Springfield has its own rich history, but while uncounted monuments and history exhibits have been devoted to Abraham Lincoln, very few are devoted to the city itself. It was for that reason that the Sangamon County Historical Society undertook the publications of the Bicentennial Studies in Sangamon History, to which I contributed (see below). I also touched upon aspects of the city's history in the many in the Illinois Times columns and feature articles linked below.
Note: My early rooting around in the local archives led to the self-published Sangamon Sources: A Research Guide to Local History, 1865–1970 (Talisman Press, Springfield, 1975). The work is very hard to find outside of a few library collections (according to WorldCat, only ten libraries own a copy) but it is 60 pages long and by now out of date, so I chose not to reproduce it here.
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Springfield and Abraham Lincoln
The NPS plans for the past of the Lincoln Home
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 19, 2010
A plan for the Lincoln home neighborhood
"Prejudices" Illinois Times November 11, 1990
The NPS plans the next 20 years at Lincoln’s home
"Dyspepesiana" Illinois Times September 2, 2010
My life as a guide at the Lincoln-Herndon law offices
"Dyspepesiana" Illinois Times November 5, 2009
Authenticity and the tourist’s Lincoln
"Prejudices" Illinois Times February 10, 1983
From tiny acorns Presidential libraries grow
“Prejudices” Illinois Times ca 1990
The Lincoln home for the automobile tourist
Adventure Road September/October 1985
Springfield squabbles over an inheritance
"Prejudices" Illinois Times January 30, 1981
Is Lincoln “a special ward” of the well-to-do?
"Prejudices" Illinois Times February 8, 1980
Springfield and Lincoln remain strangers..
"Prejudices" Illinois Times February 17, 1977
Logan Hay, once Springfield’s best-known citizen
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times December 21, 2017
Lincoln scholars and Springfield
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 4, 2010
Lincoln and the Springfield democracy
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 12, 2015
Wicked Springfield catalogs sin in the Lincoln era
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times October 21, 2010
Lincoln’s farewell to Springfield as a Guinness gag
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 24, 2011
The NPS's stage-set authenticity at Lincoln's home
“Prejudices” Illinois Times February 11, 1982
Will tourists arrive where Lincoln departed?
Illinois Times August 4, 1978
A show bringing Lincoln's capitol to life dies at the box office
“Prejudices” Illinois Times February 10, 1978
Stopped By a Train
Why Springfield is helpless to stop the Union Pacific
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times September 17, 2009
O. C. Simonds’ gift to Springfield
Illinois Times July 13, 1979
A cornucopia of stuff about Springfield and Sangamon County
Talisman Press, 1974
A history of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce
Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce 1976
Some bridges carry more history than traffic
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times April 21, 2011
Springfield’s oral history tradition
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 31, 2014
A Sangamonian makes history in the West
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 2, 2015
Springfield in panoramic maps
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times August 17, 2017
The Town Branch of Spring Creek, rediscovered
Illinois Times December 24, 1976
Unicorns on the Sangamon
The scarcity of Harvard grads in Springfield
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times December 23, 2009
A history of coal mining in Sangamon County
Sangamon County Historical Society 1975
A "masterful" anthology about the capital city
Sangamon County Historical Society 1976
Springfield slakes its thirst at last
Illinois Times October 16, 1975
The legendary UMW chief explained
Illinois Times September 23, 1977
History finds a home at Springfield’s public library
Illinois Times February 11, 1977
A plea for public history, not just Lincoln history
“Prejudices” Illinois Times February 29, 1980
An annotated list of works on mid-Illinois history
Springfield race riots of 1908
Springfield's relationship with this ugly aspect of its past has evolved since the 1970s. Newcomers to the topic might consider reading these pieces in chronological order.
The Springfield Race Riot of 1980
Sangamon County Historical Society 1973
Springfield’s 1908 race rioters beat the rap
Illinois Times August 11, 1978
Unforgetting the Springfield race riots of 1908
"Prejudices" Illinois Times August 14, 1980
A review of the best book on the Springfield race riots
Reader September 14, 1990
What riot? Springfield still won’t talk about race
"Prejudices" Illinois Times September 20, 1990
The best account of the 1908 Springfield riots reviewed
Illinois Times September 27, 1990
The Springfield race riots of 1908 and community memory
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times Oct. 29, 2009
A trip prompts reflections on the Donner Party
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times July 3, 2014
Tidying up the Lincoln home area by paving it
“Prejudices” Illinois Times June 10, 1977
The lost art of colloquial place-naming.
“Prejudices” Illinois Times July 29, 1977
Springfield's State Journal-Register, examined
“Prejudices” Illinois Times September 8, 1983
The perils of naming public buildings in a fastidious age
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times March 10, 2011
Springfield’s surprising tradition of industrial invention
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 24, 2010
Memories of a grand Springfield hotel
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times December 3, 2015
A new edition of a picture history of Illinois raises an old question
“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times March 3, 2016
A few years ago I was invited to help create a Web-based encyclopedia of the history of Springfield and Sangamon County. The project was sponsored by the Sangamon County Historical Society, and I had been asked to help get it off the ground by board member Richard E. Hart, an excellent fellow with whom I had worked in the 1970s on the society's Bicentennial Studies in Sangamon History.
I wrote up some dozen entries and researched many more, but the results were not quite what the society wanted. The project was later revived under new leadership. They found the perfect man for the job, someone who writes concisely and clearly and respects the sanctity of the fact—the newly retired Mike Kienzler, veteran Springfield newsman. I strongly urge anyone with an interest in Springfield and Sangamon County to check it out.
Typical of these mini-histories are the ones I contributed about Sangamo Town and about Sangamon County poets. Others of my entries can be found at that site by searching for my name, but I encourage anyone curious about Sangamon County's past to simply browse the whole site, because there's better stuff than mine in it.
Drawing the Line?
Springfield as a border town on the North-South divide
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times March 11, 2010
Riding into Town on a Rail
Springfield’s vanished streetcar system
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 13, 2011
Springfieldians once were prodigious walkers
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 9, 2012
Socialists once had a place in central Illinois
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times September 5, 2013
Bicentennial Studies in Sangamon History
The bicentennial of the nation’s founding sparked the publication of scrapbooks of community history—all of them, it must be noted, less well designed, less handsomely made, less adroitly written than their late nineteenth-century models.
Here and there the bicentennial was the occasion for more thoughtful reconsiderations. The Sangamon County Historical Society undertook in 1973 to publish a series of pamphlet essays on local history to be known collectively as Bicentennial Studies in Sangamon History. The quality of the articles was quite high as such things go. None, alas, is today easy to find outside of local libraries.
The showpiece of the project was A Springfield Reader: Historical Views of the Illinois Capital, 1818–1976, which came out in 1976. For more about A Springfield Reader, see A Springfield Reader or Publications.
James Krohe Jr.
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1973
The Old Chatterton:
A Brief History of a Famous Old Opera House
George W. Bunn, introduction by Paul M. Angle
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1974
A New Eden:
The Pioneer Era in Sangamon County
Robert P. Howard
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1974
Helmle & Helmle, Architects
Edward J. Russo
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1974
James Krohe Jr.
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1975
A Springfield Reader:
Historical Views of the Illinois Capital, 1818–1976
James Krohe Jr., editor
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1976
1876, The Centennial Year in Springfield
Mark W. Simmons
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1976
A Salute to Springfield Women
Melinda Fish Kwedar
Sangamon County Historical Society, 1977
Hope v. reality regarding Springfield growth
“Prejudices” Illinois Times April 21, 1978
Willis Spaulding, Springfield’s “greatest citizen after Lincoln”
"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times December 29, 2016
Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.
One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.
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 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.
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.
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.
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."
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 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” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.
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."
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.
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.
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
Southern Illinois University Press 2017
A work of solid history, entertainingly told.
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.
The Annals of Iowa
A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians
as well as local historians generally.
Journal of Illinois HIstory
A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.
A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.
Journal of the Illinois
State Historical Society
to read about
to buy the book
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.
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.
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
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.
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.