Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


In the 1820s and early 1830s, Springfield was a frontier town just taking root. Upon arriving, settlers would usually build a simple lean-to or cabin that would serve as temporary shelter while the land was cleared. Within a year or two a more permanent dwelling would be built with hewn logs and a wood floor.

Springfield’s buildings of this era were vernacular in style: built with local materials using traditional designs, without the input of a professional architect. The majority of these buildings were rudimentary log structures. Frame houses appeared with the first skilled carpenter after 1824, while the first brick structure in town was built on the corner of Jefferson and Second Streets after the first professional brickmaker arrived in 1827.

The log house pictured at left was built by Washington Iles just south of Springfield in 1822 and is typical of log construction of that decade. Log houses such as this could be improved in the coming years through additions of siding, windows, interior plaster, and enlargements such as a porch, lean-to, ell, or addition of another room.

In 1823 Springfield was surveyed, under the name Calhoun, incidentally, in a short-lived effort to honor South Carolina statesman John C. Calhoun. In those early days the main thoroughfare was on Jefferson Street from about First to Fourth Streets. Along this road were the homes of about thirty families, the courthouse, the post office, a government land office, a doctor’s office, and Elijah Iles’ store. The public square, where the Old State Capitol sits today, was at that time a swampy, overgrown section of land with little going on there except the town’s whipping post.

The wonderful map at right, created by Dr. Floyd Barringer, gives a sense of Springfield in the 1820s. One visitor at the time described the town as “a little cluster of log cabins.” Revered Peter Cartwright, who visited in 1823, was even less impressed. He said the town was nothing more than “a few smoky, hastily-built cabins, and one or two little shanties called ‘stores.’” John T. Stuart, who arrived in town in 1828, left us with a remarkably vivid description of the town as he first saw it. Riding east on Jefferson, Stuart saw "Five or six two-room frame buildings…a two-story log house, in the lower room of which Jabez Capps had a shoemaker’s shop, the upper room being the residence of his family. Opposite…stood a small log house, occupied as a store and dwelling by Archer G. Herndon, next east was a two-room frame house with end to the street, the front room occupied by Hooper Warren as a printing office, and the rear room as a dwelling of his family; next…stood a two-story house, with two rooms below, with a hall between, occupied as a residence by Pascal P. Enos, and his family, except the east lower room which was used as a land office. Continuing east…stood another two-room frame building..next was Levi Goodin in a cabin…”