Groves of mature hardwood trees figured frequently in the history of Sangamon County. Robert Pulliam, considered the first European inhabitant of the county, set up his first encampment in a grove of sugar maples on what became known as Sugar Creek in 1817. He wintered there in a log shelter and spent the following spring boiling down sap for sugar.
The landscape of Sangamon County then was a mix of open grasslands, dense forests (found usually along the stream courses, where they were sheltered from prairie fires) and open woods on the uplands. Some of the last were conspicuous as islands of trees in seas of grass.
In local towns, “grove” came to mean any sizable clump of mature trees left in a landscape that was quickly becoming stripped of them. Many of these were remnants of savanna, a ecological subtype consisting of scattered nature trees on open ground. In such places, the undergrowth of tall grasses and shrubby trees typical of forest was cleared by fire set by lightning or by Native American hunters; later, competing plants were retarded by the nibbling of cattle belonging to Euro-American settlers. Such was the case of the stand of handsome oaks that shelter the play area in Springfield’s Washington Park.
Sangamon Countians found such spots to be perfect spots for outings, from camp meetings and holiday picnics to speeches, rallies, and revivals. Some notable groves included:
Buffalo Hart Grove
Buffalo Hart Township in the northeastern part of the county was named for Buffalo Hart Grove, where the first settlers made their homes.
Much of the western fringes of the Springfield were still heavily wooded as late as the 1860s, when public official George Forquer built a house in what became known as Forquer’s Grove on Market Street (now Capitol Avenue) between Second and Third streets.
The same stretch of woods was described by old settler Elijah Iles: “Deer were very plenty. They trailed through the town, up the town branch, halting in a grove where now stands the governor’s mansion; and if we wanted fresh venison for breakfast the Kelley boys would go to the grove early and kill a deer.”
In the early 19th century, Harlan’s Grove (which later became Irwin’s Park), was a popular gathering place. Named for land owner Silas Harlan, it was a half-mile east of Illinois 4 about halfway between Chatham and Auburn.
Island Grove Township is the site of the grove of that name. Eight miles long and one mile wide on average, the grove sprawled along a branch of Spring Creek in the northern part of the township.
Springfield’s Kessler’s Grove at the west end of Reynolds Street (probably east of Walnut) was the site on Sept. 18, 1856, of a rally for President James Buchanan, where partisans were treated to speeches by the likes of Stephen A. Douglas.
The city of Leland Grove was named for a popular picnic spot on the Jerome Leland farm southwest of Springfield.
Watson Grove/Mather’s Grove
A stand of old walnut trees southwest of what now is Second and Monroe streets was first known as Watson Grove after John B. Watson, who settled on the property in 1829. When the land was purchased by Thomas S. Mather, it became known as Mather Grove or Mather’s Grove.
In 1854 a noted abolitionist came to Springfield to denounce the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Deemed too radical to be allowed to use the statehouse rotunda for his speech, he spoke instead in Mather’s Grove, on a platform built for the purpose by local supporters of Henry Clay. Lincoln was present then too, and was reported to have relaxed on the grass during the speech, whittling.
Less than 10 years later, this spot would be proposed by Springfield city officials as the setting for the tomb of President Abraham Lincoln. However, Mary Lincoln was determined that her husband be buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Her decision left Mather’s Grove open to be chosen as the site of the present Statehouse.
Two thousand Whigs and Conservatives reportedly gathered at Porter’s Grove off Jefferson Street near Walnut Street on Sept. 29, 1838 for a picnic to celebrate the election of John T. Stuart to Congress; Abraham Lincoln spoke, among several others.
Sugar Tree Grove
Sugar Tree Grove, bounded by First, Klein, Mason and Madison streets, was “a pretty sugar tree grove” where barbecues were held and where volunteers were mustered for the Winnebago War in 1828, according to Zimri Enos’ reminiscences. ” I was so dazzled and captivated by this splendid display and my military enthusiasm was aroused, that for a good while after I spent my time, slaying Indians, galloping around our lot a-straddle of my stick horse, with a chick feather in my hat and a splinter for a sword tied with a string to my side.”
Contributor: James Krohe Jr.
Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincoln’s Springfield, by Paul M. Angle, 1971
Past And Present of the City of Springfield and Sangamon County Illinois, by Joseph Wallace, 1904
Sketches of Early Life and Times in Kentucky, Missouri and Illinois, by Maj. Elijah Iles, 1883
“1860 Place Names,” Lincoln’s Springfield, by Richard E. Hart, 2007
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