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Springfield history

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of a few library collections (according to WorldCat, only ten libraries own a copy) but  it is 60 pages long and by now out of date, so I chose not to reproduce it here.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

A New Old Street

The NPS plans for the past of the Lincoln Home

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  January 19, 2010 

Ghost Houses 

A plan for the Lincoln home neighborhood

"Prejudices" Illinois Times November 11, 1990

Faithful to the Period

The NPS plans the next 20 years at Lincoln’s home

"Dyspepesiana"  Illinois Times  September 2, 2010    

On Tour

My life as a guide at the Lincoln-Herndon law offices

"Dyspepesiana"  Illinois Times  November 5, 2009

Going to Mr. Lincoln's House

Authenticity and the tourist’s Lincoln

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 10, 1983

Making Lincoln Come Alive

From tiny acorns Presidential libraries grow

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  ca 1990

Lincoln’s Springfield House

The Lincoln home for the automobile tourist

Adventure Road September/October 1985

The Old State Capitol: Tarnished Jewel

Springfield squabbles over an inheritance

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  January 30, 1981

The Establishment of Springfield

Is Lincoln “a special ward” of the well-to-do?

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 8, 1980

The Most Durable Ghost

Springfield and Lincoln remain strangers..

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 17, 1977

No Mere Bump on a Log

Logan Hay, once Springfield’s best-known citizen

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December 21, 2017

“Someone from Outside”

Lincoln scholars and Springfield

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 4, 2010

Of the People and for the People—But Never Like Them

Lincoln and the Springfield democracy

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times February 12, 2015

Hometown Vices

Wicked Springfield catalogs sin in the Lincoln era

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  October 21, 2010

“A Neat and Appropriate Address”

Lincoln’s farewell to Springfield as a Guinness gag

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  February 24, 2011​

A Lively and Active Neighborhood

The NPS's stage-set authenticity at Lincoln's home

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 11, 1982

New Life in the Lincoln Depot

Will tourists arrive where Lincoln departed?

Illinois Times  August 4, 1978

Sound and Blight

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

Washington Park's Life Story

O. C. Simonds’ gift to Springfield

Illinois Times  July 13, 1979

Honest Abe's Honest Almanac

A cornucopia of stuff about Springfield and Sangamon County

Talisman Press, 1974

Shoulder to the Wheel

A history of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce

Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce  1976

The Bridges of Sangamon County

Some bridges carry more history than traffic

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times April 21, 2011

Gathering Nuts

Springfield’s oral history tradition

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 31, 2014

Cowboy Joe

A Sangamonian makes history in the West

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times July 2, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

Springfield in panoramic maps

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times August 17, 2017

Touring Springfield As It Was 150 Years Ago

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

Midnight at Noon

A history of coal mining in Sangamon County

Sangamon County Historical Society  1975

A Springfield Reader

A "masterful" anthology about the capital city

Sangamon County Historical Society  1976

Lessons in Lake-building

Springfield slakes its thirst at last

Illinois Times  October 16, 1975

John L. Lewis—A Most Peculiar Man

The legendary UMW chief explained

Illinois Times  September 23, 1977

The Sangamon Valley Collection

History finds a home at Springfield’s public library

Illinois Times  February 11, 1977

Jigsaw Puzzle

A plea for public history, not just Lincoln history

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 29, 1980

Suggestions for the Curious Reader

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.

Summer of Rage

The Springfield Race Riot of 1980

Sangamon County Historical Society  1973

Not Guilty!

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


What riot? Springfield still won’t talk about race

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  September 20, 1990

A Sorry Tale, Well Told

The best account of the 1908 Springfield riots reviewed

Illinois Times  September 27, 1990

Remember to Not Forget

The Springfield race riots of 1908 and community memory

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  Oct. 29, 2009

Promised Lands

A trip prompts reflections on the Donner Party

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  July 3, 2014

A Poor Piece of Work

Tidying up the Lincoln home area by paving it

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 10, 1977

Springpatch, U.S.A.

The lost art of colloquial place-naming.

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 29, 1977

Selfish Interests

Springfield's State Journal-Register, examined

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 8, 1983

A School by Any Other Name

The perils of naming public buildings in a fastidious age

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times March 10, 2011​

Re-inventing the Past

Springfield’s surprising tradition of industrial invention

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times June 24, 2010

Our Gift from St. Nicholas

Memories of a grand Springfield hotel

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times December 3, 2015

Seeing Is Believing—Isn’t It?

A new edition of a picture history of Illinois raises an old question

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times March 3, 2016

Sangamon Link

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

Wanderings and Doings

Springfieldians once were prodigious walkers

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 9, 2012

Radical Fellows

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.


Summer of Rage:  

The Springfield Race Riot of 1908

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


Midnight at Noon:

A History Of Coal Mining in Sangamon County

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


 Unsung Heroines:

A Salute to Springfield Women

Melinda Fish Kwedar

Sangamon County Historical Society, 1977

Population Politics

Hope v. reality regarding Springfield growth

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 21, 1978

Idealistic Thoughts
Willis Spaulding, Springfield’s “greatest citizen after Lincoln”
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times December 29, 2016




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.


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.)




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.

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