The May 2010 issue of the Historico is now online as a pdf. 

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((posted April 30, 2010)

Ex-Illinois Political Columnist Taylor Pensoneau 
to Spotlight “Governors and Gangsters” May 18

     Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch Illinois political columnist and author Taylor Pensoneau  will share his knowledge of Illinois political history and gangster legend and lore when he speaks to the Society about “Governors and Gangsters” on  Tuesday, May 18.
     The session, open to the public, starts at 7 p.m. in the Carnegie Room at the Lincoln Public Library, 326 S. Seventh Street, Springfield. 
     A former president of the Sangamon County Historical Society, Pensoneau spent 12 years as the
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Illinois political correspondent.  He is the author of Brothers Notorious: The Sheltons, Southern Illinois’ Legendary Gangsters, as well as three biographies of Illinois political heavyweights: Dan Walker: The Glory and the Tragedy; Richard Ogilvie: In the Interest of the State; and Powerhouse: Arrington from Illinois. He also has penned one work of fiction, The Summer of ’50, a mystery that revolves around Jake Brosky, a colorful investigative reporter for the St. Louis World.
     After his overall 16-year stint with the Post-Dispatch ended in 1978, Pensoneau began a 26-year career with the Illinois Coal Association, the trade organization for the state’s coal industry.  He retired in December 2003 as president of the association. 
      Pensoneau resides in New Berlin. He and his wife Elizabeth, the retired editor of Outdoor Illinois magazine, own and operate Downstate Publications. In addition to his role with the Sangamon County Historical Society, he has served as president of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Center for the Book, an affiliate of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.  He also is a member of the Advisory Board for Illinois Issues magazine and president of the board of the West Sangamon Public Library District.. 

(posted April 30, 2010)

                 Society, Elijah Iles House Foundation Teaming Up

 For June 5 Bus Tour Along Historic Sugar Creek

     Members and guests of the Society and the Elijah Iles House Foundation will be able to take a bus trip back in time on Saturday, June 5 in a jointly sponsored tour of the Cotton Hill District, Sangamon County’s birthplace. The area—in and around Sugar Creek—was home to the first generation of settlers here.
     Traveling in a comfortable, air conditioned tour bus, trip takers will hear stories and descriptions of Sangamon’s earliest settlement sites and view over five 19th century farm houses and early family cemeteries. At two of the cemeteries, actors will portray several of the early settles buried there.
      The tour, expected to take about two-and-a half hours, will leave from the Meijer’s parking lot off Veterans Parkway (Route 4), Springfield, at 1 p.m. Sites and history along the route of what used to be the south side of Sugar Creek will be detailed by historian Dick Hart on the way down. He’ll do the same for the north side of Sugar Creek on the way back. 
     The tour is the first of several activities in preparation for John Mack Faragher’s visit to Springfield to help the Society celebrate its 50th anniversary next April. Faragher, author of “Sugar Creek: Life on the Illinois Prairie” (Yale University Press), is the Arthur Unobskey Professor of American History at Yale. Faragher teaches the history of the American West and directs Yale’s  Howard R. Lamar Center for the Study of Frontiers and Borders
      Tickets for the bus tour, at $40 for members of each organization, and $50 for non-members, can be ordered from the Society. For information call 217-522-2500.

 (posted April 30, 2010)

Lincoln Home Historian Timothy Townsend to Keynote Annual Dinner June 15
    When members and guests of the Sangamon County Historical Society gather in Williamsville next month for the organization’s annual dinner meeting, they’ll get some special insight into a Presidential election that changed history…150 years ago.. 
     Providing that look will be Tim Townsend, historian at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield and a past president of the Society. Townsend, a nationally-known expert on Lincoln, will be the featured speaker at the Tuesday, June 15 gathering that is expected to draw more than 100 people to Williamsville’s Community Center/Municipal Building. 
His topic will be “We Will Give You a Larger House on the Fourth of March: The 150th Anniversary of Lincoln’s Presidential Election.
     Townsend, who served as president of the Sangamon County Historical Society from 1999 to 2000, began his career with the National Park Service in 1991 as a Lincoln Home Park Ranger. He earned a bachelor of  arts degree in history from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, and holds a Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Illinois at Springfield. 
     Prior to his assignment at the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Townsend worked on the curatorial staff at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum and was an interpreter at the U.S. Grant Home, the Vachel Lindsay Home, and the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices. He also assisted with field archeology and research for the Springfield archeological firm of Fever River Research.
     “We’re delighted that Tim will be this year’s keynoter,” says Society president Nancy Chapin. “He is a gifted speaker with a depth of knowledge about Lincoln history. We’re pleased that he will be able to share his information and observations about the Lincoln Presidential election.”
     The annual meeting will include some optional pre-dinner events including tram tours of the community with its architecturally-striking historic homes, the Williamsville Boxcar Museum, the Williamsville Public Library, and a Shell service station wrapped in memorabilia of the pre-interstate Route 66 period just across the street from the village’s Community Center/Municipal Complex where the dinner will be held. 
     Pre-dinner offerings will begin at 5 p.m., with activities moving over to the Community Center when a cash bar opens at 6:30 p.m. and  dinner is served at 7 p.m. The evening will also include the Society’s annual elections and a raffle. Tickets for the event are $20 per person for members, $25 for non-members. Seating is limited. For ticket information cal 522-2500.

                    Iles House Seeking More Docents For Summer Tourist Season Ahead 
   More docents are needed at the historic Elijah Iles House in Springfield to enable the house to be open longer during the summer tourist season.  Because of the layout of the house, there must be two docents in attendance at all times the house is open. Telling visitors about the house and its history is rewarding and fun.  If you think you would be interested in helping out, call Logan McMinn 679-0797.


(posted April 20, 2010)

Donner Family Talk Draws SRO Crowd At UIS Library 
There wasn't a seat to spare at the University of Illinois Brookens Library Auditorium Tuesday evening, April 20, as an overflow crowd filled the room to hear Sangamon County Historical Society board member Don Springer talk about the trials and tribulations of the famed Donner Party.
     Springer is the great, great, great, great grandson of George Donner, who was chosen to lead the wagon train over the final 1,000 mile portion of the historic journey in which nearly half the party perished after becoming trapped in a winter blizzard in the Sierra Mountains. George Donner and four other members of the family were among the victims.
     With his brother Bill and other descendents of the Donner family in the audience that topped 220, Springer provided lesser known details about the Donners prior to settling in Springfield. He also reflected on the motivation behind their decision to leave Springfield in 1846, after 30 years of residence in Sangamon County. Springer also provided insight into the hardships the wagon train faced in opting for an alternate route to California that held promise for a shorter route but actually jeopardized the trip. After his talk, audience members (above, left) had a chance to look at some of the documents and artifacts related to the Donner Party. Springer (top left, in photo) and his brother have donated books, reference materials, and memorabilia to the Library in an effort to make it a full resource of Donner history for researchers, students, and others. The Donner materials are usually housed in the Library's Archives and Special Collections Department.
     The free program was co-sponsored with the Friends of Brookens Library and the University's Engaged Citizenship Common Experience program. A reception followed the presentation. If you missed Springer's presentation, you can watch it online by clicking here

(posted April 15, 2010)

 Iles House Draped in Bunting to Mark Mourning Days for Abraham Lincoln

      As was the custom at the time of Lincoln’s death, the front porch of the Elijah Iles House in Springfield has been draped in bunting of black and purple for the mourning period of President Abraham Lincoln’s death, April 15 through May 4. 
     One hundred and forty-five years ago, President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession, after passing the Lincoln Home, proceeded along Cook Street from Eighth to Fourth streets and would have passed on the north side of the Iles House, then the Robert Irwin residence, when it was located at its original site. 
     Elijah Iles served as one of the pall bearers on that day of the burial services. The 69-year-old Iles walked the route to Oak Ridge Cemetery as did the others on what was said to have been a very warm May day.

(posted April 11, 2010)

New Berlin Area Historical Society Hosts April 18 Talk 
by Taylor Pensoneau on "Gangsters of Southern Illinois"

   "Gangsters of Southern Illinois" will be the topic of a Sunday afternoon program of the New Berlin Area Historical Society scheduled for 2 p.m., April 18 at Capone's Hideout, 201 W. Illinois St., New Berlin. The event is free and open to the public.
      Southern Illinois historian and local author Taylor Pensoneau will be speaking about The Shelton Gang and Black Charlie Harris, notorious Pond Creek outlaws who dominated life in rural Wayne County and other parts of the state from the 1920s to the early 1950s. All made headlines throughout the nation, and Harris eventually landed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.
     Pensoneau of New Berlin is the author of six books, including "Brothers Notorious: The Sheltons," " Dapper and Deadly - The True Story of Black Charlie Harris," and "The Summer of '50." These three books will be available for purchase as a fund-raising event for the society.
     The afternoon will provide a fun opportunity for all history and gangster buffs to participate in a "Gangster and Pals Rendezvous." In keeping with the theme, clothing from the Roaring 20s and the 1930s will be worn, and vintage vehicles will be on display. Those attending are encouraged to participate in the fun by dressing in vintage attire. Drinks will be available, and light refreshments will be served.
     Tickets can also be purchased in advance from Capone's Hideout for a murder mystery dinner theatre following the afternoon's event.

(posted March 16, 2010)

"How Illinois Became A State" Talk Draws Full House 

ALL MAPPED OUT: Audience members check their maps during a talk by scholar David Scott on March 16 on "How Illinois Became A State." Scott distributed maps to attendees at the Society’s program meeting at the Lincoln Library, Springfield. At left, Scott, the Society’s vice-president, answers a question from Ed Brooks (right) following the presentation. More than 60 people attended the meeting held in the Library's Carnegie Room. For the full text of Scott’s remarks and maps, see "Presentations."


(posted February 16,2010) 
February 16 Audience Tops 100! 

Railroad Historian's Power Point Show
Details Rich History of Interurban Here

Railroad Historian Dale Jenkins speaking to the Society on Tuesday, February 16. 

        More than 100 people turned out for a Society-sponsored talk and power point show Tuesday, February 16 that traced the rise and fall of Illinois Traction System, once this area's most popular commuter and freight rail service.  The meeting was held at the Lincoln Public Library in Springfield. 
          In his opening remarks, railroad historian Dale Jenkins--who grew up about a block from the Illinois Traction System’s Springfield terminal off Clear Lake Avenue-- recalled that as a very young child, he enjoyed watching the Interurban trains go by. Then he discovered he could stop an oncoming train "just by sitting on the tracks. " That prompted a visit from a railroad detective, Jenkins said, who issued his mother a stern warning to keep her son away from the rails. 
           It didn't work out that way.
           After high school, Jenkins joined the Illinois Traction System as a rail road police officer, eventually succeeding the very railroad detective who admonished him as a child.
            Throughout the hour-long presentation, the audience sat in rapt attention, occasionally oohing and ahhing as Jenkins projected dozens of historic photos showing the rich interiors of the passenger cars that took commuters back and forth between cities, towns, and small villages across Central Illinois. He also showed photos of passenger terminal buildings and rail lines that ran through Springfield as well as a map of the route of a sister freight line that looped around the outskirts of the city to avoid local regulations that would have otherwise hampered its operations. 
             Passenger service on the  550-mile electric interurban rail line operated here from 1895 through the mid 1950s, bringing back memories for some audience members who, in a question-and-answer session that followed his talk, asked Jenkins about specific sites they remembered seeing as children riding on the Interurban. That prompted Jenkins to show an additional set of then and now photos, including one of a large garden at Starnes, where several rail lines crossed. "They had gardens and walks, even a band," said Jenkins, pointing to the spot now fenced and covered with underbrush that had been remembered by the Interurban traveler. 
           In its heyday, the interurban was the most convenient way to travel and ship freight at at time when Central Illinois had dirt roads that disappeared in winter storms, turned muddy in spring rain, and dusty in summer.  But the growth in automobile ownership and paved roads signaled the end of commuter service, Jenkins explained. By the time it ceased operations in 1981, it had become a completely diesel powered freight-only service.
             Jenkins,  who now lives in Decatur, worked for the line for 40 years, 37 of them as a rail road police officer. He is founder and president of the Illinois Traction Society, a group that is preserving the history of the Illinois Terminal Railroad and its predecessor lines including the Illinois Traction System and has also written a book about the line. He and his wife Judy are volunteers at the Monticello Railway Museum which features displays of rail cars and other equipment as well as steam-powered train rides on weekends and holidays from May through October. Though he normally serves as a conductor, Jenkins and his wife both hold engineer licenses.
           On behalf of the Sangamon County Historical Society, director and program committee member Roger Whitaker presented Jenkins with a year's membership in the organization. 

(posted February 9, 2010)

Abraham Lincoln Funeral Train Monument Unveiled February 9

Station Ceremony Draws Crowd, Media, Despite Snow

FROM LEFT: Spindell listens as Mayor Davlin makes his remarks; Mayor Davlin looks at the monument; Spindell gets a close  up  the honor guard fires to the roll of the drums. BELOW: Local media were out in force to cover the event.   

     An unveiling ceremony for the new Lincoln Funeral Train Memorial Monument at Springfield's Amtrak Station, drew a large crowd of onlookers as well as the media Tuesday morning, February 9, despite snow that blanketed the area overnight and continued into the day. 
      The site, on the west side of the stationhouse at Third Street and Washington, marks the spot where the funeral train arrived in Springfield on May 3, 1865, ending a 14-day, 1,700 mile journey from Washington, D.C.
     In a brief ceremony that started inside the building, Springfield Mayor Tim Davlin praised Katie Spindell who drove the effort to have some type of historic marker placed at the station that would show where the train made its final stop. Spindell thanked the Mayor "for having enough faith in me and saying yes" to the momument project.
        Another speaker, James Cornelius, curator of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, noted the relationship between Lincoln and railroads, on which Lincoln frequently traveled. As a lawyer, Lincoln handled many cases involving Illinois railroads, serving as both a prosecuting and defense attorney, he said. As President, Lincoln recognized the importance of  the railroads to the Northern cause, creating the Military Rail Road in 1862 to support the war effort. By the end of the Civil War, the United States had the largest rail system in the world, he noted. 
      Led by two units of Civil War reenactment groups in full uniform, the ceremony then moved outdoors where Mayor Davlin and Spindell unveiled the monument followed by a ceremonial volley of rifle fire.

                                                                        * * *
     Spindell, a Sangamon County Historical Society member, designed the three foot wide by five foot high black polished granite monument that was assembled by Arnold Monument and includes an etched illustration of the Chicago & Alton rail-road Engine 58 that pulled the funeral car from Union Station in Chicago to Springfield. Engine 58 was draped with flags intertwined with crepe and bunting and other symbols of mourning. Illinois artist Elizabeth Mattingly Thacker hand etched the drawing onto the monument’s granite base.
      Spindell, a member of the board of the city’s International Visitors Commission, had for the past several years provided tourists and dignitaries with information about Springfield. She frequently found herself being asked about the location of the funeral train arrival site at what is now the Amtrak station. "Over the years, thousands--and I do mean thousands--of tourists asked me where the funeral train arrived and were disappointed to discover it wasn’t designated with some type of monument or marker," said Spindell in recent Historico interview.
      The Lincoln Funeral Train attracted some eight to 10 million mourners along its route from Washington D.C. through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Indiana, and into Illinois. Markers and memorials along the route can be found in every state.
             Spindell, who spent months researching the funeral train’s route, had sought a memorial that she said would be "elegant, simple, dramatic, and somber." The monument was installed at the site in December, awaiting for its unveiling.

           Beaumont, Springer, Catlin Tapped as Directors for Society's Board
      Three area residents have been appointed directors of the Sangamon County Historical Society to fill vacancies on the board. They are James H. Beaumont and Don Springer, both of Springfield, and Donna Catlin of Sherman.
       Beaumont, who retired as vice-president of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce in 2002, has long ties to this area. Born and raised in Decatur, his father, James, was born and raised in Springfield in a house on Eighth Street, south of the Lincoln Home.
       A graduate of Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, Beaumont earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City, and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Illinois at Spring-field. Following graduation from Columbia, Beaumont worked as a reporter for the daily Des Moines Register, Iowa’s largest newspaper, the first of what would be three separate vocations.
       When a family friend’s job offer provided an opportunity for him to move back to Decatur, he took it, even though it meant switching careers and going back to school--to Northwestern--to receive training as a stock-broker. Beaumont began his third career in 1972, this time as an Illinois State Chamber of Commerce exec, moving to Springfield 
with his wife, Mary, and children. Family members of the Society, today the Beaumonts    have two married sons and five grandchildren.
       In 1994, he was named outstanding chamber executive of the year by the Illinois Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives. The award recognized long-term professional career achievements of the candidate including experience, training and education, and service to IACCE and other professional organizations.
A self-admitted history buff, he is particularly interested in the Civil War Era, his desire to learn more piqued by a course he took at UIS taught by the late Phillip S. Paludan, a leading authority on the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln. "I was fortunate to take Dr. Paludan’s course on the Civil War Era as a senior learner at UIS the last time he taught it, and I’m still reading books to follow up on topics raised in that class." 
       Beaumont will serve as a director until 2012, filling what remains of a three year term vacated by Bill Minder.
                                                                                             * * *
       Springer, a descendant of the famed Donner family of Springfield, whose ill-fated journey west 164 years ago, has become an integral part of the history of America’s western migration, has been a Life Member of the Society since 1966, serving on the board from 1998 to 2001.Abraham Lincoln lived across the street from Springer’s great-great grand-father, the Reverend Francis Springer, who founded both Trinity Lutheran and Grace Lutheran churches in Springfield and was the city’s first superintendent of schools. 
       Springer will be discussing the Donner Family’s Trials of the Pioneer Trail, 1846 as guest speaker at the Society’s April 20 program meeting.
       Springer is currently a director of the Center for American Archeology and is a member of Sons of the American Revolution. He is also a member of the American Business Club, the Springfield Film Commission, and the University of Illinois Foundation. He and his wife Karen have two children, a daughter, Paula. and a son, Douglas.
       A financial advisor with Edward Jones, Springfield, he has been in the field for 36 years and is a founder and charter president of the Illinois Securities Industry Association. His hobbies include travel, hunting, and bridge.
       Springer will serve as a director until 2011, filling what remains of a two year term previously held by Jack Nevins.

                                                                               * * *
       A native of Springfield, Catlin was raised in Sherman, attending local schools there and in Williamsville before marrying in 1961 and moving to Normal, Illinois. 
        Before moving back to Sherman 20 years ago, she and her husband Carl, a career Navy man, traveled extensively around the world and lived in several states. But her love of local and Sangamon County history never left, says Catlin. 
       When she returned home, Catlin began what she describes as "my quest to find what history I could for the growing village of Sherman," a time-consuming project. The community’s village board and mayor have designated Catlin the honorary "Sherman Historian." 
       Catlin will serve until 2012, completing the three year term previously filled by Sarah Thomas.

Society Gives Springfield, Pleasant Plains Schools Funds for History Projects

PROJECTS--ranging from buying books about Illinois and Sangamon County history for students at the Lincoln Magnet School to support their research for the Illinois History Fair to acquiring National Endowment for the Humanities reports on 19th Century Farming that will aid Pleasant Plains Elementary School sixth graders working on projects associated with the Pleasant Plains Historical Society’s restoration of the Clayville and Broadwell Inn--were awarded $250 grants from the Society to support their efforts. Checks were presented to teachers from each school at a special ceremony January 19 at the Chatham Public Library, held prior to the Society’s monthly program meeting. Society treasurer Paul Mueller (left) and Project Committee chair Elaine Birtch (right) share the moment with (from second left), Scott Morey, treasurer of the Pleasant Plains Historical Society, Pleasant Plains Sixth Grade Teacher Debbie Green, and Lincoln Magnet School teacher Jodi Mitts.

Contact the Sangamon County Historical Society
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