Hidden in Plain Sight:
The Material World of Early Springfield


The People of Early Springfield

Before 1830, more than 80% of settlers to Springfield came from the South, particularly from Upland Southern states like Kentucky. After 1830, more than half of new settlers were from New England, and nearly a third were from the MidAtlantic states. Still, the Upland Southerners had placed a crucial early foothold; they would dominate Springfield socially for the rest of the 19th century.

Most of these settlers arrived in family groups, which had a much better chance of success when settling a new area. The typical Springfield settler was thirty-five years with a spouse and two children. Single young men like Abraham Lincoln were the exception to the rule. Single young women were even more rare; men outnumbered them by a ratio of 2.6 to one, making potential female marriage partners much in demand.

The people who settled in Springfield before the Civil War were upwardly mobile. Not content to live in log cabins and wear homespun cloth, they used the burgeoning network of rivers, canals, roads, and railroads to build a material world for themselves according to their ideas of fashion and comfort. Those people are gone now, but remnants of that world remain: they are the objects in they left behind, and they have stories to tell.


It is the goal of this website to assemble every known image of pre-Civil War Springfield citizens. If you have an image you would like to contribute, please email collections@springfieldart.org