Look Up, Springfield! A Walking Tour of Springfield, Illinois
by Doug Gelbert
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
When Illinois became a state in 1818 no one lived in what would become Springfield. A North Carolina man named Elisha Kelly built the first permanent cabin in the beautiful valley of the Sangamon River in 1820. The enthusiastic Kelly recruited family members to join him and the little settlement was designated as the temporary seat for the newly formed Sangamon County in 1821. When the question of a permanent county seat arose in 1825 Springfield found a rival in Sangamo Town, seven miles to the northwest. State legislators from the capital in Vandalia visited both towns and, after being led on a laborious route through swamps and swollen creeks to Sangamo Town by a guide who was a Springfield booster, they made the temporary designation permanent. Not that it was an important call or anything - after all Springfield is now the state capital and no trace of Sangamo Town exists today.
With its future assured, Springfield began to prosper. The town was incorporated, a newspaper started and there were some 1,500 people living in the prairie village in 1837 when a newly minted lawyer from New Salem moved to Springfield. Abraham Lincoln rapidly established a reputation as a formidable advocate during cross-examinations and closing arguments while practicing at the bar. But his true passion was in politics where he represented Sagamon County for four successive terms in the Illinois General Assembly as a member of the Whig Party.
When the State of Illinois began casting about for a new state capital that would be nearer to the influx of settlers from the East, Abraham Lincoln led a contingent of legislators in lobbying for Springfield as the new capital. They fancied themselves as "the Long Nine" for their aggregate height of 54 feet. This group so shrewdly traded their votes in favor of various public improvements through the legislative session that Springfield was awarded the prize. Lincoln would live in Springfield for a quarter-century before leaving the capital city for the White House in 1861, never to return to his adopted hometown alive.
Today few towns are as entwined with a single personality as Springfield is to Abraham Lincoln. Our walking tour will happen upon Lincoln landmarks as well but we will start with a building he never saw, although his likeness stands prominently outside...
- Doug Gelbert, November 2011
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