Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Early Springfield furnishings

In antebellum Springfield, material luxuries were becoming increasingly more accessible. Springfield was settled at a time of growing industrialization, expanding transportation networks, and flourishing international trade. At the same time, a growing market economy put more disposable income in people’s pockets. The result was that citizens of Springfield could and did set their tables with English pottery stored in a Cincinnati sideboard and drink French wine from glasses made in Pittsburgh.

Springfield citizens who wanted more stylish goods than local craftsmen could provide looked to Cincinnati, or farther East to Philadelphia and New York, for their fashionable purchases. Local merchants went East to buy their merchandise from wholesalers. In Springfield, shoppers eagerly looked forward to the arrival of new goods from the East on steamboats every season. In this way they were able to furnish their homes in the latest styles using goods imported from around the country and around the world.

These material luxuries were important. In antebellum America, as today, objects held meanings beyond those associated with their construction and use. They served as silent indicationss of their owners' values, taste, and class. Owning the “right” pieces of furniture, such as a parlor suite, a grand piano, or a mahogany sideboard, signaled gentility and refinement.