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 legislatorsin 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... 

Illinois State Capitol
Capitol Complex on Second and Capitol

This is the sixth building to house the Illinois government, constructed in 1888, seventy years after Illinois entered the Union as the 21st state on December 3, 1818. Kaskaskia, the first capital city, had one and Vandalia had three. This is the second in Springfield. Plans were in the works for the building for twenty years before ground was broken and plans by John C. Cochrane, Alfred H. Piquenard and W.W. Boyington were executed. The limestone structure of Renaissance design, surmounted by a dome visible for miles, is laid out in a cruciform. The facades are identical in their sandstone pediments and polished granite columns, save for the east wing where the portico is flanked by twin turrets. The final price tag was $4.3 million. Dominating the broad walk that leads to the east entrance from Capitol Avenueis Andrew O’Connor’s standing statue of Abraham Lincoln, backed by a granite slab inscribed with his Farewell Address.


State Archives
Norton Building
Capitol Complex

The Illinois State Archives was established in 1921 and is housed in a building named for its first director, Margaret Cross Norton. The limestone vault with no windows on the fourth through seventh floors was constructed between 1936 and 1938 as a reaction to a fire in 1934 started by a ten-year old boy that destroyed many documents and records stored in the State Arsenal. The State Archives’ fifteen miles of steel cabinets and shelves were designed to protect the state’s records from the hazards of fire, humidity, heat, vermin, theft and exposure. Around the top are engraved the names of twenty-three men and two women who made contributions to the cultural, social, educational, political and economic development of both the state and nation.


Centennial (Howlett) Building
State Capitol Complex

The Michael J. Howlett Building is south of the State Capitol. Formerly called the

Centennial Building, it was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Illinois’ admission to the Union as the 21st state. The cornerstone was laid in 1918, and the building was completed in 1923 at a cost of $3 million. The north facade facing the Capitol rises five stories with a colonnade of Corinthian columns supporting a frieze inscribed with the names of prominent Illinoisans. Additions in 1928 and 1966 converted the original rectangular structure into a square building while retaining the original classic architectural design. It was renamed in 1992 in honor of former Secretary of State Michael J. Howlett. 


Illinois Supreme Court Building
200 East Capitol Avenue at southeast corner of Second Street

When the Supreme Court Building Commission was established in 1905 to oversee the process for construction of a new building they threw open the design honors to all architects in Illinois. But the only one who submitted a design by the deadline was the state architect, W. Carbys Zimmerman. His three-story Beaux Arts plans were executed by 1908 with a final price tag of $456,000 - a little more than $100,000 over budget. The Commission also staged a national competition to select artists to decorate the building. Charles J. Mulligan won the commission to create two sculptures that grace the exterior of the building. The first floor holds the offices for the clerk of the court; courtrooms are on the second and the third floor contained private apartments for the seven Supreme Court justices and the three Appellate Court judges while in session.

Central Illinois Light Company Building
322 East Capitol Avenue at southwest corner Fourth Street

Brothers George B. and Henry R. Helmle designed this classically flavored building for the Central Illinois Light Company in 1924. The matching corner facades of the three-story commercial block feature a ground floor of stone Doric pilasters and brick construction above, highlighted by inlaid keystones above each window. The building is currently occupied by the second go-round of the Illinois National Bank. The original incarnation took its first deposits in 1905 but was merged out of existence in the 1990s. The second generation opened in 1999.


Jennings Ford Building
431 South Fourth Street at northwest corner of Jackson Street

Frank Jennings erected this brick building with white terra-cotta piers to sell Fords between 1919 and 1921. Jennings was a prized Ford employee who was rewarded with the Springfield territory in 1915. In the early days of the horseless carriage you could buy cars in barns, garages and drug stores. After World War I Henry Ford began imploring his dealers to construct fancy showrooms and Jennings ponied up $200,000 for this 45,000 square-foot, multi-story auto palace. Everything from new car inventory to used cars to the service area was housed inside. Jennings Ford became the anchor of a nascent “Auto Row” in Springfield, a spirited competition that ended with the Jennings Ford bankruptcy in 1933. The building today is one of the rare early dealership buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.


Vachel Lindsay Home
603 South Fifth Street at southwest corner of Edwards Street

Springfield native Nicholas Vachel Lindsay was one of America’s best known poets in the early 1900s. Lindsay went on tramps cross the country that led to performance art known as “modern singing poetry.” Bedeviled by financial problems, Lindsay killed himself by drinking a bottle of lye in 1931. The Folk Victorian home the “Prairie Toubadour” was born in and died in has received a recent million-dollar facelift.


Executive Mansion
northwest corner of Edwards Street and Fifth Street 

This is the only residence the State of Illinois has ever built for its first family. John Mills Van Osdel, a Baltimore native who opened the first architectural firm in Chicago, designed the 16-room Georgian-style mansion in 1855. Van Osdel also planned the first architect-designed house in Chicago for the first mayor, William Ogden. Few of Van Osdel’s works survive but the brick Executive Mansion stands as the oldest historic residence in the state. The governor and his family are not expected to actually reside in the mansion itself. Rather, a 7-room private apartment behind the mansion is provided for the governor and his family.

Young Women’s Christian Association
421 East Jackson Street at northwest corner of Fifth Street

The Young Women’s Christian Association of Springfield organized in 1909 and moved into this Colonial Revival facility four years later. Julius Rosenwald, whose talents as president of Sears, Roebuck and Company propelled the mail-order pioneer into the world’s greatest retailing organization, was a Springfield native and great benefactor of both the YMCA and the YWCA. 

Illinois Municipal League Building
500 East Capitol Avenue at southeast corner of Fifth Street

This ornate brick building with classically flavored stone trim was constructed for the Sangamo Club, Springfield’s oldest men’s club. Illinois governors were given honorary membership in the prestigious club. The building was designed by the go-to architectural firm of Helmle and Helmle, started by George Henry Helmle, a Springfield native born in 1853. Helmle and his sons were responsible for over 400 buildings in town. The Illinois Municipal League Building Corporation, founded in 1918, took over the property and recently dedicated its headquarters in honor of A.L. Sargent, who was executive director from 1943 until 1968 and his son, Steven, who headed the league for 21 years.


Virgil Hilcox House
518 East Capitol Avenue

The core of this house was constructed by Virgil Hickox around 1839. Over the years the building picked up numerous additions to make room for a prospering mercantile business and Italianate pairs of brackets at the roofline. Hickox helped manage the successful United States Senate campaign of Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 when he outpolled Abraham Lincoln. The Sangamo Club started here in 1890.

Leland Building
527 East Capitol Avenue at northwest corner of Sixth Street

The Leland Hotel was the town’s leading hostelry in the 19th century beginning with its construction in 1867. The hotel was five stories high and contained 235 rooms. In 1909 the original building was replaced with this nine-story brick structure. William Holabird and Martin Roche, pioneers in skyscraper construction, came down from Chicago to provide the Neoclassical design. A local delicacy, the horseshoe sandwich, is said to have been created here in 1928. Although there are variations, the horseshoe is an open-faced sandwich begins with thick-sliced toasted bread, and most often hamburger patties, or ham. The meat is topped with french fries and smothered with a “secret” cheese sauce. 

First Presbyterian Church
321 South Seventh Street at northwest corner of Capitol Avenue

The Presbyterians were the first church group to organize in Springfield, meeting in the home of John Todd in 1828. In 1850 Todd’s niece Mary and her husband Abraham Lincoln began attending services in the church after the death of three-year-old Edward Lincoln. The Lincolns purchased a pew for $50 in the church building that stood on the corner of Third and Washington streets. That pew was brought along to this building which was purchased in 1871 from the Third Presbyterian Church; the sanctuary was constructed in 1868.

Lincoln Home National Historic Site
Eighth and Jackson streets

This Greek Revival house was constructed in 1839 and expanded to two floors when a prominent lawyer in town, Abraham Lincoln, moved his family in. They lived here for 17 years and it was from this oak frame house that Lincoln left for the White House in 1861. The house, which has been open to the public since 1887, is restored to its appearance at that time.


Springfield Hilton
700 East Adams Street at northeast corner of Seventh Street

This is the tallest commercial high-rise in Illinois outside the metro Chicago area and the fourth tallest non-Chicago building of any kind. The 10-sided cylindrical tower, completed in 1973, tops out at 352 feet.

United States Post Office and Federal Courthouse
411 East Monroe Street 

As it expanded its role in American’s lives the federal government got into the business of constructing grand civic temples in the 1920s and 1930s. This is Springfield’s, constructed in 1929. James A. Wetmore, Supervising Architect of the United States treasury, was responsible for the design.

Pasfield Block
226-230 South Sixth Street at northeast corner of Monroe Street

George Pasfield was one of the early settlers of Springfield. He set up a mercantile trade on the public square in 1831 and became involved in the effort to locate the capital in Springfield. His son, George as well, was a banker and generally regarded as the richest man in central Illinois. He bankrolled the construction of this commercial block in 1888. It is another creation of George Helmle. 


Lincoln-Herndon Law Office
southwest corner of Adams Street and Sixth Street

Seth M. Tinsley constructed this Greek Revival commercial block in 1841 giving professionals convenient office space to the emerging capitol building. In 1843 Abraham Lincoln and his partner Stephen T. Logan moved their legal partnership to a third-floor office here. Logan moved out the following year and Lincoln brought in William H. Herndon as a junior partner. The firm operated here until 1852 when Lincoln and Herndon moved to the west side of Old Capitol Square. Most of the building was torn down in the 1870s but the part that contained Lincoln’s office was preserved. 

Illinois Building
607 East Adams Street at northeast corner of Sixth Street

Art Deco styling came to downtown Springfield in 1927 courtesy of architects James Law, Edward Law and Ellis Potter of Madison, Wisconsin. The commercial landmark was constructed by the Central Illinois Public Service Company, an electric streetcar holding company and power utility first organized in 1902. The 15-story limestone tower boasts setbacks as it rises, speckled with green terra-cotta tiles. Walk over to the entrance to see the town’s best doorway.    

Old State Capitol
One Old State Capitol Plaza bounded by Fifth, Sixth, Washington and Adams streets 

Springfield architect J. F. Rague used locally quarried yellowish brown stone to craft this Greek Revival statehouse between 1837 and 1853. The east and west porticos are supported by massive Doric columns. The Old State Capitol has deep ties to Abraham Lincoln, who argued cases and attended legislative sessions here. In the Hall of Representatives Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech and his body rested here on May 3-4, 1865, prior to burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery.  In 1869, the Old State Capitol was sold to Sangamon County and served as the County Court House for nearly a century. In 1961, the State bought the capitol back and restored it to its original appearance, dismantling it and modernizing the structure.

Springfield Marine Bank
100 South Sixth Street

The Springfield Marine Bank is the oldest bank in the city, having been established in 1851. This Neoclassical vault was erected in 1927, a Helmle and Helmle design rendered in limestone. The fluted Corinthian columns are hand-carved. Modern additions came along in the 1970s which attempted to complement the original design.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library
212 North Sixth Street

The library and museum devoted to the life of America’s 16th President has ranked as the country’s most-visited state-controlled presidential museum since its opening in 2005. In less than twenty-one months, the museum received its one millionth visitor. The collection is housed in two interconnected buildings, each with a rotunda reflective of the dome on the Old State Capitol. In addition to the works associated with Lincoln and his era, the museum serves as a premier repository of books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and other materials of historical interest pertaining to the history of the State of Illinois.  


Springfield Union Station
500 East Madison Street

Springfield Union Station is one five significant rail terminals which served Illinois’ capital city, erected in a much more lavish architectural style than the more utilitarian design of the other stations. The brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style was employed for construction between 1896 and 1898 on plans drawn by Illinois Central Railroad chief architect Francis T. Bacon. The 110-foot clock tower dominates the composition but lasted only 50 years before maintenance costs forced the tower to be removed down to its base in 1946. The last passenger train pulled out of Union Station in 1971 and the building trundled on as office space until a $12.5 million renovation, including the rebuilding of the clock tower, redeveloped the property as a visitor center for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


Stuart Broadwell Building
101-105 South Fifth Street at northwest corner of Washington Street

This corner has housed an apothecary non-stop since the first city directory of Springfield was published in 1855 and maybe for twenty years before that. Stuart Broadwell purchased the business in 1889 and operated it as the “Old Corner Drug Store.” Broadwell had architects Helmle and Helmle re-do the building in 1917 and the drug store was outfitted with white terra-cotta. Stuart Broadwell died in 1928 and his son Norman took over the running of the town’s most venerable drug store.

Myers Brothers Building
southwest corner of Fifth Street and Washington Street

Albert Myers opened the first family emporium on the east side of the square in 1886. After fire destroyed that building the store relocated here. This Renaissance Revival building was raised in 1925 as four Myers sons in the next generation operated the iconic downtown shopping destination. Myers Brothers eventually spread to seven additional locations from its flagship here before being acquired by Peoria retailer Bergner’s. The “Myers Brothers” stamp on the south side of the brick tower lives on, however.

Kresge Building
127/131 South Fifth Street at northwest corner of Adams Street

Sebastian Spering Kresge attempted to join Woolworth’s five-and-dime business in 1896 but was not successful. He entered into other retailing partnerships with $8000 he had carefully saved, working in stores in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Michigan. By 1899 he was on his own in Detroit. When he finally gave up his position as Chairman of the Board at the age of 98 the company had grown to include 670 Kresge variety stores, 150 K-Mart department stores and 110 Jupiter discount stores. George Helmle gave the Springfield Kresge store its Art Deco flavor.

Ridgely Building
500 East Monroe Street at southeast corner of Fifth Street

This corner was the site of the first church in Springfield. The Franklin Life Company, founded in 1884, purchased the property in 1891 to construct a home for its rapidly expanding business. Their five-story Chicago-style structure was razed for this 175-foot Neoclassical tower in 1926, built for the Ridgely Farmers State Bank. Nicholas Ridgely left his ancestral Maryland tobacco farm in 1820 for the West where he engaged in banking. In 1835 he came to Springfield when he received the appointment as cashier of the State Bank of Illinois. He organized the Sangamon & Morgan Railroad that became the first part of the great Wabash road to be built and established the Springfield Gas Works in 1854. After the Civil War Ridgely, with sons as partners, helped start the Ridgely National Bank, which he helmed until his death in 1888 from an accidental fall at the age of 87. The bank led a similarly robust life until its demise during the Great Depression in 1932.

Reisch Bros. Building
430 East Monroe Street at southwest corner of Fifth Street

While Franz Sales Reisch was a young boy growing up on the banks of the Rhine River in modern day Germany, a United States envoy passed through his village, inviting men to come to America to start breweries and wineries. In 1825, when he was 17, Reisch took up an apprenticeship with a local brewer and at age 24 he sailed to New Orleans. It took another 22 years of working across the midwest before he had enough money to buy an acre of land in Springfield and dig out some underground cellars to ferment and store beer. The first Reisch Beer was sold in 1849. By 1870 sales had reached 5,000 barrels a year and five years later Reisch fell from the third floor of a new malt house being built, struck his head, and died a few hours later. Three of his four sons had joined the business by then and “F. Reisch and Brothers” continued to prosper. When Frank Reisch died in 1896 he was the largest property owner in Springfield. This commercial block was part of the Reisch empire.


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church
220 South Second Street at northeast corner of Monroe Street

This congregation began in 1841 with Reverend Francis Springer ministering to eight Springfield townsfolk. St. Louis architect Charles Frederick May, who was the pastor’s son-in-law, designed the current Gothic-flavored church with a prominent corner tower. The cornerstone was laid in September of 1888 and the sanctuary dedicated the following year. The exterior of Trinity remains virtually identical as it did on the day of dedication. 

Illinois State Armory
northwest corner of Monroe Street and 2nd Street

The state armory was more than just a place to house military offices and drill troops. A 6,000-seat auditorium hosts social and athletic events, theatrical productions and Governor Inaugurals as well. The original building was destroyed on February 19, 1934 by a fire started by a ten-year old boy. It was replaced with this Indiana limestone Art Deco structure that has changed nary at all since it was completed in 1936.


Illinois State Library
Gwendolyn Brooks Building
southeast corner of Monroe Street and 2nd Street

The Illinois State Library was housed in the Howlett Building until 1990 when this $36 million home was constructed as the first building designed just for the collection. The names of 35 Illinois authors are engraved across the exterior frieze.