"Here I have lived"; a history of Lincoln's Springfield, 1821-1865, by Paul M. Angle.
Angle, Paul M. (Paul McClelland), 1900-1975.
Page  144


Making a Living

JUBILATION over the acceleration of business which followed the location of the state offices in Springfield did not blind the people to basic economic realities. There was still the problem of transportation and the farmers' surplus. However, even here there seemed to be reason for optimism. The Internal Improvement System had collapsed in the panic of 1837, but one railroad was under construction, and part of it at least would be finished. That was the Northern Cross, originally planned to extend from Quincy to the Indiana line. It was obvious that funds would be exhausted long before these termini were reached, but its completion from the Illinois River to Springfield appeared to be a certainty.

Surveys for the Northern Cross had started in November, 1837. Six months later the first rail was put in place at Meredosia. By the summer of 1839 the track had been laid for twelve miles east of the Illinois River, and grading was in progress in the neighborhood of Springfield. On January 1, 1840, the road was finished as far as Jacksonville, but more than a year elapsed before the extension to Springfield was completed. The first train ran into the new capital on February 15, 1842.

To the optimists of the Sangamo country—and in 1842 almost everyone could be called by that name—the Northern Cross seemed to carry a definite promise of prosperity. "The Page  145 road passes for sixty miles through the richest portion of Illinois," the Journal observed, "and the vast surplus produce of the counties of Morgan, Sangamon, Logan, Christian, DeWitt, Macon, and a considerable portion of Shelby, will seek a market over the lines of this road. In addition to this all the merchandise for the supply of these counties will be brought in on the road. The facilities for cheap and expedi|tious travelling to the thousands who visit and pass through this city annually, will furnish also a large item of income."

At first the fulfillment of this promise seemed likely. Springfield merchants loaded quantities of flour and pork on the cars for the New Orleans market, and passengers, excited by the prospect of reaching Jacksonville in two hours and ten minutes, flocked to the trains. In one day 205 barrels of flour and thirty passengers left Springfield for Meredosia. In comparison with stage and wagon rates, tariffs were low. Passengers were charged $2.50 for the entire trip, while the freight on a barrel of flour to the Illinois River was only twenty cents. "We think our citizens ought to hold a cele|bration on account of the opening of the road," said the editor of the Register.

But disillusionment came quickly. In less than two months there was open complaint that the facilities of the road were too limited to move the crops of the tributary country. It was estimated that unless equipment were greatly increased, three months would be required to move the surplus stored in Springfield alone. Moreover, as soon as the first excitement wore off, sober heads realized that at best the Northern Cross could be no more than a very shaky bridge across Springfield's economic slough of despond. New Orleans was the market for the Sangamon country. But in the spring New Orleans was flooded with the produce of the lower Ohio and upper Mississippi valleys, and prices became so low that the farmer often received almost nothing. To be sure of a quick sale at a good price, flour and hogs had to reach the city on Page  146 the Gulf in advance of the spring torrent of farm products. But this was possible only when the shipper had ready access to the Mississippi which, below St. Louis, was rarely blocked with ice. What good could come of a railroad to the Illinois River, likely to be ice-blocked during the most important months of the shipper's year? Was a surplus any less a sur|plus in the warehouses of Meredosia than in those of Spring|field?

By the summer of 1842 unrest among the farmers was proof of the failure of the Northern Cross as a solution of the transportation problem. In communications to the news|papers farmers were pointing to the difference between the price of wheat in Springfield and other cities. With thirty-three cents a bushel being paid in Springfield, wheat was quoted in Philadelphia and New York at from $1.00 to $1.25, yet the cost of transportation was only fifty cents. Dark looks were cast in the direction of the merchants. "Many of the farmers in advance of the harvest go in debt to the merchants," said the Register, "giving their obliga|tions to discharge those debts with wheat at the Springfield prices. The merchants having thus bound the farmers, hands and feet, fix the Springfield prices at the very lowest notch. . . . The merchant buys the farmer's wheat—he employs the farmer to haul it to Alton or Chicago, and of course makes a profit. If the farmer had hauled it to Alton or Chi|cago without selling to the merchant here, the profit would be his. . . . Wheat is now selling for one-third more in St. Louis than in this city, and the mechanic in Springfield has to pay the merchant more for flour than it is sold for at St. Louis."

In August, the farmers of the county met in Springfield to discuss remedies. Some favored the organization of a county society to market their wheat; others preferred neighborhood groups for the same purpose. In the end, how|ever, the participants contented themselves with adopting Page  147 resolutions blaming most of their troubles on the absence of good money; asserting that if the merchants attempted to make an exorbitant profit at their expense it would be their duty to organize and market their product themselves; and calling on the more prosperous among them to hold back crops so that the needy could dispose of theirs at better prices. Needless to say, neither merchants, farmers, nor the price of wheat responded to the appeal.

As time went on, the failure of the Northern Cross be|came glaringly apparent. Its physical equipment was primi|tive. In building the road ties had been laid on mud sills with|out ballast. Spiked to the ties were oak "stringers," on which narrow strap iron rails one-half inch thick were fastened. The ends of the strap iron were mitred so that each rail would take the weight of the wheel before it had left the preceding rail, but this precaution failed, after a time, to prevent the ends from curling. Sometimes the ends curved higher than the wheel center, and became what were known as "snake heads." Underrun by the wheels, they shot up through the flimsy cars, and sometimes through an unfortunate pas|senger or member of the train crew.

The passenger coaches were short, stubby, and similar in appearence to an old-fashioned omnibus. Smooth benches ex|tending lengthwise along the car served for seats. Lacking divisions or handholds, any sudden lurch was likely to pre|cipitate the passenger half the length of the car, or hurl him in a heap on the floor. No conveniences of any sort were provided.

Uncertainty, however, rather than discomfort and dan|ger, was the railroad's greatest defect. The two engines were wood-burners, with an amazing consumption capacity for their small size. Not infrequently the passengers had to pitch in and saw to make up a deficiency at one of the wood stations. Water was another problem. Tanks were far apart, and too often the supply ran out between them. Then the Page  148 passengers had to trudge back and forth, each with two buckets, between the stalled train and the nearest well— sometimes miles away—until the tank was filled. In the winter other difficulties arose. Water was conveyed from tender to boiler by a leather hose which froze in cold weather. When this happened the crew had to build a fire under it to thaw it out. If the leather cracked under the heat, as it was likely to do, the train was hopelessly stalled, and the pas|sengers were compelled to wait for long, cold hours until the other engine made its appearance.

The financial history of the Northern Cross shows the rapid rate of its disintegration vividly. The state of Illinois accepted it from the contractors on May 13, 1842, and im|mediately leased it to private operators at an annual rental of $10,300. Two months later the lessees surrendered their lease. S. M. Tinsley & Co. were then persuaded to lease it at the rate of $6,000 in par funds and $4,000 in depreciated state indebtedness per year. At the end of twelve months they cancelled their lease. In April, 1844, the road was offered for sale, but when no purchaser could be found, it was rented to C. Ludlum and W. D. Baxter for $160 per month. But by this time the locomotives, far away from repair shops, had become so decrepit that they could barely crawl. Finally they were abandoned altogether, and mules, hitched tandem fashion, pulled the occasional load of freight that was offered.

One result of the collapse of the railroad was an attempt to conquer prairie distances without benefit of track and ties. When James Semple of Alton completed a term in the United States Senate in the spring of 1847 he set to work on a steam-propelled conveyance which could be operated on the flat prairies of Illinois. Using parts from one of the discarded Northern Cross engines as a nucleus, he constructed what he called a "Prairie Car." Measuring forty feet in length and twenty feet in width, the frame was strong enough to accommodate fifty passengers and to sustain the weight of a Page  149 steam engine which applied power to wheels six feet in dia|meter and nearly that wide. In the center was a tall mast with a large canvas sail which was to be used when the wind was in the right direction.

After a number of short trial trips, Semple announced that the Prairie Car would make a distance run from Springfield to Alton. At the appointed time so many would-be passengers were clinging to the framework that lots had to be drawn to determine who would make the trip. Finally, in a cloud of smoke, the contrivance started. At first all went well. Then, near Chatham, something broke, the car stalled, and to com|plete the disappointment a brisk shower broke. The trip was abandoned and the crowd trudged back to Springfield, wet and disillusioned. Semple continued his efforts for several years, but never came nearer to success than on this first attempt at a long distance run.

Another result of the failure of the Northern Cross was that Springfield had to depend entirely on stages for pas|senger travel and mails. Here the years had brought some improvement. More trips were scheduled, fares were lower, better stages were in use, and the bridging of many streams saved time and reduced the hazards of travel. In 1842 Frink & Walker advertised departures for Peoria and thence via Peru, Ottawa, Joliet and Lockport to Chicago daily except Sunday at four A. M. The fare to Peoria was $4.00; to Chicago $12.00; and passengers were promised a through trip in three days "without riding nights." Every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday stages left for Burlington by way of Peoria, Knoxville and Oquawka; and for Galena via Peoria and Dixon's Ferry. The fare to the former destina|tion was $9.00; to the latter $13.00. Passengers were prom|ised "first rate Troy built coaches" with four horses, and if notice were given the night before, travelers would be picked up at their homes.

In the summer stage coach travel was often a source of Page  150 keen pleasure. In the days of railroads Isaac N. Arnold re|called the agreeable aspects of some of the trips he had made from Chicago to attend the summer sessions of the United States courts at Springfield—"a four-in-hand with splendid horses, the best of Troy coaches, good company, the ex|hiliration of great speed over an elastic road, much of it a turf of grass, often crushing under our wheels the most beautiful wild flowers, every grove fragrant with blossoms, framed in the richest green, our roads not fenced in by nar|row lanes, but with freedom to choose our route; here and there a picturesque log cabin covered with vines; the boys and girls on their way to the log schools, and the lusty farmer digging his fortune out of the rich earth . . ."

But even in the summer, when conditions were best, travel often became both uncomfortable and hazardous. "Some|times," said Arnold, "a torrent of rain would in a few hours so swell the streams that the log bridges and banks would be entirely submerged, and a stream which a few hours before was nearly dry, became a foaming torrent. Fording, at such times, was never agreeable, and sometimes a little danger|ous."

In the winter travel by any means was likely to be a night|mare. Roads were still mere tracks across the prairies, which became quagmires in the winter rains and snows. Even the mails, which were given precedence, came through at un|predictable times. As late as 1849, during a spell of bad weather, six days were required to bring one small mail from St. Louis. At times like this passenger travel was a succes|sion of dangers. Coaches mired or overturned, ran off bridges submerged by swollen streams, or plunged into flooded creeks only to find out—too late—that the bridge had washed out. Discomfort and vexation were certain concomitants of win|ter travel, with injury and even death never beyond possi|bility.

That a growing community would be content with such Page  151 means of transportation was not to be expected. Even be|fore the Northern Cross had stopped running there was sporadic agitation for more and better railroad facilities. This time a connection with Alton, by means of a road which would join the old line at New Berlin, was the goal. In the main the argument, as always, was economic. Under the most favorable conditions, said the Journal in 1845, it cost 15 cents to transport a bushel of wheat from Sangamon County to St. Louis. If a railroad were built from Jacksonville and Springfield to Alton, the cost could be reduced to 8 cents a bushel. James N. Brown of New Berlin, a leading advocate of the road, estimated that the farmers of Sangamon County lost from $1.50 to $2.00 on every hog they drove to Alton, while the cost of shipping by rail would not exceed 50 cents.

The Register tried to reinforce the economic argument with the threat that unless steps were taken to improve trans|portation facilities, Springfield might expect a determined effort to remove the capital to Peoria. The people, said the editor, "having waded thro' miles and miles of low wet prairie, at times almost impassable, in going to the seat of government for years, . . . begin to desire its location where it will be more easy of access, and more acceptable to the vast body of the people of the State." The only way to prevent Alton from joining the disgruntled element was to take the initiative in building a railroad to that city.

But Springfield and Sangamon County were apathetic. Only ten years had elapsed since the Internal Improvement System had promised a solution for the transportation prob|lem of the entire state—and all the promise had finally amounted to was a few mules drawing an occasional flatcar over rusty strap iron rails. The people were quite willing to agree that the only obstacle to prosperity in central Illinois was the lack of transportation facilities; that northern Il|linois, with no greater natural advantages, was attracting a disproportionate share of settlers because of its superior Page  152 accessibility—but if railroads were to be built, they preferred to have someone else put up the money.

Indifference, however, failed to stifle the enthusiasts. Early in 1847 a charter for the Springfield and Alton railroad was secured from the legislature. In May subscription books were opened in Springfield, public meetings were held, and in|fluential citizens wrote open letters to the newspapers urging the people to subscribe. Abraham Lincoln and nine others, in a letter bearing almost conclusive evidences of Lincoln's style, estimated the annual cost of transportation between St. Louis and Springfield at $132,000, and predicted that the construction of the railroad would decrease the cost of goods purchased, increase the price of goods sold, and enhance the value of real property.

In the midst of this agitation—on April 26, 1847, to be exact—the old Northern Cross was put up for sale at public auction in accordance with a law passed at the last session of the legislature. Nicholas H. Ridgely and Thomas Mather decided that it was a likely speculation. Ridgely started the bidding with an offer of $10,000. There it hung, with no other bids, while the auctioneer called "Going . . . going . . ." at interminable length.

Meanwhile, in a barber shop across from the court house, Col. P. C. Johnson, the only citizen of Springfield who de|scribed himself as a capitalist, heard the crying of the sale. When he learned of the property being offered, he jumped out of the chair and hurried over, arriving just in time to bid $10,100. Ridgely immediately countered with $11,100, to which Johnson promptly added another $100. Thus the bidding went until Ridgely stepped over to his rival.

"Who are you bidding for, Colonel?" he asked. "Your|self or some other party?"

"For parties in St. Louis, who have agreed to pay me a commission," was the answer.

"Would you not as soon receive a commission from Spring|field Page  153 as St. Louis?" Ridgely asked with studied carelessness.

"Certainly, that is satisfactory," the Colonel replied and walked away.

The road was quickly struck off to Ridgely for $21,100. The next day Johnson called, passed the time of day, and silently received a silently proffered check for $1,000.

In a short time Ridgely and Mather disposed of the Northern Cross to a group of Eastern capitalists who felt that the time was finally ripe for railroad building in Illinois. They set to work at once. During the winter of 1847-48 piles of new ties began to accumulate along the right of way, and with spring construction work began in earnest. By mid|summer new track had been laid from Naples to a point near Jacksonville, one engine was in transit and two others had been ordered, a number of freight cars had already been received, and passenger cars were under construction at Cin|cinnati. Even the skeptics were convinced that the road would be in operation within a few months.

Once more rosy forecasts were the order of the day. "A number of new houses are going up," commented the Journal, "and many of the old ones are refitting; and our building mechanics find full employment. The expectation is general that Springfield is about to become a place of considerable importance for produce operations. A great benefit will also result to the country from the Rail Road, by opening a cheap means of communication with the Illinois river, and giving us access, with the aid of the Canal, to the great lake mar|kets."

If this prediction were to come true—and there seemed every likelihood that it would—profound changes in the eco|nomic structure of Springfield and Sangamon County were in prospect. That being the case, the nature of that structure, as it was on the eve of change, becomes of interest.

In comparing the economy of the forties with that of the preceding decade, one is struck by similarities much more Page  154 than by points of difference. Town and country were almost as closely interdependent as they had been ten and fifteen years earlier. The farmer still traded a large part of his crop to local merchants in return for the commodities with which he could not supply himself. That part of his surplus which he either could not or would not dispose of in this way he drove, in the form of hogs, to market at Beardstown or Alton. However, the cost of this sort of transportation was heavy, and only a small profit resulted.

These basic factors in the agricultural scheme had several important results. With no more than a small profit pos|sible under the most favorable conditions, there was no in|centive to bring land under cultivation. In 1839 Simeon Francis stated that most of the desirable land in the neigh|borhood of Springfield had already been entered, but six years later Solon Robinson, the agriculturist, noted that there was an abundance of uncultivated land "within gun shot of the capital." According to the census of 1850, not much more than half the acreage of Sangamon County was being farmed.

Similarly, there was no incentive to intensive cultivation. Farm methods had changed little from earlier years. The cast iron plow had come into fairly common use, but it did not scour readily in the black prairie loam, and many farmers preferred its wooden predecessor. Grain was still sown by hand and cut for the most part with cradles. Fertilizing was unheard of, and manure was considered an embarrassment rather than a source of increased yields. Rotation of crops, said Robinson, "is corn, weeds, hogs, mud and corn."

Because corn could be turned into hogs, and hogs could be driven to market, and because soil conditions and climate were favorable, nearly every farmer put most of his acreage in this one crop. "Our soil, our climate, and the habits of our people are all highly favorable to the production of corn," the Illinois Journal commented in 1849. "This great staple is produced with us, with less labor and attention than Page  155 anywhere else; the quantity raised is incredible. . . . The raising of corn is the favorite pursuit of our farmers, and the many attempts that have been made with us to divert a por|tion of our agricultural industry into other channels have found little success." The census of 1850 provided statistical proof of this statement. In round figures, it reported an annual yield of 100,000 bushels of wheat; 350,000 bushels of rye and oats; and 3,300,000 bushels of corn in Sangamon County. Morgan County, with a yield of 2,700,000 bushels, was the only other county whose corn production exceeded the two million mark.

Although corn far outranked all other crops in importance, there was another agricultural product in which Sangamon stood at the head of the counties of the state. That was wool. With a yield of 120,000 pounds in 1850, Sangamon sur|passed Fulton, its nearest rival, by nearly 40,000 pounds. Being light in weight, wool could be transported at relatively low cost, and Springfield merchants had encouraged the farm|ers of the neighborhood to grow it. More effective, prob|ably, as a stimulus, was the woolen factory in Springfield, which offered an accessible market.

Springfield's industry was determined by the type of agriculture practised in the Sangamon country. Manufac|turing was of relatively small importance, and the character of such as there was derived directly from the neighboring farms. In addition to the wool carding and manufacturing establishment, there were flour mills, pork packing estab|lishments, and distilleries and breweries. Two foundries and two brickyards were the only industries in the town which did not have an obvious relation to the surrounding country. Actually, the chief product of one of the foundries was a cast iron plow, so that in reality there were only three manufacturing establishments whose dependence upon agri|culture was not complete.

Most important among Springfield industries was pork Page  156 packing. In 1845 it was estimated that $60,000 was employed annually in this business, while the capital required for all other manufacturing totalled only $150,000. Pork, cut up, pickled in brine and packed in barrels, was easier to transport than hogs on the hoof. The industry developed at an early date. In 1843 it was said that between 7,000 and 8,000 hogs were killed and packed in the capital, and a factory for making lard-oil—a by-product—was in operation. Still, the industry grew slowly. By 1849 the packing of 15,000 hogs was reported, but it was estimated that 120,000 had been raised in the Springfield district during the preceding winter, and that 52,000 had been killed at Beardstown.

In manufacturing, machinery played an unimportant part. Pork packing and brick making required hand labor, but many more men found occupation in such long-established crafts as cabinet making, cordwaining, carriage and wagon making, boot and shoe making, tailoring, tanning and cooper|ing. In addition there were chair makers, harness and trunk makers, hatters, tin-, copper-, and blacksmiths, watchmakers, and representatives of all the building trades. It is probably safe to say that exclusive of textiles, which were mainly im|ported, the majority of the manufactured articles which a typical resident of Springfield bought in any year from 1840 to 1850 were made by hand within the limits of the city.

Many of the craftsmen sold their products direct to the consumers, and therefore were merchants as well as manu|facturers. Many more, however, devoted themselves entirely to the business of buying and selling. Merchandising was, in fact, the most important occupation of the town, employing more than three times as much capital annually as the manu|facturing establishments.

Specialization had made its appearance in the years which had passed since Elijah Iles had been able to supply all the settlers' needs from one small log store. A directory of Springfield business men published in the summer of 1849 Page  157 lists a number of establishments confining themselves in the main to certain types of goods. Thus Corneau & Diller, and D. & I. P. Spear, dealt in drugs; P. C. Canedy and Birchall & Owen sold not only drugs but books and stationery as well. E. B. Pease & Co. confined themselves to hardware, cutlery and iron, but they were the only firm in Springfield which dealt exclusively in those commodities. There were three bakers and confectioners, three clothing dealers, two jewelers, two butchers and one milliner. Listed also were three livery stables and one bath house. (Concerning the latter the directory commented: "The practice of bathing, has always been regarded as a great security and promoter of health, and it certainly is of comfort and cleanliness.")

Moreover, there was the public market on North Sixth Street where, on certain days of the week, the farmers sold their produce direct to the townspeople. Prices and the com|modities offered differed from time to time, but those which follow—for January 1, 1846—are representative:

  • Beef, fore quarter $1.50
  • Beef, hind quarter $2.50
  • Pork, per pound 3¢—4¢
  • Veal, per pound 2¢—3¢
  • Venison, saddle $1.00 —$1.50
  • Chickens, each 6¢— 8¢
  • Ducks, each 10¢
  • Turkeys, each 25¢—60¢
  • Prairie chickens 6¢
  • Quail, per dozen 25¢—37 ½¢
  • Corn meal, per bushel 25¢
  • Buckwheat flour, per pound 2¢
  • Potatoes, per bushel 25¢
  • Green apples, per bushel $1.25
  • Butter, per pound 12¢
  • Cheese, per pound 8¢
  • Lard, per pound 8¢
  • Tallow, per pound 7¢
  • Eggs, per dozen 20¢

Page  158But for the most part, business remained unspecialized. Thus, in 1849, there were twenty-five establishments deal|ing in dry goods, groceries and general merchandise. Some of these firms conducted both wholesale and retail businesses, and all of them were buyers and exporters of farm products. (The pork packers were simply merchants who chose this method of disposing of the farmers' substitute for ready cash.) Butter, bacon, feathers, lard, beeswax and eggs were readily accepted in exchange for "store goods." In addition, home manufactured articles such as jeans, flannels, linsey|woolseys, socks, mittens, rag carpets, tow linen and straw hats were offered and received.

The prevalence of exchange, rather than payment in money, led to long credits. Merchants would advance goods to honest farmers whether the latter had produce to balance the account or not. Finally there would be a reckoning, generally either at Christmas or "hog killing time." Total advances would be set off against total credits, and the balance either made up in cash or carried forward as a debit or credit in the next year's account.

The practice was full of hazard for the storekeeper, for he could never know what the produce he accepted in the early fall would be worth when he got it to market the following spring. But cash transactions were hardly less uncertain. In place of a national currency of known value, there were bank|notes issued by hundreds of institutions of all degrees of solvency. If the merchant were to survive, he had to know the approximate value of each issue. With the adoption of the constitution of 1847, which prohibited banking in Illinois, the monetary situation became even worse, for then the banks of issue were all at a distance, and reliable information re|garding their condition was harder than ever to secure.

In spite of these drawbacks many Springfield merchants had built up substantial businesses. Conspicuous among them were a number of pioneer merchants—John Williams, who Page  159 had clerked for Elijah Iles, William P. Grimsley, Eliphalet B. Hawley and Jacob Loose, Joseph and Edward R. Thayer, B. C. Webster, S. M. Tinsley, S. B. Opdycke, James L. Lamb and Charles R. Hurst. In the forefront, however, stood a relative newcomer. After four years of experience in Beards|town and Naples, Jacob Bunn had established a business in Springfield in 1840. His success was phenomenal. "We have heard it said that his business will reach one hundred thousand dollars the present year," the Journal commented with awe in 1849. Visitors to the capital were so deeply im|pressed that sometimes they expressed their admiration in print. "There is nothing you can name," wrote the editor of the Charleston Globe, "belonging to his line of business, that he has not on hand, and that too in quantities to suit any of our purchasers." Bunn's wholesale advertisement, offering 400 sacks of coffee, 200 hogsheads of New Orleans sugar, 100 barrels of "crushed, loaf, and clarified sugar," 200 bar|rels of molasses, and 5,000 barrels of salt, shows that the editor was not writing in idle flattery.

Bunn and the other merchants of Springfield looked for|ward to a substantial increase in business when the railroad would go into operation. Their hopes were not disappointed. The first train ran the length of the Sangamon and Morgan —that was the new name—on July 23, 1849. A week before that date corn in any quantity had been available in Spring|field at 15¢ per bushel; a week afterward it was scarce at 25¢. The price of wheat and flour made a corresponding advance. Salt was typical of imported articles. In 1848 the price in Springfield had been $3.50 per barrel; three weeks after the Sangamon and Morgan was finished it had dropped to $2.25. The railroad was a success.

The success of one undertaking gave encouragement to the proponents of another. Stock subscriptions to the Alton and Sangamon were coming more easily, and the construc|tion of the road now appeared to be a certainty. All over Page  160 Illinois, in fact, railroads were being projected. The isola|tion of Springfield—and every other sizable town in the state for that matter—was near an end.

The effect was to be profound. In the last years of the decade a discerning observer might have noticed an ac|cumulation of signs that fundamental changes were imminent. For some time ready made clothing, and boots and shoes, had been available in Springfield. Quantity-made furniture was being offered for sale. With cheap transportation, per|mitting the importation of manufactured articles unencum|bered with prohibitive freight charges, an enormous increase in the sale of such articles was certain to take place. The handcrafts were bound to suffer. But for quantity produc|tion greater opportunities were opening. Already enterpris|ing men were turning to steam. Four of the town's five flour and lumber mills, and all the distilleries, were using it; and John Hutchinson had just installed an engine in his cabinet making shop. All that was needed to ring in the machine age was the development of coal mining, which was still confined to outcrops on hillsides and creek and river banks.

Agriculture, likewise, was on the verge of change. John Deere had perfected the steel plow, and his factory at Moline was turning out thousands annually. Cyrus McCormick's reaper was fast winning acceptance. The basic tools of quan|tity production were ready for the farmer whenever their use would be profitable, and that time would be reached as soon as his crops could be carried quickly and cheaply to distant markets. Farming in the Sangamon country was about to emerge from a subsistence to a commercial basis.

Springfield, considered as a community, was not to be un|affected by forces of such potency. As we have seen, her central position in the life of the state was due in the main to her isolation. Now that isolation was being destroyed. With railroads running, legislators could return to their homes more often, and lawyers would not need to remain Page  161 for the entire length of court terms. The telegraph, already in use, diminished still further the necessity for long at|tendance. Moreover, other cities had developed as the years had passed. Chicago, hardly more than a village in 1839, counted 30,000 inhabitants in 1850 as against 4,500 for the capital. Already the United States courts were sitting there as well as at the seat of government, and since the adoption of the constitution of 1847 the supreme court was meeting also at Mt. Vernon and Ottawa. In a word, men came to the capital less often, and stayed for shorter periods, than they had formerly been obliged to do. As a result, Springfield slipped from her throne. The state offices would continue to give her an importance beyond that which her size alone could have won for her, but she would no longer be the center of life in Illinois. Her regal age was over.