City & Area History
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 stands today.
Missouri became a state in 1821. In the mid- to late 1820s, two brothers from Tennessee – John Polk and Madison Campbell – along with several other homesteaders, went on a prospecting trip to southwest Missouri. The area was then populated by the Kickapoo, Delaware and Osage.
Another set of brothers from Tennessee, John and William Fulbright, took up 160 acres of land near Jones Springs in February 1830. William is credited for erecting the first cabin in what would become Springfield near the 1200 block of West College Street in February 1830. A marker was set in the retaining wall on the south side of College Street in the 1200 block by the University Club in 1929.
In 1833, Campbell donated 50 acres for the construction of a town, with two acres designated as the public square. Lots were sold to new settlers and Campbell began the organization of Greene County. By 1835, approximately 500 people lived in Springfield. The town was incorporated in 1838.
Trail of Tears
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.
Old Wire Road
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, Ark. By 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage began utilizing the road and 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.
Civil War Battles of Wilson’s Creek and Springfield
With civil war imminent, Springfield was divided in its sentiments. On Aug. 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.
Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was killed and was 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.
For two years following the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, possession of the city seesawed. Then in January 1863, Confederate forces under Gen. 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 Gen. Marmaduke sent a message to Union forces asking for proper burials for Confederate casualties. The city would remain under Union control until the end of the war. Twelve markers placed throughout the battleground in downtown Springfield commemorate where defenses were organized, troops gathered supplies, injured soldiers were hospitalized and homes were burned.
Visit springfield1863.org for more information.
“Wild Bill” Hickok
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 “Wild Bill” that made him known worldwide.
Following a poker game in the Lyon House on South Street, 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.
Arrival of the Railroad and a Tale of Two Springfields
On April 21, 1870, the St. Louis-San Francisco line constructed its railroad through an area north of Springfield instead of through Springfield itself, establishing a new city, North Springfield, with Commercial Street as its downtown in 1871. It was also known as North Town or Moon City. The main street through town was Commercial Street and its southern city limits were shared with Springfield at Division Street, named because of the division between the two cities. In 1887, Springfield and North Springfield voted to unite as one under the name of Springfield. Commercial and industrial diversification came with the railroads and strengthened the City of Springfield when the two towns merged 17 years later in 1887.
John T. Woodruff
John T. Woodruff’s (1868-1949) influence on the Ozarks landscape is nothing short of legendary. In Springfield, he was instrumental in securing the site for the new Springfield Normal School (now Missouri State University). He was the principal player in the development of the Frisco Shops in Springfield. He formed his own real estate and development company and was the driving force behind the development of the O’Reilly Hospital, the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds and the U.S. Federal Medical Center.
Woodruff built the Colonial Hotel (razed in 1997) in 1907, the Sansone Hotel (now The Sterling) and the Woodruff Building (now Sky Eleven) in 1911, and the Kentwood Arms (now MSU's Kentwood Hall) in 1926. The 10-story Woodruff office building featured a drugstore, barbershop, pool hall and two elevators. It was so tall that the newspaper warned residents about their hats falling off if they looked up at the ‘skyscraper.’ Woodruff also constructed and developed the Hickory Hills golf course in Springfield.
Outside of Springfield his influence was felt in the construction of Powersite Dam (Lake Taneycomo), Norfolk Dam and Bagnell Dam. When Lake of the Ozarks was formed he was active in the planning, layout and development of the town of Camdenton.
Birthplace of Route 66When Woodruff got together with Cyrus Avery (chairman of the Oklahoma Highway Commission and a former Missourian who had worked on highway problems in both Missouri and Oklahoma) to promote a designated highway route from Chicago to Los Angeles, they envisioned a cross-country road through the heart of business districts in the towns it would connect.
By September of 1925 the route was described as connecting Chicago, Bloomington and Springfield in Illinois; St. Louis, Rolla, Springfield and Joplin in Missouri; Vinita, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, El Reno and Sayre in Oklahoma; Amarillo in Texas; Tucumcari, Santa Fe, Los Lunas and Gallup in New Mexico; Holbrook and Flagstaff in Arizona; and Barstow and Los Angeles in California. In each of those cities it was to be routed through the heart of their business districts and/or public squares.
When the route became a reality, the next big hurdle was to give the road its designated number. Two factions were fighting, each championing its own desired number. To resolve the conflict, Woodruff invited Avery to meet with him and B. H. Piepmeier, State Highway Engineer of Missouri, at Woodruff’s office on April 30, 1926. They hashed out a compromise involving an entirely new number and sent a historic telegram to Washington D.C. declaring the new road as Route 66.
Woodruff had the vision to see what the new road would mean to Springfield and built his new Kentwood Arms just east of the square on St. Louis Street, which became the designated route of Route 66 through the square. He opened the hotel in July of 1926. He also told M.E. Gillioz about the many travelers the street would soon have, and so when Gillioz constructed his theatre on Olive Street, he purchased a storefront on St. Louis Street two doors down from the Woodruff Building to be its lobby so that it would front on the new “Main Street of America.” Probably not by coincidence, the Gillioz Theatre held its grand opening on the very day that Route 66 was officially commissioned—Nov. 11, 1926
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 west 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.
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.
Springfield mixes its past with the future as historic Route 66 borders the downtown Jordan Valley Park.
The City of Springfield is designating the section of College Street that was once part of Route 66 as a historical area. A roadside park celebrating its Route 66 past by incorporating memories of local Route 66 landmarks is part of the redevelopment plans for the area.
The Route 66 Park will include picnic areas; a walking trail and water feature; a replica of a Route 66-era filling station that will serve as a visitor information center; a relocated motor court cottage and sign replica; a Route 66 sculpture; and replicas of other local landmark signs.