MIDTOWN HISTORICAL WALKING TOUR
There are many historical sites located in the Mid-Town area of Springfield that can be seen on an easy walking tour. Here are some suggestions:
1. Start here at the Midtown Carnegie Branch library (formerly the Central Branch Library), on the corner of Jefferson Avenue and Central Street, which is a Historic Site. It was built in 1905. Across Central street from the library is the former First Church of Christ Scientist, another Historic Site, now owned by the City of Springfield.
2. Just across Jefferson Avenue is Central High School, also a Historic Site. Built in 1897 (the west portion of the present building was the original structure) it served as the city's only senior high school until 1956 and is still used today. Its auditorium, built in the 1930s, has served as a center of cultural activities for the entire community ever since. Major additions and renovations have been made to the school in recent years.
3. Continuing east, there's Drury University (founded in 1873) with several historic reminders. Stone Chapel, a landmark since it was built in 1892, is now an Historic Site. Walking through the campus you will also find several markers denoting historic events. One on the east side of Burnham Hall notes the location of Civil War trenches and Indian mounds. A second near the tennis courts at the north end of Drury Lane denotes the site of the old St. Louis Road which cut across the campus and the earthworks made to defend it.
4. Walk north from there between dormitories to Calhoun Street. There, at Washington Avenue, You'll find the Bentley House. This large structure, built in 1892 for businessman J.F.G. Bentley, was used by Drury College for many years. It then served as the home of the Museum of the Ozarks and is now in private ownership. Go west on Calhoun from the Bentley house.
5. St. Johns Episcopal Church on the northeast corner of Division St. and Benton Ave. was built in 1888. On the northwest corner once stood the Shepard house, long occupied by local historian Dr. E.M. Shepard. It, unhappily, was lost to progress.
6. From here, walk west to Boonville Avenue (past Cox Medical center, started as Burge Hospital in 1906) and head south. The site upon which the large Assemblies of God National Headquarters is located has many fond memories for Springfieldians. It was the site of White City Park which offered amusement rides and contained the ball field where the St. Louis farm team, the Springfield Cardinals, once played baseball in the 1930s.
7. As you walk south on Boonville Avenue on the east side of the street you will pass another Historic Site, opposite Pipkin Middle School, where Germania Hall, built in 1910 for use by fraternal organizations, once stood. The site is now a parking lot.
8. The next site, declared as the first Historic Site by the Greene County Historic Sites Board, is the Courthouse, built in 1912. Stop and take a look at the rotunda if you have time. The stone pillars you'll notice on the lawn came from the previous courthouse on the square.
9. Drop another block south, then, to City Hall, another Historic Site. You might be interested as you go that the first ice cream soda was reportedly concocted at the drugstore just north of City Hall. Go inside City Hall and take a look at the work that's been done to restore the interior to its heyday, including the restoration of the City Council chambers on the third floor. Built in 1894 as a Federal Building and Post Office, it became City Hall in 1938 when the new Federal Building was built to the north. (Now the Busch Building). The History Museum for Springfield and Greene County is located on the third floor. If you have time, stop to look.
10. When you come out of City Hall, look to the south across Chestnut Expressway for another Historic Site, the small, white Cox House long occupied by photographer Eleanor Cox. It was built in the 1880s.
As you head back toward your starting point, several blocks away you'll be crossing the City Hall parking lot which was once the site of Long Memorial Park, a favorite stopping place for overnight campers. It was also used as an athletic area at one time by senior high school students.
The tour should take about an hour, depending on whether or not you stop along the way.
When leaving the area, you might want to make a brief stop on Commercial Street for several sites related to the railroad, which first located there when it came in 1870.
A marker on the north side of Commercial Street at Washington Avenue notes the site of the first railroad depot.
The nearby Jefferson Street footbridge, an official Historic Site, was built in 1907. As an aside, snuggled up against the south end of that structure was once the Diemer Theater where Pearl White, the actress well known for "The Perils of Pauline" movies got her start.
Many other sites and markers are scattered throughout the community, (see the downtown area walking tour) as you can see by the list of historical markers and historical sites. Many might be organized into a short driving tour of your own. You should note that some of these sites, especially the homes, are privately owned and not open to the public. These are noted in the list.
Such visits, with time enough for the use of a little imagination to recall what might have been, are both recreational and informational for the entire family.
It's a very enlightening thing to stand in front of the Keet-McElhany house and image the tree-lined Walnut Street during its heydays and the many fine homes on the quiet residential area.
You can't fail to be amazed, as you stand reading a marker at the site of the original Campbell settlement where it all started, how things have changed.
And it's impossible to spend some quiet moments in the midst of the U.S. National Cemetery and really not understand a little better the consequences of the Civil War.
Who knows? If you close your eyes and call your imagination into play you might actually hear:
Even if you don't, it's a lot of fun, and the tours will provide some healthy exercise.
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