Rain prevented us from photographing the exterior of the Elijah Iles house, the oldest home in Springfield, IL, on the day of our visit.
Major Iles was a founder of Springfield. In 1921, with $1,500 worth of trade goods, whiskey, nails, stoneware, salt, and coffee, he opened his store--the only retail establishment within seventy-five miles.
Iles soon owned a large parcel of the land and built the home in the early 1830s as a "spec" house to attract people to build other large houses on the lots he was selling. This area today is known as "Aristocracy Hill." (Tomorrow's blog will present an example of the homes in this area.)
The home has been restored to look much as it did then (photo right).
We were very fortunate to have as our guide David Stevens, who, as a child, lived in the home with his grandparents, Latham and Lyna Souther. They had purchased the home and moved it 12 blocks, thus saving it from demolition. The Southers lived in the home from 1910 to 1950. Subsequent owners moved the home back to its present location, which is near the original location.
As we toured the rooms of the home, Mr. Stevens told the story of how Iles and others were instrumental in establishing Springfield as the capital of Illinois.
In the 1820s, Sangamo Town challenged Springfield for the location of the state's governmental offices. There were no buildings at Sangamo Town, but the beautiful spot overlooked the Sangamon River.
The sole proprietor of Sangamo Town was William S. Hamilton, the adventurer son of Alexander Hamilton. In 1824, Hamilton was elected state representative on a platform favoring his site. The losing candidate, Jonathan Pugh, went to Vandalia and lobbied for Springfield. The legislature left the final decision to five commissioners. Four of them looked over Springfield and then asked the way to Sangamo Town.
Moving the government to Sangamo Town would have been fatal to the Iles' interests, so he and others arranged to have Andrew Elliott, who was completely familiar with the countryside, to be their guide. Elliott took them on a circuitous route that required the fording of Spring Creek and crossing rough, wet, and brambly terrain on the route to the town, which on paper existed only seven or eight miles northward.
On the return trip, the commissioners asked for a shorter route and were escorted through still rougher country. Once back in Springfield, they were given a hearty dinner by Iles.
Under the circumstances the commissioners made Springfield the permanent county seat and later the capital. Iles and his primary partner, Pascal Enos, deeded the public square to the state and, in compliance with the law, donated thirty-five acres to defray the cost of public buildings. Hamilton sought better luck at the Galena lead mines and California gold fields. Elliott’s name has been forgotten in Springfield. (This more detailed account was taken from A New Eden: The Pioneer Era in Sangamon County, by Robert P. Howard at www.sancohis.org.)
One of the items of interest to us in this Greek Revival-style home was this beautiful desk (next two photos). This work space seems appropriate for the man known as “the father of Springfield.”
The other item of particular interest was this wedding gown. The marriage of Queen Victoria to her cousin Albert of Saxe- Coburg in 1840 has had more influence on weddings than any other. Queen Victoria put the wheels in motion by marrying in white (Kelsey McIntyre,
The History of the White Wedding Dress).
We could not imagine how long it took one or more persons to create this lace.
As we were preparing to leave, Mr. Stevens mentioned that we might want to take a look at the exhibit downstairs before we left. And once again we found ourselves in a location of interest with little time.
Speaking of time....
Here we met Farrel Gay and his collection of watches produced by the Illinois Watch Company. Here was another of Springfield's if not "hidden," then certainly well-disguised, gems under the name of The Farrell and Ann Gay Museum of Springfield History.
Mr. Gay eagerly showed a drawing of the former watch factory in downtown Springfield (photo above), but he was also aware of the approaching time and his tee time with his fellow golfers waiting by the exit.
Mr. Gay gave us a detailed description of some of the unique watches in his collection, but I clearly needed more time just to learn the vocabularly of this craft. An octagon-shaped watch face is shown here.
These examples of "off-set" watches were a type that I had not seen before. I can't remember if Mr. Gay mentioned the reason for off-setting the faces.
This Illinois Police Special watch is very rare--only three are known to exist. It features a policeman's cap and night stick on the face.
This pocket watch was just one of the ones I caught a quick glimpse of as we rushed through the exhibit.
Another attraction to add to our "Must-Return-To" list.