(Posted  9/2/19)

Season Opener September 17

Devereux Heights Finding Place in Local History 
Thanks to Writer/Reseacher With a Story to Tell

     The winds of change can sometimes blow a village off the map. Jobs vanish as industries depart, super-slabs and shopping centers rip across pastures, groves and farm fields. Families move on.
     Except for Devereux Heights, a feisty 106- year-old hamlet on the northern-most end of Springfield that has defied fading away.

      On Tuesday, September 17, you'll learn more about this close-knit neighborhood with deep roots to Sangamon County's past, when author Ken Mitchell shares what he's learned about the area and put into a new book, The Little Village That Could: The Untold Story of Devereux Heights.
     His presentation, kicking off the Society's 2019-2020 program series, begins at 5:30 p.m. in Carnegie Room North in the City of Springfield's Lincoln Library and is free and open to the public.
      Author and raconteur Mitchell is no stranger to Springfield's north end. Among the 15 books and several shorter pieces he's written about the people and places that shaped his life there are North End Pride, The History of Lanphier High School and Growing Up in Rabbit Row, a look at the colorful north side neighborhood in and around Reservoir Street from Ninth to 15th Streets in which his father grew up. Reservoir Park, once one of the city’s most popular and beautiful family recreation areas that was plowed under in the early 1930s to make way for the construction of Lanphier High School.

     While doing research for North End Pride, Mitchell's curiosity about other small North End neighborhoods was piqued, although information was sparse. He made a mental note to pursue that route once he finished other writing projects. That moment came four years ago in conversation with a former Devereux Heights resident who offered to share his memories and contacts. It spurred some interviews but, noted Mitchell, not enough for a book. 

     Three other writing projects took precedence until earlier this year, when Mitchell was able to pursue the Devereux Heights story, a unique "company coal town" whose residents benefitted from an unusual real estate deal that allowed them to avoid the fate of their counterparts when the coal ran out. 

     Mitchell, who holds degrees from Millikin University in history and political science and from the University of Illinois, Springfield, in biology and education, has had a varied 40-year business career spread across real estate, farming, horse breeding, insurance, sales and marketing. 


(Posted  9/2/19)

Looking at the Legacy of Harry H. Devereux

     Harry H. Devereux (1866-1926), whose name is forever linked to Devereux Heights, was a savvy businessman and popular political leader who served two terms as mayor of Springfield (1901-1904). 
     His mother, Marie L. Devereux, believed to be a widow, moved to Springfield in 1871 from Detroit, Michigan, with six-year old Harry in tow.
      In 1880, she married one of the city's most eligible bachelors, widower Redick M. Ridgley, one of 13 sons of Springfield banker, businessman, landowner, and railroad tycoon Nicholas H. Ridgley (one of seven prominent citizens associated with education in Sangamon County who will be featured in the Sangamon County Historical Society's 2019 Echoes of Yesteryear Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk on October 6). 
Redick M. Ridgley had four children from his first marriage: Alice, Janey, Redick Jr. and John and two more children with Marie: a son, William and a daughter, Mabel. 
     Harry Devereux began his business career with an entry level job at Ridgley National Bank but, as Mitchell notes in his new book, "his curiosity and natural business acumen propelled the young man to succeed at all costs," his set of promotions "aided by his step grandfather, the family patriarch, who was president of the bank until his death in 1888." 
     And, says Mitchell, "through love or expediency, or both, the Ridgely connection continued in Harry's life." At age 30, in 1895, Devereux married his step-sister, Alice Ridgely. She died three years later in childbirth, leaving him with a son, also named Harry.  In 1915, he married Nell Selby. They had no children. Devereux died in 1926. preceded by his wife who died in 1918. He was survived by his son and a grandson. 
Devereux's main accomplishment, beyond his other business, civic, and political activities and family responsibilities, was the founding of the Chicago-Springfield Coal Company that, says Mitchell, was successful on several levels, not the least of which is "the development of a little village on the north end of Springfield that bears his name and ensures a lasting legacy."

 (Posted  9/2/19)

Annual Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk Set for October 6

     The Sangamon County Historical Society's annual Echoes of Yesteryear Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk will be held on Sunday, October 6 and if past years are any measure, it will attract a substantial turnout, says committee chair Mary Alice Davis.
   "The annual walk continues to grow and we expect that this year it could well set a record, The event has drawn several thousand participants in its 18-year history, many coming from out of the area to take advantage of this opportunity to tour Oak Ridge in a unique way," she adds.
     Oak Ridge is the second most visited national cemetery in the Nation, surpassed only by Arlington in Washington D.C.
     Every year the Society’s Oak Ridge cemetery walk focuses on seven people whose lives had an impact on Sangamon history, with period-garbed actors portraying each figure.
      Last year, as an official Illinois State Bicentennial Event, participants stopped at the grave sites of individuals who played a prominent role in the state's 200 year history: Lincoln's first law partner, John Todd Stuart; civic leader Martha Hicklin, board member and treasurer of the Lincoln Colored Home; Catharine Bergen Jones who cast  her first ballot in 1914 at age 97, the first time women in Illinois were allowed to vote in municipal elections; John Kelly, the first settler of Springfield; Carrie Post  for whom the King's Daughters Home in Springfield was named; Catharine Frazee Lindsay, mother of poet Vachel Lindsay; and Moses Broadwell, Clayville founder.
      This year, tour takers will learn about the lives of six community leaders whose names are associated with Sangamon County schools: James H. Matheny, Elijah Iles, Jesse Dubois, Jacob Bunn, William Butler, Nicholas H. Ridgley,  seventh stop at the grave site of the first woman elected to the Springfield school board, Majorie Logan Morrison.
      The two-hour tour will run from Noon to 4 p.m. (the last group will start at 3:15 p.m.). Tour takers will be bused from the starting point at the Oak Ridge Bell Tower  to the first gravesite, then will walk to other sites (a distance totaling about a half mile)  before boarding the bus to return down the hill to the starting point.
    Free parking will be available. The tour is free but a free-will offering will be accepted.
      The 365-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery, bordered on the west by North J. David Jones Parkway (North Walnut Street) and North First Street on the east in Springfield, is the largest municipal cemetery in Illinois. 
At the walk, attendees will be able to purchase both publications from the Society and snacks and water from the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum
     They also will be able to view the reproduction of Lincoln's funeral hearse from the P.J. Staab Family Funeral Home that was created for the Lincoln Funeral Reenactment in May 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the President's funeral. (The original was destroyed by fire in 1887). 
   The cemetery walk, co-sponsored by the Society and Oak Ridge Cemetery, was held annually for 13 years beginning in 1996 and ending in 2008. It was brought back five years ago by popular demand.

(Posted 9/2/19)

October 22 Program Meeting

Historian to Separate Myth From Fact in Lincoln’s Assassination

     Historian Timothy S. Good will take a myth-busting look at Lincoln’s assassination when he speaks to the Society on Tuesday, October 22. 
     The date is a week later than the Society’s normal monthly program schedule, but will be held as usual in Carnegie Room North, at the City of Spring-field’s Lincoln Library starting at 5:30 p.m. The session is free and open to the public. 
     Good, whose first book, “We Saw Lincoln Shot: One Hundred Eye Witness Accounts” will be the basis of his presentation at the October 22 meeting, has also written three other books, “American Privateers in the War of 1812: The Vessels and Their Prizes as Recorded in Niles’ Weekly Register,” “ Lincoln for President: An Underdog’s Path to the 1860 Republican Nomination” and “The Lincoln-Douglas De-bates and the Making of a President,” all areas of interest to the 28-year veteran of the National Park Service who was appointed Superintendent of the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield in 2018. 
     Good holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Valparaiso University, a Master of Arts from the University of Durham, England, and earned a diploma from the United States Naval War College. 
Good began his career with the NPS in Washington D.C. at the Ford’s Theater National Historic Site. He has held several national and regional leader-ship posts, most recently as site superintendent for the Ulysses S. Grant site in Missouri be-fore being named to supervise the Lincoln Home National Historic Site He worked at the site from 1996 to 2001. For his book about Lincoln’s assassination, Good drew on 100 accounts of eyewitnesses, reconstructing from their statements an overview of events and an analysis of the sometimes contradictory statements that suggest conclusions that differ

(Posted 9/2/19)

Chatham Library Teams With Illinois Humanities for Portrayal of Elizabeth Keckley

     In a program made possible through the Illinois Humanities Road Scholar Program, area history buffs will be able to learn more about Elizabeth Keckley--dressmaker and confidant to Mary Todd Lincoln-- in a special program on Saturday, September 21 at 1 p.m. Keckley will be portrayed by Marlene Rivero who will relate the story of Mrs. Keckley who had been enslaved, purchased her own freedom, and became Mrs. Lincoln's dressmaker. During a time in our history when it was unheard of for a Black woman to own a business, she did just that, eventually employing over 20 women. The public is invited to attend the presentation at the Library, 600 E. Spruce Street in Chatham. For information call 217-483-2361 or go to chathamlib.org.


(Posted  7/31/19)


   At its annual meeting on Tuesday, June 18, members of the Sangamon County Historical Society elected officers to lead the Society in 2019-2020.

    Incumbent Vicky Whitaker was re-elected to a second one-year term as president. Whitaker previously served as vice-president and is editor of the Society's monthly newsletter, Historico
Stephanie Martin, who previously served on the board and chaired the Society's membership committee, was elected vice-president. Mary Mucciante, who also served as a director of the Society, was elected secretary. Incumbent Jerry Smith was re-elected treasurer. 

   The Society's 15 board of directors serve staggered three-year terms. When board vacancies arise, candidates can seek to fill the remainder of the term. Elected to the board for a three year term ending in 2022 were Jennie Battles, Kathy Dehen, Mary Schaefer, Larry Stone, Angela Weiss. Elected to fill a one-year vacancy on the board ending in 2020 was Elaine Hoff. 

   For a full list of the 2019-2020 officers, board and committees go to CONTACT US.

   The election was held at the Society's annual dinner held at the Pleasant Plains Historical Society's Clayville Historic Site in Pleasant Plains,15 miles west of Springfield.

   The evening began with a pre-dinner gathering in the new covered outdoor pavilion adjoining the air-conditioned Cunningham Barn which housed the business and dinner portion of the meeting. Historian and past president David Scott was the keynote speaker whose talk focused on the forces that shaped Illinois. Following the meeting, attendees were given a tour of the site that included the restored Broadwell Tavern, a former inn and stagecoach stop built in 1824 that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.                                                    Photos by Kathy Dehen

(Posted  7/31/19)


   Winners of the Sangamon County Historical Society's Special Projects Grants were announced June 18 at the Society's Annual Dinner, held this year at the Clayville Historic Site in Pleasant Plains. 

   Using a PowerPoint display that illustrated each proposal, Elaine Hoff, chair of the Society's Special Projects Grants committee, revealed the names of each recipient and introduced representatives of the organizations who attended the event as guests of the Society. They, in turn, provided dinner goers with details of their projects.

 The 2019 recipients are:
Central 3 Community First Project Inc., $1,000.
Project: Signage for first black firehouse in Springfield describing its history and role in the 1908 race riot. An architectural drawing of the new façade will be added following completion of restoration.

Springfield And Central Illinois African American History Museum,: $1,000.
Project: Exhibit on the national Negro League players from Springfield and Central Illinois and their impact on area baseball.

Pleasant Plains Historical Society, $500. (Catlin Memorial Award)
Project: Refine and rebuild wheel chair ramps to three historic buildings at its Clayville Historic Site. One award each year is designated the Donna Catlin Memorial Award in memory of the Society's late photographer, Donna Catlin who was widely known for her photographs of historic sites, amiong them Clayville.

Oak Ridge National Cemetery, $500
Project: Create an interpretive marker with historical information about the former third street enrance sign (circa 1900), now restored and ready for display at the cemetery bell tower.

Springfield Art Association/Historic Edwards Place, $500.
Project: Traveling history trunk program to bring history into the classroom.

(If you'd like to know more about the Society's Special Project Grants program and read more the past projects that have been funded, see GRANTS).

(Posted  7/31/19)


   Plans for the Society's Annual Echoes of Yesteryear Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk on Sunday, October 6, have begun, kicked off in May with site selections, followed by a committee meeting in June that included the first trial walk, all underscoring the areas it must address in planning an event that continues to break attendance records.

   In addition to chairperson Mary Alice Davis (seated, center), members of the committee are (from left) Jerry Smith, Jennie Battles, Linda Schneider, Ruth Slottag, Susan Helm, Mike Kienzler, Ernie Slottag, Pete Harbison and Mike Lelys, executive director of Oak Ridge. Also serving on the committee but not pictured are Curtis Mann and Larry Stone.

   The walk, free and open to the public, will have stops at the grave sites of six early Sangamon County residents who have schools named for them and a seventh stop at the grave site of the first woman elected to the Springfield school board. Dressed in period costumes, re-enactors at each site will take the audience back to an earlier time, providing insight into the personal lives of the individuals they are portraying based on extensive historic research. 

   The event will run from Noon to 4 p.m., with the last tour starting at 3:15 p.m. 
The 365-acre Oak Ridge Cemetery, bordered on the west by North J. David Jones Parkway (North Walnut Street) and North First Street on the east in Springfield, is the largest municipal cemetery in Illinois and is the second most visited cemetery in the United States after Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C.

   Attendees will be transported by bus from the start of the tour at the Oak Ridge Bell Tower, to the first gravesite, then walk to the other gravesites before boarding the bus to return down the hill to the starting point, a distance of about a half mile. 

   At the walk, attendees will be able to purchase both publications from the Society and snacks from the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum. They also will be able to view the reproduction of Lincoln's funeral hearse from the P.J. Staab Family Funeral Home that was created for the Lincoln Funeral Reenactment in May 2015 on the 150th anniversary of the President's funeral. (The original was destroyed by fire in 1887).

   The cemetery walk, co-sponsored by the Society and Oak Ridge Cemetery, was held annually for 12 years beginning in 1996 and ending in 2008. It was brought back five years ago by popular demand. 

(Posted  7/31/19)


   Trivia fans will have lots of time to put on their thinking caps. 

   Fresh from its most successful Trivia Night to date, the Society has set the date for its 2020 version: Saturday, March 21.

   "The location, Parish Hall at Christ the King Church in Springfield (right), will remain the same," says Mary Alice Davis, co-chair of the Society's Programs & Events committee who has guided the event since its inception.

   "This is our major fundraiser that helps underwrite our Special Projects Grant program, so we wanted to make sure that the date is on the radar, especially among die-hard trivia players who look forward to our event." Doors will open at 6 p.m. and as in past years, you'll be able to reserve and pay for tables of and individual seats on line or by mail. "It's always a fun night," Davis adds.

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