Springfield became the Illinois state capital in 1837 with the help of a young lawyer and politician named Abraham Lincoln (read also Abe Lincoln Bio and Springfield and Abe Lincoln and follow this article with more information about Lincoln). He lived in the city until he left to become the 16th President of the United States, in 1861. From that moment on, the city’s history and future have been inexorably tied to this most famous and beloved American citizen.
Springfield, the capital of Illinois and the seat of Sangamon County government, is located at the intersection of Interstates 55 and 72. Chicago lies 200 miles northeast of Springfield, St. Louis and Indianapolis lie 100 miles southwest and 195 miles due east, respectively.
Over one million visitors a year come to see Springfield’s historic Lincoln sites, which include the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, the Lincoln Home and Neighborhood, Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Lincoln Tomb, Lincoln’s New Salem, and more. Other attractions include the Dana-Thomas House, the Old State Capitol, the Illinois State Capitol and the Executive Mansion.
Interesting Facts About Springfield
Did You Know?
Did you know that President Lincoln initiated both the federal income tax system and the draft, in 1861? He also proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, in the year 1864.
Ulysses S. Grant
Ulysses S. Grant began his Civil War career as the head of a troop of militia that marched from Springfield on July 3, 1861.
This traditional boundary between North and South passes less than five miles south of the Old State Capitol.
Springfield’s most eccentric citizen retained Frank Lloyd Wright to build her home at a cost of $60,000 in 1904. While inventorying her estate, appraisers found safety deposit boxes all over the country containing feathers from her favorite parrot.
The peculiar spelling of chilli in Springfield originated with the founder of the Dew Chilli Parlor in 1909. His sign in the parlor was misspelled! Other folks believe the spelling matches the first four letters in Illinois. Joe DeFrates, of Springfield, has won the world championship Chilli Cook-off twice. He claims Springfieldians eat more chilli per person than any other community.
Colonel Elmer Ellsworth
Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, from Springfield, was the first casualty of the Civil War.
Imagine a building, the outside of which consists of 3,300 stones, weighing from 500-2,000 pounds each. Now imagine taking that building apart, numbering all of those stones, moving them to a safe storage place, reconstructing the inside of a magnificent, historically significant building. Then imagine putting all of those stones back in their original places, like a giant upright puzzle. Well, that’s what architects did to restore the beautiful Old State Capitol to its original splendor.
A House Divided
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved. I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the states, old as well as new – North as well as South.
(From speech accepting nomination to oppose Senator Stephen A. Douglas who won re-election, June 16, 1858.)
The marble inside the tomb comes from four foreign countries: France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and from the states of Missouri, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Utah and Arkansas. The granite of the exterior of the tomb is from Quincy, Massachusetts.
Lincoln – The Arbitrator
Since Lincoln began studying law while living in New Salem, he was often asked to settle arguments. Two men discussing how long a man’s legs should be in proportion to the size of his body turned to Lincoln for judgment. He said, “After much thought and consideration, not to mention mental worry and anxiety, it is my opinion, all side issues being swept aside, that a man’s lower limbs, in order to preserve harmony of proportion, should be at least long enough to reach from his body to the ground.”
How Lincoln Found New Salem
Lincoln’s decision to live in New Salem came about as a result of piloting a flatboat down the Sangamon River. The heavily laden boat became stranded on the mill dam at New Salem. Lincoln was responsible for freeing the vessel by ordering it unloaded, drilling a hole in the bow to let out the water and then plugging the hole which permitted the boat to float free. He was so impressed with New Salem during his brief stay, he decided to come back to live. So after delivering the produce to New Orleans, Lincoln took a boat to St. Louis and then walked back to New Salem.
The Governor’s Home
The idea of providing a home in Springfield for Illinois governors was originally Abraham Lincoln’s. Although his bill appropriating $8,000 to construct such a dwelling was defeated in 1840, the idea eventually took root and in 1853, a bill was introduced appropriating $15,000 for the construction of the current mansion. The final cost exceeded that amount and the total cost eventually was $45,794.31. The first Governor to enjoy this luxurious setting was Joel Aldrich Matteston.
Frank Lloyd Wright, architect of the Dana-Thomas House, was originally commissioned to restructure Susan Lawrence Dana’s thirty year old brick house. Early photos of the remodeling show the foundation of the prairie-style house rising around the family home. However, as the work progressed, this new architectural style took over. When the home was completed in 1904, the only remaining sign of the family home was a Victorian sitting room with fireplace, which exists in the home today.
How Springfield Became The Capital
The original capital of Illinois was Kaskaskia. In 1820, it was moved to Vandalia, but thanks to the political efforts of a group called “The Long Nine,” Springfield finally captured the prize. Lead by Abraham Lincoln, the group was called “The Long Nine” because the nine delegates to the legislature from Sangamon County who fought for Springfield were all over 6′ in height.
Lincoln’s Totem Pole
Picture a 50-foot totem pole topped by an eight-foot carved statue of Abraham Lincoln. If you can’t picture this incredible artifact, come to Springfield and see for yourself. Called the Proud Raven pole after the people who carved it, this giant edifice guards the entrance to the Illinois State Museum. It was carved around 1883 by a chief of the Raven clan in Alaska, to honor the fact that a member of his family was the first to see a white man. As model for the white man, the carver used an available picture of President Lincoln. When representatives of the museum went to Alaska to purchase the pole, the price included some rare luxuries; a case of Coca-Cola and a case of oranges.
Springfield and the connection to Abraham Lincoln
See our article: Springfield and Abe Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln-Presidential Library and Museum
Each year, close to one million people visit Springfield to see the Abraham Lincoln sites, including Lincoln Home, Lincoln Tomb, Old State Capitol and Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, Great Western Depot and, just 20 miles NW of Springfield, Lincoln’s New Salem.
The crown jewel is the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum. This $115 million facility, dedicated to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln, is the largest presidential library complex in the nation. The Library houses the 46,000-item collection of Lincoln documents and artifacts, the world’s largest, with nearly 1,500 documents written or signed by Lincoln and handwritten copies of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. The Museum, dedicated April 19, 2005, has welcomed millions of visitors to walk through the personal and political life of Abraham Lincoln, from his boyhood to his funeral homecoming.
The Central Plaza, flanked by scale models of the White House and Lincoln’s Indiana boyhood cabin, opens the journeys into Lincoln’s life. The Plaza is interspersed with realistically designed “models” of the Lincoln family and others in his life, such as Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass and Generals George McClellan and Ulysses S. Grant. John Wilkes Booth is also there, standing to the side, intently watching Lincoln’s back.
The Museum’s immersion-style galleries and special exhibit areas include re-creations of many of the significant places and events in Lincoln’s life, including:
• Indiana boyhood cabin amid an oak forest
• Commercial store in New Salem
• White House front portico, Blue Room and kitchen
• Lincoln’s theater box at Ford Theater in Washington DC
• Old State Capitol in Springfield
• Lincoln-Douglas debate scene
More than 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, who is one of the most-written about individuals in human history. Come to Springfield and discover why he has captured the world’s imagination.
Abraham Lincoln Home
The only home Abraham Lincoln owned, this 1838 frame house is located in the four-block National Historic Site. In the spring of 1844, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln purchased the house for $1,200 cash, plus a lot west of the public square valued at $300. The house, 1½ stories in the Greek revival style, was constructed with wooden pegs and hand-wrought nails. Three of Lincoln’s four sons were born and one died in this house. In 1856 the house was enlarged, including raising the roof to a full two stories, to accommodate the growing family. The home today contains furnishing appropriate to the period when occupied by the Lincolns, including some pieces original to the Lincoln family. Lincoln’s Home is the only national historic site in the state.
Lincoln Home Visitor Center
Stop here to get your free Lincoln Home tour tickets and information about area historic sites, attractions, events, hotels, and restaurants. While you’re waiting for your house tour, view the free audio-visual programs and exhibits or shop in the Eastern National Museum Store.
426 South 7th Street
Hours: Daily 8:30am-5pm; Closed: New Year’s Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day. Parking at the visitor center costs ca. $2 / hr.
Lincoln Tomb, Oak Ridge Cemetery
Abraham Lincoln was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield on May 4, 1865. It is the 2nd most visited cemetery after Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia.
A tomb was later built with public contributions at a cost of $18,000 and dedicated in 1874.
A few days before the formal dedication, Lincoln’s coffin was moved to a white marble sarcophagus on the floor in the center of the burial chamber. Years later following the tomb’s reconstruction, Lincoln’s body was placed in a steel and concrete vault beneath the floor of the chamber. Mary Todd Lincoln and three of the four Lincoln sons are also buried in the tomb. Lincoln’s Tomb, with its dressed granite exterior rising 116 feet, is located in a 320-acre historic cemetery.
Every Tuesday evening from June through August, the 114th Reactivated Civil War Infantry Unit performs a flag retreat ceremony, presenting the flag to an audience member.
Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices
Abraham Lincoln practiced law in this building from 1843 until 1852, first with Stephen P. Logan and later with William H. Herndon.
Today visitors can see a restoration of his law offices.
This building also housed the only Federal Court in Illinois between 1840 and 1855. Those offices have also been restored and furnished.
A multi-media presentation describes some of cases tried by Abraham Lincoln in this Court and portrays the lives of the famous men who worked in this building.
Central Springfield Historic District / Old State Capitol.
Lincoln’s New Salem
Abraham Lincoln spent six years of his early adulthood in New Salem.
It was here that he clerked in a store, chopped wood, enlisted in the Black Hawk War, served as postmaster and deputy surveyor, failed in business, and in 1834 was elected to the Illinois General Assembly.
Today this recreated village has 23 authentically reproduced buildings, including Rutledge Tavern, a carding mill, the Lincoln-Berry Store, Miller’s Blacksmith Shop, the village school, and log homes. Seasonal annual festivals in the village celebrate pioneer life mid-1800’s style.
Lincoln Memorial Garden
Designed by Jens Jensen, an internationally known landscape architect, this woodland garden is dedicated as a living memorial to Abraham Lincoln. It consists of 77 acres along the shores of Lake Springfield, devoted entirely to plants, trees and flowers native to Illinois. There are five miles of nature trails, a nature center offering educational exhibits and workshops, and a gift shop.
Seasonal festivals, including Indian Summer Festival, Holiday Market, and Maple Syrup Time, celebrate the ever-changing beauty of nature.
Location: Lincoln Memorial Garden, 2301 East Lake Drive.
Abraham Lincoln bade farewell to Springfield and boarded a train for Washington, D.C. from this historic depot on February 11, 1861. His famous parting words, “To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything…”, are said to rank in eloquence with the Gettysburg Address. The depot offers re-created waiting rooms, historic photographs and a lively slide show depicting Mr. Lincoln’s 12-day train journey to Washington DC and his inauguration.
Location: 10th and Monroe Area: Downtown; Hours: Daily Apr.-Aug.: 10am-4pm.
Major Area Attractions
Old State Capitol
The Old State Capitol, built in 1837, is considered a perfect example of Greek Revival architecture, as well as one of the most historic buildings west of the Alleghenies. The rooms are furnished in the period of 1840 to 1860, with many objects relating to famous people who frequented the building, such as Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant. It was here on June 6, 1858, that Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided Speech.” After Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, his body lay in state in the House of Representatives. The painting of George Washington behind the dais is one of nine artifacts known to have been in the original building.
Built in 1833, the Edwards Place is the oldest house on its original site in Springfield and is currently a historical museum, art gallery, art school and library. The house contains many furnishings and decorative pieces typical of a fine Victorian house of the 1800s. Abraham Lincoln gave several political speeches from the porch balcony, while the spacious grounds provided the perfect setting for political rallies at which both Lincoln and Stephen Douglas spoke.
The Illinois Executive Mansion has the distinction of being the third oldest continuously occupied Governor’s Mansion in the Nation. The mansion’s exterior, designed by architect John Mills VanOsdel, is in the Georgian style with a Victorian facade. Thomas Dennis designed the Greek Revival interior. Seven U.S. presidents have been received here and several men who either had been or would become president have been guests, including Abraham Lincoln. The Executive Mansion is a museum, containing many priceless works of art, including the Lincoln Table, created in 1864 from more than 20,000 pieces of inlaid wood, and a smiling bust of Abraham Lincoln for which he posed for artist Thomas D. Jones. The Mansion is also a home filled with the memories of the lives and families of many Illinois governors and those who came to visit.
Illinois State Capitol
Constructed in the 1860s, the Capitol is the current home of the Illinois Legislature and houses many state government offices. It rises 461 feet above the city, took 21 years to complete, and cost $4.5 million. The building, which has several huge paintings, also contains the Hall of Governors and a bronze figure representing Illinois welcoming the world to the Colombian Exposition of 1893. The Howlett Building is part of the Capitol Complex and was erected to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the state’s admission to the Union
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dana-Thomas House
This is one of the best preserved and most complete of Frank Lloyd Wright’s early “Prairie” houses. It was constructed in 1902-1904 for Springfield socialite and female activist Susan Lawrence Dana. The house contains more than 100 pieces of original Wright-designed furniture, as well as 250 examples of art glass doors and windows and approximately 200 original art-glass light fixtures. The dining room, which can seat 40, and the studio/gallery/ballroom are two of the most-photographed spaces in the history of American architecture.
Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon
This is one of the largest and finest of the world’s carillons. The site of numerous public concerts, the International Carillon Festival is held here each June. The Carillon is open for tours that provide a spectacular view of Springfield from the highest point of elevation in the city. Within the open tower lay 66 bronze bells cast by a 300-year-old bell foundry in the Netherlands. The bells have a range of 5½ chromatic octaves, all played manually on a keyboard located in the carilloneur’s cabin. The bells weigh a total of 73,953 tons, with individual bells ranging from 22 pounds to 7½ tons.
Washington Park Botanical Garden
is one of the regions major horticultural attractions with 20 acres of more than 1800 species of plants in 10 specific garden areas and the Conservatory. The garden, which is open year round, features annual beds, a rockery, cactus garden, civic garden grow, monocot garden, perennial border, peony collection, rose garden, shade garden & Roman Cultural Garden. The Conservatory is a 50-ft diameter dome with exotic and economically important plants that are arranged by regions to which they are native. Discover tropical Africa, the jungles of Asia and the rainforests of South America. Seasonal displays include Easter lilies, poinsettias, orchid exhibits and Japanese bonsai displays. The garden provides a floral setting for the Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon. Free
Vachel Lindsay Home
The 1879 birthplace of the native Springfield poet/artist, this house remained Lindsay’s only home until his death in 1931. The house was built in the late 1840s; an early owner was C.M. Smith, whose wife, Ann, was the sister of Mary Todd Lincoln. Both Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln were frequent visitors. The house was purchased in 1878 by Lindsay’s parents, Dr. Vachel Lindsay and Catharine Frazee Lindsay, and remained in the Lindsay family for 80 years. Acquired by the State of Illinois in 1991, the home reopened in 2002 after an extensive, state-funded restoration.
Data and Facts
54 sq.mi. (139.85 sq. km)
ca. 115.ooo (estimated 2020); 111,454 (U.S. Census 2000)
Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport: https://www.flyspi.com/
Capitol Complex Visitors Center
425 S. College St.
Hours: Monday – Friday 8am – 4:30 pm
Closed: Sat/Sunday Closed New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving and day after, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and Washington Birthday