Monday, April 02, 2007

Our ancestral hall

Here's my father, David Latham Stevens, giving a tour of The Elijah Iles House, the oldest known residence in Springfield and place known to have been visited many times by Abraham Lincoln. My dad actually lived in the house for a few months in or around 1937. His grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Latham T. Souther, saved the house from demolition in 1910 by moving it to another location and making it their home.

I will be giving tours of the house on April 7th and 14th, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m. both days. I'd be glad to show it to you sometime.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Elijah Iles House opens for the season

The Elijah Iles House, Springfield's oldest known residence, opened for the season on Elijah Iles' birthday, March 28.

The house is open for tours on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 10:00 am to 4:00 pm through October.

Your humble blogger has volunteered to serve as a docent at the house twice a month. I'll keep this blog updated with my schedule, in case you would like to visit me there and get my tour of the house, which is heavy on family history.

Go see the official Elijah Iles House blog for good photos of the house and a closer look at Major Iles' birthday events.

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Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Ford Garage

This is a "before" shot of the Ford Garage in Springfield taken in the Spring of 2005. The building now has been restored to the tune of $5 million according to a story by Lisa Kernek in the State-Journal Register on June 28, 2006.

Its owner, Illinois National Bank, could have simply renovated the structure for far less money. Instead, they restored the building to meet the standards of the National Register of Historic Places.

Vachel Lindsay knew and loved this building. It was built right around the corner from his house, on the northwest corner of 4th and Jackson Streets.

In annotations he left in a copy of Walled Towns by R.A. Cram, Lindsay listed the Ford Garage in Springfield along with Bush Terminal Building, the Times Building, the Golden Door of the Transportation Building, by Louis Sullivan, and the Dana-Thomas House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, as examples of an architectural spirit in the tradition of John Ruskin, an architecture born of the soil like the Gothic in Europe.

"All these are modern forms, born in this soil, yet capable of development in the spirit of Cram's book, or Ruskin's wonderful description of the nature of Gothic," wrote Lindsay around 1920.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Centerpiece for model Springfield

Here's the centerpiece for my model of historic Springfield, the Old State Capitol. This is the building where Abraham Lincoln delivered his ground-breaking "House Divided" speech.

Hopefully, this will be the most intricately detailed model building I'll have to build because it really was a bear. I decided this should be the most detailed model because it is the center around which the rest of my model of historic Springfield will be built.

I'm proudest of the dome and the circle of doric columns below it. The problem-solving involved in creating these forms is what makes this all so interesting to me. I can't wait to see the rest of the town square and the other surrounding blocks as they develop.

I guess I still need steps for the front and back. I'll probably add them with the rest of the landscaping.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Model Springfield is coming

I’m a giant step closer to realizing my long held dream of experiencing a 3-D computer model of historic Springfield. Google has a product called “Sketchup” that makes 3-D modeling easy. They have a beta version available for free downloading. I was able to render a simple log cabin in a few minutes and a rather elaborate model of the Elijah Iles House (shown here) in a few hours after downloading the beta. The pay version is only $20.00 per year (I think) and the pro version is over $400.00. I’m going to see how much I can get done with the beta for now.

What I’d like to see first is a representation of downtown Springfield circa 1856 or thereabouts. We have reams of data about the time & place, including bird’s eye views that are very reliable. We have a lot of surviving structures to model from as well. Eventually, it would be nice to model the appearance of the town longitudinally beginning in 1818, but that would be a gigantic project.

The main challenges at present are getting the terrain as accurate as possible (the downtown area was intersected by deep creek beds before sewers and pavement were introduced), and keeping the models “light,” that is, keeping the models simple enough to keep their data size down without compromising too much realism. To the latter end, I will try to use textures from images instead of modeling minute details into the structures.

There is still much for me to learn. I’ll have to solve problems like terraforming, creating dirt (mud) streets, fashioning domes, etc., but it all seems “doable” now.

I encourage others to take this up and join me in creating models of historic Springfield. This could very well lead to a wonderful tool for students and historians and anybody interested in seeing what Springfield looked like to Lincoln.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A new museum for Springfield

I just now this very moment returned home from the christening of the premier exhibit of The Farrell & Ann Gay Museum of Springfield History, "Time to Remember", in the basement of The Elijah Iles House. "Time To Remember" features the wristwatches & other memorabilia of the Illinois Watch Company from Mr. Gay's collection.

It was the christening of a museum in a city that seems to be becoming a museum capitol. (I wonder how Springfield's museum floor area per capita compares to Chicago or New York or Paris?) This latest of Springfield's many museums is the first ever dedicated to the history of Springfield herself. It is a rich history indeed.

A facet of that history is the Illinois Watch Company which set the standard for timepieces during the late 19th Century and early 20th. Mr. Gay's collection of fine Illinois watches sets a high bar for future exhibits in this new museum named for him and his wife.

He gave a touching speech at what must have been for him a peak moment in his life. Mr. Gay mentioned that it was his "less collectible material," the company letters, letters of employees to other employees, the photos and especially the faces in the photos that he found so fascinating.

The exhibit is about so much more than watches. The Illinois Watch Company was a model employer in the industrial era. As one of the displays relates, a former employee remarked that the watch factory was the ideal place of employment because you couldn't manufacture precision instruments in a grimy, unlit place. The factory featured its own observatory so the company could measure the accuracy of its watches with its own data. Besides watches, the exhibit features the original factory signage that stood above its front entrance for decades, great block letters spelling out "Illinois Watch Co" in a beautiful font.

For museum afficianados, the presentation of the exhibit is first class. The curators of the exhibit are Ed Russo and Corrine Frisch.

Although there is limited floor area in the museum, the space is open and nicely lit. The new, finely crafted wooden display cases almost overwhelm their contents, but make the most elegant presentation imaginable. At every side is found some array of treasures to behold or some smartly-printed text or photo. The place was filled with people this evening and yet it was suprisingly easy to navigate.

Three cheers to the Gays and their wonderful gift of a museum to our town!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Consul Edward Lewis Baker

Edward Lewis Baker (not to be confused with Edward Dickenson Baker) played a very important and intimate role in the political life of Abraham Lincoln. As editor and proprietor of The Illinois State Journal, Baker served as Lincoln's mouthpiece during the presidential campaign of 1860 and particularly during the period between Lincoln's election in November, 1860 and his inauguration in March, 1861.

Edward L. Baker's relationship with Abraham Lincoln extended beyond politics. Baker was married to Julia Cook Edwards, the daughter of Ninian Wirt Edwards and Elizabeth Todd. Elizabeth Todd was the sister of Mary Todd Lincoln, so Julia was Mrs. Lincoln's niece. The Edward L. Baker family accompanied the Abraham Lincoln family on their trip to Washington D.C. and attended both inaugurals.

Apparently relying on his father-in-law, Ninian W. Edwards, for the necessary funds, E.L. Baker bought The Illinois State Journal in partnership with William Bailhache, and assumed the position of editor in 1855. Edwards, in turn, later found it necessary to borrow money from Lincoln to meet his expenses as he describes them in a letter to the president. Historian Paul Angle, in his book Here I Have Lived, places Lincoln in the office of the Journal editor when receiving the news of his nomination to the Republican presidential ticket in 1860.

Letters in the Library of Congress' Lincoln Papers reveal an intriguing story directly involving Edward Lewis Baker. In 1863, several of Lincoln's influential friends in Springfield were organized by Jesse Dubois to complain to the president about what they viewed as corruption and treachery in the Quartermasters and Commissary departments. Through a letter-writing campaign to the president, Dubois, Hatch, William Yates, Rev. Francis Springer and others accused Ninian W. Edwards (Lincoln's brother-in-law) and William Bailhache (Baker's business partner) of awarding contracts to the enemies of the administration, particularly associates of former Governor Matteson, a Democrat. Edwards, it was pointed out in the letters, voted for Stephen Douglas in the 1860 election and his brother Benjamin Edwards led a bitter revolt within the Republican ranks a few years earlier, finally going over to the Democrats, that led to the estrangement of many long time friends in Springfield.

A letter written by Jacob Bunn to President Lincoln accused Edward L. Baker of profiting from kickbacks for the controversial contracts. It is doubtful that Baker was ever made aware of the accusation. Bunn was Baker's banker in Springfield and used his knowledge of the bank accounts of the accused as evidence, saying they were depositing far more money than their salaries provided.

The Lincoln Papers also include letters written in defense of the accused by Edwards, Bailhache, Baker and Orville Browning.

Refereeing this conflict between his family and his friends took up precious hours of Lincoln's time leading up to and extending beyond the Battle of Gettysburg, and all of the letter-writers are duly apologetic for the imposition. Not wishing to upset his friends or besmirch the honor of his extended family members and their associates, Edwards and Bailhache were replaced and transferred to other duties, which brought a rather angry response from Baker, who continued to lobby on behalf of his friend and business partner.

In 1869 Baker was appointed United States Assessor in Internal Revenue, and in 1873 he was offered the position of U.S. Consul at Buenos Aires, Argentina Republic. He left Springfield for his duties in South America, March 17, 1874. He died in Buenos Aires on July 8, 1897 as a result of an accident. His Argentine friends erected a beautiful monument to him over his grave in the Edwards' family plot at Oak Ridge Cemetary. The bas-relief image of him above is a detail of that monument.

Here are some passages from Paul M. Angle's "Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincoln's Springfield" that mention Baker:

In at least one instance newspaper intemperance resulted in physical violence. Early in September [1858] E.L. Baker, the editor of the Journal, charged John A. McClernand with the authorship of a Register article which he had found offensive. Shortly afterward McClernand met Baker on the street, denied that he had written the article in question, and demanded that he publish a correction of his statement. Baker answered that he had nothing to retract, whereupon McClernand belabored him with his cane until bystanders stopped the fracas.

* * *

But though Lincoln himself was inflexible in his refusal to announce a definite policy, there were other indications of his attitude which observers lost no time in utilizing. One such was the editorial column of the Illinois State Journal, whose editor, E.L. Baker, was a cousin by marriage of Mrs. Lincoln and Lincoln's own friend and supporter. Disclaiming any intention of speaking for the President-elect, Baker left no doubt of his own attitude. Neither South Carolina nor any other state could dissove the Union by passing resolutions to that effect. "Disunion, by armed force, is TREASON," he wrote in an editorial so forceful that it was reprinted all over the country, "and treason must and will be put down at all hazards. This Union is not, will not, and cannot be dissolved until this Government is overthrown by traitors who have raised the disunion flag. Can they overthrow it? We think not. 'They may disturb its peace -- they may disrupt the course of its prosperity -- they may cloud its reputation for stability -- but its tranquility will be restored, its prosperity will return, and the stain upon its national character will be transfered and remain an eternal blot on the memory of those who caused the disorder.' Let the secessionists understand it -- let the press proclaim it -- let it fly on the wings of lightening, and fall like a thunderbolt on those now plotting treason in convention, that the Republican party, that the great North, aided by hundreds of thousands of patriotic men in the slave States, have determined to preserve the Union -- peacably if they can, forcibly if they must!"

* * *

"Within a few months of Lincoln's inauguration Dubios was angered by the administration's coolness towards men he had recommended for office. Herndon compained of Lincoln's slowness in attacking slavery -- "Does he suppose he can crush -- squelch out this huge rebellion by pop guns filled with rose water?" Conkling thought the President weak and half-hearted. Baker of the Journal inveighed against the "dilly-dallying of the Government with the Southern traitors."