John Hay Homes


The John Hay Homes was a 599-unit public housing complex built in 1940 in Springfield and demolished in 1997.

When built, the Hay Homes replaced a slum neighhborhood known as the Badlands, and the townhouse-style complex was designed for middle-class families.

“It was the place to be,” former Springfield Housing Authority chairman Willis Logan — who lived in the complex as a child — told Illinois Issues’ Jennifer Davis in 1997.

“The State Journal, Springfield’s newspaper at the time, ran huge photos showing off the white walls and tiled floors and ‘the modern bathroom, kitchen with electric refrigeration and cooking appliances,'” Davis reported. “They were beautiful, coveted apartments.”

However, changes in federal housing policy over the ensuing decades led to complexes like the Hay Homes becoming pockets of poverty and crime.

“The development’s deterioration accelerated in the 1980s with the crack cocaine epidemic and the exodus of many working and moderate-income households,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in 2002. “In a 1999 press release, the Springfield Housing Authority (SHA) described the original John Hay Homes as a ‘drug and violence plagued development’ that was ‘Springfield’s most visible ghetto during its final decades.'”

Original Hay Homes plaque

Original Hay Homes plaque

The former Hay Homes neighborhood (11th to 16th streets and Jefferson to Reynolds streets) now is  a mixed-use development, Madison Park Place, that contains 144 rental units and 50 rent-to-own homes. The State Journal-Register in 2009 declared Madison Park Place “a visible victory” in public housing improvement.

The only tangible remembrance of the Hay Homes in Madison Park Place is the original plaque from the Hay Homes’ opening, which has been reinstalled on a brick column at the entrance to a pocket park in the 1400 block of East Madison Street.

jhayWho was John Hay? John Milton Hay (1838-1905) was one of Abraham Lincoln’s secretaries as president; he later co-wrote a 10-volume biography of Lincoln. He also was secretary of state under Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, a period during which he helped negotiate the end of the Spanish-American War. As a young man, Hay was educated for about two years in Springfield and clerked for his uncle, Milton Hay, whose law office was next-door to Lincoln’s.

More information:

  • “The Last Goodbye: End of an Era at Springfield’s Oldest Housing Complex,” The State Journal-Register, Jan. 24, 1997
  • Oral history interview of John Crisp, Springfield jazz musician who grew up in the John Hay Homesbridge

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4 Responses to John Hay Homes

  1. I just wished that there were a lot of blacks that would stand up for not only themselves but the life of others. I grew up in the John Hay Homes, and there is where I went to church services and got to know the holy Bible. I heard that the housing authority in Springfield was given a grant in the amount of 50,000 dollars that was not spent on the units. That is why it is so hard for those that are black to receive anything. I pray that things will get better for the future of our coming generation.

    • Youlanda Williams says:

      I grew up in the John Hay Homes, and I have great memories. People use to look out for other people’s children, hang out, music playing, and going to Bob’s grocery store. He was nice to everybody, and seemed to know everyone. I never felt like we were poor. I also remember the bus picking us up to go to church.

  2. Bob Gleeson says:

    I too grew up in the Hays Homes. I went to Palmer and SS Peter and Paul’s schools. I was born at St Johns and lived in the Hays homes from 1958 until 1971. It was a great place to live as an adolescent. The fountains by the rec. building. Ms. Treat watching over the rec room. Beal’s market. Fred and Joe Rechner’s bakery on Reynolds.. Taft Dairy on 11th St. Campo’s market at 12th and Carpenter and the mean little Italian gal that used to sale us penny candy. The Olsen Bros. carnival used to park the carnival train on the Madison St. railroad tracks and the pull all the cars out to the fair. I used to stand on Madison St. and look west wondering what was at the end of that road and oddly enough we ended up moving to West Mason St., the exact place I used to wonder about. Those were simpler times. Everything seemed slow motion. People were friendly and cared about one another. No matter what race you were. We’d sit outside and listen to people playing their music. I can still hear James Brown blasting from a neighbors record player. These were the times of racial unrest but that didn’t seem to matter in my little world. I was color blind. It was tough though, when MLK was killed. There was a lot of anger amongst the black folks. Justifiably so. But we were never made to be fearful. Just saddened by the grief that my black friends felt, and that I didn’t understand. Anyway, these are memories that I share with my grandchildren whenever we drive west on Madison, heading down that road that I used to stand at, wondering what was at the end of it.

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