Category Archives: Ethnic groups

First Black U of I trustee

John J. Bird became the first African-American trustee of the University of Illinois more than a decade before the school even had any Black students. Bird’s tombstone in Oak Ridge Cemetery doesn’t mention that distinction, but its text does include … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Education, Higher education, Illinois capital, Politics, Prominent figures, State government, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

First school for Black children

Springfield’s Colored Baptist Church created what apparently was the city’s first school open to African-American children in the late 1840s. It was a struggle to keep open, but it took a decade before the city finally opened a public school … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Children, Churches, Education, Local government, Schools and school districts | Leave a comment

Comer Cox, Urban League leader

Comer Cox, the namesake of Comer Cox Park in Springfield, was an Alabama native and star athlete in his  youth who went on to lead the Springfield Urban League. Comer Lane Cox was born May 9, 1905, in Athens, Ala. … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Business, Parks, Prominent figures, Social services | Leave a comment

The Krehbiel murals (Illinois Supreme Court)

The first public art Albert Krehbiel created apparently was on the buggies, carriages and delivery wagons his father manufactured in Iowa. His most famous works, however, are the 13 allegorical murals that decorate the Illinois Supreme Court Building in Springfield. … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Architecture, Arts and letters, Buildings, Illinois capital, State government | Leave a comment

Statehouse entrance revamped (1885-86)

For the first decade of its existence, people entering the east doors of the Illinois Statehouse had to stagger up a massive “grand staircase” to the building’s second floor. That changed in the 1880s, thanks to what was cutting-edge technology … Continue reading

Posted in Architecture, Buildings, Disasters, Fires, Historic Sites, Illinois capital, Irish, John T. Stuart, Local government, Prominent figures, State government | Leave a comment

New Dennis Williams portrait (a detective story)

This article first appeared in the November 2021 edition of Historico, the newsletter of the Sangamon County Historical Society. You can become a Historico subscriber: see below. Dennis Williams was a rarity in 1880s Springfield: a successful African American artist … Continue reading

Posted in African Americans, Arts and letters, Prominent figures | Leave a comment

First burial of a Japanese

Johei “Joe” Okuhara probably was the first ethnic Japanese to be buried in Springfield, and his also may have been the first Muslim funeral. However, his friends wanted the city to know, he did not live – or die – … Continue reading

Posted in Business, Ethnic groups, Japanese, Media, Prominent figures | Leave a comment

First burial at Oak Ridge Cemetery

  Eliza Helmle, the infant daughter of Carl Albert and Marie Helmle, was the first person buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, according to cemetery records. A handwritten cemetery ledger says Eliza died of “teething” at nine months old; the record … Continue reading

Posted in Children, Germans, Markers, Oak Ridge signs | 2 Comments

‘Bird Lady’: A Lithuanian immigrant mother’s life in Springfield

On the day in 1912 when 16-year-old Mary Ann Yezdauskas arrived in Springfield from Lithuania, her brother took her to the elegant Bressmer’s Department Store to buy a new coat. Then the sister and brother posed together in their finery … Continue reading

Posted in Coal mines and mining, Family life, Lithuanians, Lithuanians, Women | 9 Comments

Skyrocket Inn

What to do after a long day – and night – at the Illinois State Fair? The after-fair, after-hours mecca for everyone from carnies to Hell’s Angels to local movers and shakers was the Skyrocket Inn, right across the street … Continue reading

Posted in Amusements, Business, Hotels & taverns, Illinois State Fair, Lithuanians, Lithuanians, Social life | 3 Comments