Originally named Calhoun (after a subsequently disgraced senator), Springfield got its permanent name in 1832. Five years later, the two events that had the greatest impact on its history happened nearly simultaneously: The state capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield, and Abraham Lincoln moved to town to practice law.
Springfield's status as both state capital and the home of Abraham Lincoln continue to form the city's backbone today. Visitors flock to the city to see such sights as the 50-foot totem pole topped with an 8-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln at the entrance to the Illinois State Museum.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Like most cities, Springfield's economy has risen and fallen based on the strength of its major industries. Unlike many cities, however, Springfield's response in recent years to economic challenge hasn't been to find a new major industry but rather to develop a broader base of smaller industries. This diversity of opportunities (in both the public and private sector) has helped Springfield strengthen its economy.
Because Springfield is the state capital, it's not surprising that the state of Illinois is the city's largest employer. Other top employers include Memorial Health System, Saint John's Hospital, Illinois National Guard, and Springfield School District 186.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Because Springfield is a relatively large city, it offers residents a lot of fine neighborhoods to choose from:
- Enos Park: Just north of Springfield, this area, known as the "Jewel of Springfield," includes Victorian, Italianate, and Queen Anne homes from the 19th century.
- Historic West Side: This quiet residential neighborhood petitioned successfully in 1983 to be zoned "R-3" to maintain a predominance of single-family homes and avoid the encroachment of homes that were being converted to commercial uses and multifamily rentals.
- Lincoln Park: This neighborhood was built around historic Lincoln Park, which features a 1911 stone bridge and pavilion designed by George H. Helmle.
- Oak Ridge: This residential neighborhood is bounded by Oak Ridge (north), Madison (south), MacArthur (west), and Second Street (east).
- Vinegar Hill: Traditionally a working-class Irish neighborhood, Vinegar Hill has a more diverse population today, although it has kept a Gaelic green-and-gold knot theme for its signage.
In addition to its historic downtown, which is filled with specialty shops and boutiques, Springfield has plenty of shopping malls and centers, including The Gables, Simon White Oaks Mall, and Sangamon Center North, which is known for its authentic 1950s diner.
Springfield has a rich variety of museums, including the following:
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum: Lincoln's presidency and legacy are explored with exhibits that run the gamut from an original copy of the Gettysburg Address to holographs.
- Air Combat Museum: Fighter planes are on display here.
- Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War Museum: Official records of both armies are housed here, along with artifacts and uniforms from the war.
- Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Museum: Exhibits honor Civil War Union veterans; documents and other items have been donated by veterans' families.
- Illinois State Museum: Permanent and temporary exhibits trace the history of the state, from environment to industry to art.
- Illinois State Military Museum: This museum pays tribute to the Illinois National Guard and includes rare items, such as the artificial leg of Mexican General Santa Anna.
- Kidzeum of Health and Science: One of Springfield's newest museums, the Kidzeum is filled with activities and educational hands-on exhibits for children.
Historic sites also trace the development of the area:
- Edwards Place: This 1843 building is the oldest home in Springfield still standing on its original foundation. It was visited regularly by Abraham Lincoln.
- Executive Mansion: The home of the Illinois governor is open for tours on three levels that include ballrooms, a state dining room, and, of course, the Lincoln bedroom.
- Frank Lloyd Wright's Lawrence Memorial Library: Wright designed the library to honor Rheuna Lawrence, former Springfield school board president; it still functions as a library.
- State Capitol: This complex houses the state government, as well as the Illinois Firefighter Memorial and Illinois Police Officers Memorial.
- Lincoln Home National Historic Site: The home Abraham Lincoln lived in for 17 years has been restored to its 1860s appearance.
- Old State Capitol: To restore the original appearance of this building, it was taken apart stone by stone (all 3,300 of them!) and moved indoors to be painstakingly restored and then put back together.
- Thomas Rees Memorial Carillon: This bell tower (the third-largest in the world) is open to the public and affords a breathtaking view of the city.
Springfield hosts many family-oriented events:
- Springfield might not be known for its maple syrup, but the Lincoln Memorial Garden is home to sugar maples and Maple Syrup Time. During February and March, visitors to the park can join the park caretakers in tapping the maples. The sap collected from the trees is boiled down and ready for sampling.
- The Annual Lincoln Pilgrimage every April is a tribute to the 16th president of the United States. Thousands of people have participated in this event since its inception in 1946, visiting Lincoln's tomb, New Salem, and the old Capitol building.
Springfield is home not only to its own educational centers but also to the campuses of many other Illinois institutions:
- University of Illinois at Springfield: The Springfield campus offers bachelor's degree programs in areas such as accounting, social work, English, and criminal justice. In addition, the school offers master's programs, certification programs, and online degrees.
- Springfield College-Benedictine University: Springfield's oldest learning institution, this Roman Catholic school offers associate's, bachelor's, and graduate degrees in a variety of liberal arts fields.
- Southern Illinois University School of Medicine: SIU's Springfield campus is a medical training and research university. The most recent addition to the school's program is a fertility/in-vitro fertilization center.
- Lincoln Land Community College: This two-year accredited college offers programs that lead to certificates and transfer degrees, workforce training classes, and college preparatory work.