Not only is Springfield's geographic location at the center of the country, but on more than a few occasions this town has found itself smack dab in the middle of history. From the Louisiana Purchase to the Civil War, from the railroad to the famous Route 66 - it all happened here and made Springfield what it is today.
The territory known as Missouri was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Soon after, the Delaware Native Americans received treaty land where Springfield's Sequiota Park and the antique stores of its Galloway Village stand today. To the west, 500 Kickapoo Native Americans built their wickiups on the prairie that still bears their name. Missouri became a state in 1821.
In 1833, the legislature designated most of the southern portion of Missouri a single county. It was named for Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene, largely through John Polk Campbell's campaign to honor a man he admired. A Tennessee homesteader, Campbell was the founder of Springfield, announcing his claim in 1829. Springfield was incorporated in 1838.
In 1838, the Cherokee were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia, then moved to the 'Indian Territory.' The move became known as the Trail of Tears due to the thousands of Cherokee deaths on the journey and those who perished as a result of the relocation. The Trail of Tears traveled through the Springfield area via what is known today as the Old Wire Road. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail auto tour route is along Interstate 44 westward to U.S. 160 (West By-pass in Springfield) and westward along U.S. 60.
The Old Wire Road, then known as the Military Road, served until the mid-1840s as a connection between Springfield and the garrison at Fort Smith, Arkansas. By 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage began utilizing the road offering passage to California. Two years later, the region's first telegraph line was strung along the road at which time it was dubbed the Telegraph or Wire Road. The road proved vital during the Civil War, and its most historic connection is to the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. While portions of the road exist today, the most easily accessible is within Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.
With civil war imminent, Springfield was divided in its sentiments. On August 10, 1861, army units clashed near Wilson's Creek, the site of the first major battle west of the Mississippi River, involving about 5,400 Union troops and 12,000 Confederates.
General Nathaniel Lyon was killed, the first Union general to die in combat. The Confederates were victorious. Union troops fell back to Lebanon, then Rolla, and regrouped. When they returned to Springfield, the Confederates had withdrawn. The battle led to increased military activity in Missouri and set the stage for the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862.
The National Park Service, recognizing the significance of the battle, designated Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in 1960. The 1,750-acre battlefield remains greatly unchanged and stands as one of the most historically pristine battle sites in the country.
Battle of Springfield - For two years following the Battle of Wilson's Creek, possession of the city seesawed. Then in January 1863, Confederate forces under General John S. Marmaduke advanced toward the town square and battle ensued. As evening approached, the Confederates withdrew. The next morning, the Confederates left town and General Marmaduke sent a message to Union forces asking for proper burials for Confederate casualties. The city would stay under Union control until the end of the war.
Two years after the war ended, the Springfield National Cemetery was created. The dead of both the North and the South interred there, though separated by a low stone wall.
In the wake of the Civil War, Springfield helped give birth to the Wild West era. In July 1865, the town square was the site of the nation's first-recorded shootout. The incident between 'Wild Bill' Hickok and Davis Tutt was also significant due to the incredible marksmanship exhibited by â€œWild Billâ€ that made him known worldwide.
Following a poker game in Kelly Kerr Saloon on Park Central Square, Tutt claimed Hickok owed him money and took his pocket watch as collateral. Tutt claimed he would wear it in public to show that Hickok didn't pay his debts.
The next day from 75 yards away, Tutt fired a shot at Hickok, barely missing his head. Hickok fired back and killed Tutt with a bullet through the heart. The event made nationwide news.
On April 21, 1870, the St. Louis-San Francisco line rolled through Springfield, establishing a new city, North Springfield, with Commercial Street as its downtown. Commercial and industrial diversification came with the railroads and strengthened the City of Springfield when the two towns merged 17 years later in 1887. Today visitors can enjoy the view from the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, peering below to the locomotive path which is still in use.
Officially recognized as the birthplace of Route 66, it was in Springfield on April 30, 1926, that officials first proposed the name of the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway. In 1938, Route 66 became the first completely paved transcontinental highway in America stretching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast.
Traces of the Mother Road are still visible in downtown Springfield along Kearney Street, Glenstone Avenue, College and St. Louis streets and on Missouri 266 to Halltown. The red booths and gleaming chrome in mom-and-pop diners, the stone cottages of tourist courts and the many service stations along this route saw America fall in love with the automobile.
Springfield mixes its past with the future as historic Route 66 borders the downtown Jordan Valley Park. The road that once was to be the east/west thoroughfare for travelers in a hurry to get their destinations now serves sightseers who take a more relaxed pace and savor every detail.
Explorers coming through Springfield can choose from two original routes: the colorful downtown area, site of the city's square and several historic events; or bypass the city on the north side.
We encourage our guests to take a moment and enjoy the interesting shops and creative eateries that surround the historic downtown area. Here you will enjoy a variety of of delicious cuisines, flea markets, novelty stores, boutiques and night clubs.
While you're enjoying the downtown area, be sure to stop by the Route 66 Information Center at 815 E. St. Louis Street (directly on the route) to pick up a Route 66 scavenger hunt, learn about Route 66 history and other things to see and do in Springfield, and even pick up a souvenir from your trip.
The first national country music show on television was broadcast by ABC from Springfield from 1955 until 1960. The show is credited with popularizing country music and featured well-known performers, including Red Foley, Speedy Haworth, Brenda Lee, Porter Wagoner and Slim Wilson.