Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


Classical Revival sofa

c. 1818-1830

Collection of the Springfield Art Association

This is one of the oldest surviving sofas known to have been used in Illinois, and one of the earliest examples of furniture being imported from the East via steamboat on the Ohio River. The arrival of steamboats to Illinois by 1818 meant that those who could afford the freight charges could furnish their homes on the “western wilds” as elegantly as their relatives in the East.

First owned by Governor Ninian Edwards, it would have been an expensive and luxurious item in early Illinois. By the time his son Benjamin inherited it, it had long since passed from fashion. But in antebellum Springfield, just as now, people did not live with housefuls of new furniture. While the furniture in the parlor was generally up-to-date, the rest of the house was an aggregate of inheritances, furniture bought at auction, and older pieces.