Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


1830 is something of a natural demarcation between the first and second eras of Springfield’s settlement for two reasons. One, 1830 was the winter of the “deep snow,” which started falling on Christmas Eve and continued falling for days on end until it was four or five feet deep. In the minds of Springfield’s citizens, only people who had arrived before the “deep snow” were truly considered early settlers.

More important from an architectural standpoint, 1830 was the year a new courthouse was built. Before that, the center of town was concentrated along Jefferson Street. The construction of this grand new courthouse in what was previously the fringe of settlement shifted the direction of the town’s growth, and the public square eventually became the new center of town.

The mid-1830s to early 1840s were a time of significant growth in Springfield. The transfer of the state capital from Vandalia to Springfield in 1837 brought an influx of up-and-coming merchants, politicians, lawyers, and tradesmen to town, and by 1840 the population topped 2,500 people.

This population boom spurred a building boom. Dozens of new structures were built each year, while dozens more homes were enlarged with second stories or added wings. Frame and brick replaced log as the preferred materials for new construction. The new dwellings were often substantial one-and-a-half or two-story buildings, including some imposing structures on the section of South Second Street known locally as “Aristocracy Hill.”

The story-and-a-half cottage pictured left is an artist’s recreation of the Lincoln home as it appeared when it was built in 1839. Humble to modern eyes, this house was typical for middle-class families of the time.

The Lincoln home is a vernacular example of the Greek Revival style. Characterized by an often symmetrical façade; evenly spaced, multi-paned windows; and entrances marked by rectangular sidelights and transoms; this style was meant to emulate the temple forms of ancient Greece. In the years after the War of 1812, America saw itself as the spiritual descendant of Greece, the birthplace of democracy. Popular between 1830-1860, the Greek Revival style was so pervasive it was known as the “national style.”