If you visit Springfield, take a drive down Monroe Street, from MacArthur east towards Second Street. You'll notice that you're going down hill. Second Street is at the bottom of the hill and continuing on, you will ascend the next hill. On this drive you'll pass the State Capitol Building, the Illinois State Library, and various small businesses in the downtown district. Now imagine, if you can, 176 years ago--you have just crossed what was then Spring Creek, a tributary of the Sangamon River-- there is no street, no buildings, no people, no noise. The bank of the creek which you just crossed are lined with oak, hickory and maple trees. The water is clean, clear and cool. When you reach the top of the hill, the landscape spreads rapidly in every direction before your eyes and is filled with tall prairie grass and hundreds of varieties of wildflowers.
Elisha Kelly, a hunter from North Carolina crossed that same creek one day in 1818. He was so in awe of the rich prairie land, abundant wildlife, and beauty of the country that he returned to home state to bring back his family. He came back with his father Henry Kelly, a revolutionary war veteran, and his four brothers, John, George, Elijah and William. Other families joined them and thus was the birth of Springfield.
These early settlers of the Sangamo country first housed themselves in three-faced camps, or three-sided log structures, one side being completely open. They soon built more permanent log homes, usually 16 to 20 foot square, with dirt floors and open fireplaces. Their daily fare was as varied as the wild game on the prairie and fish in the streams, with the added extras of garden vegetables. They also grew corn, which was a staple at most every meal in the form of hoe cakes, mush, fried mush, and hominy. Honey was used to sweeten almost everything, unless there was a sugar maple grove nearby which provided the basis for maple syrup. Their cooking utensils were few, but precious--a bake kettle, stewpot, three-legged skillet, gridiron and a wooden trencher and spoon. For the work outside, a grubbing hoe, hand mill, axe and a gun were necessary.
Panthers shared the timbers and prairie with the settlers and gave Panther Creek its name. Wolves and rattlesnakes were also numerous. Entire packs of wolves were encircled and clubbed to death. A man by the name of Barnes took a wagon-load of 122 rattlesnakes into Springfield to collect on an advertised bounty of fifty cents for the first snake and twenty-five cents for each additional one (he received $6.00). Before the Black Hawk war the area was also populated with as many Indians as white settlers. They had several large encampments west of the town.
John Kelly built the first log cabin on the present day northwest corner of Second and Jefferson streets. It was here that the first election of county commissioners was held in 1821. By 1823, about 30 families lived in cabins, most along Jefferson Street. In 1830 there was also a store whose proprietor was Elijah Iles, the Elijah Slater Tavern, Dr. Gershom Jayne's cabin, Pascal Enos' land office, a Presbyterian church and a Methodist church.
And so, amidst a wilderness sprung a county seat and thriving state capitol. By the mid-1850s with the introduction of the railroad, medical societies, Agricultural, Education and Fair Associations, and a university, Springfield's population reached to over 4,500 and by 1890 it had grown to 25,000. Today it is a city of well over 100,000 inhabitants. Springfield had attempted to preserve its history with the revitalization of the downtown area and with efforts to stimulate interest in its historical landmarks. On the site of the original public square stands the Old State Capitol which was completed in 1840. Other sites include the Governor's Mansion (1856), Abraham Lincoln's Home (under the authority of the National Park system), the Lincoln-Douglas Law Offices and many others.