History of the Area

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.

On March 4, 1830, the Campbells camped near a spring or natural well. John P. Campbell wanted the land around the spring for his farm. So, he took out his knife and carved his name on a nearby ash tree. The land around the spring and the tree was now his. This spot is near what is now Founder's Park.

Incorporation of Springfield

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.

Civil War Battles

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 When they returned to Springfield, the Confederates had withdrawn.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 Battlefieldin 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's Contributions to Springfield

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 66 

When 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. Each year in August, Springfield brings in visitors from around the globe to celebrate the Birthplace of Route 66 Festival

The Ozark Jubilee

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.