Flattened Houses

State government makes Springfield safe for cars

Illinois Times

January 15, 1976

An elegy of a sort for one of my old Springfield neighborhoods, published on IT’s old Forum page under the name J. W. Pollock, a pen name I used now and again when an issue of the paper had in it too many pieces by me. (I described myself coyly as “a social critic and life-long resident o f Springfield.”)

 

As a teenager I lived with my family a block from the statehouse. I later realized that it was as foolhardy as living near the Thames docks during World War II’s Battle of Britain. A state government too eager to accommodate the cars of its workers devastated the place. We were poor renters who barely kept ahead of the bombs; the state bought and razed three of the Krohes' former homes. The area remains desolate to this day. When the State of Illinois builds a parking lot, it builds it to last.

 

It used to be a neighborhood, before the state took it over. From Monroe Street north to Washington and from First west to Pasfield, the streets were lined with dozens of commodious square-roofed frame houses standing shoulder to shoulder. They crowded the sidewalks with barely ten feet between them, like starched-collar church elders posing for a group portrait.

 

Most of them were 19th century houses built for a 19th century life; some were three stories or more in height, with wide front porches with swings and stone hitching posts near the curb, as solid and substantial as the men who built them.

 

The neighborhood was old, but it wasn't decrepit. Many of the people who lived there were old, too. They had more than money tied up in their houses, and they painted them and cleaned them and mended them with steady and often cantankerous devotion.

 

Not everyone who lived in the neighborhood was old, though. Few families could afford to keep up a house as large as these—not families who wanted to live in this part of town anyway—so a lot of them had been converted into apartments. As such they provided temporary lodging for the flocks of file clerks and clock-watchers that come to the capitol from towns like Hillsboro and Witt for their first real job. Living here was fairly cheap and, with the statehouse only two blocks away, convenient. Whenever a file clerk celebrated a move up the Civil Service ladder with a move to more spacious quarters, it never took longer than a few days to find another to take his place.

 

But what made the neighborhood attractive to the state's employees—its proximity to the statehouse complex—also made it attractive to state planners. The latest generations of file clerks were living in places like Monroe Gardens or Candletree Apartments, miles from downtown. They drove cars to work, thousands of them every day, and each of those cars had to be put someplace between 8 and 5.

 

So the state bought the houses to the north of the capitol (houses it did not want) and the lots on which they stood (which it did) and made parking lots out of them. The houses were bulldozed a half-block at a time, the yards graded and covered with crushed white rock. The closest things to houses now standing in the neighborhood are the one-man sentry boxes guarding the entrance to the lots, and the men who sit in them for 40 hours a week are the closest thing the neighborhood has to full-time residents. The rest of the neighborhood is now only flat ground and white rock. It makes for a peculiarly desolate landscape, those acres of gravel, like the ashy aftermath of a very bad fire. ●

SITES

OF

INTEREST

John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago

 

The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois

 

Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives

 

Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum

 

The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.

Chicagology

I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)

BOOKS

 OF INTEREST

Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 

Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.

Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 

Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

Contact James Krohe Jr. at CornLatitudes@outlook.com

All material copyright © by James Krohe Jr. unless otherwise indicated