars reward, each, for Haveclift, Cline and Lewis, and ten dollars each for McMahon, Thompson and Francis.
Illinois State Register - March 17, 1876