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Updated October 4, 2010) 

Remembering "Rabbit Row"

Springfield’s North Side Neighborhood to be Focus of October 19 Meeting

     Ken Mitchell, a Springfield native, businessman, writer, and raconteur who grew up on "Rabbit Row," will share family stories of what it was like being raised in this colorful north side neighborhood, Reservoir Street from 9th to 15th Streets, when he speaks to the Society on October 19. The meeting, at the Lincoln Public Library in Springfield, begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.                  

     Mitchell, (right) who has had a varied career that includes serving as executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council, teaching science, working as an archivist for the Secretary of State and farming and breeding horses in Mason City, also speaks at seminars on recording personal and family history.

     Married and the father of five children and three grandchildren, the long-term health insurance sales executive has written two biographies including one about his father, another about his mother, and a third on his fraternity at Millikin University, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree. He also holds a masters degree in education from Sangamon State University.
     In his book,
"Growing Up in Rabbit Row," Mitchell describes the neighborhood in which his father spent his childhood and teen years as "a kid’s dreamland. There were kids everywhere. There were so many
kids in fact, that it was whimsically dubbed locally as "Rabbit Row."

     At Rabbit Row reunions over the next 50 years, "one discovered that the neighborhood name incorporated more territory than Reservoir Street, as time went on. There was never any clear demarcation, but purists limited it to the borders of North Grand Avenue, Enterprise, 15th and 9th Streets. That expanded version of Rabbit Row would probably number over 100 homes and up to 1,000 inhabitants," notes Mitchell in his tome.  Mitchell is expected to touch upon the experiences of his family and how the neighborhood and its people helped shape Springfield in the early 1900s as it transitioned into a modern city.
     Expect to hear about Reservoir Park, one of the city’s most popular family recreation areas. Built in the late 1800s, it was "the social center of Rabbit Row," writes Mitchell, its focal point, the four-million gallon reservoir at its western tip near 11th Street that served as an emergency water source for Springfield. Reservoir Park  (at the upper center of the photo at right) included small lakes and lagoons, an ornate fountain (center right in the photo) that was lighted at night, croquet fields, tennis courts, horse shoe pits, boating, a pavilion, flower-filled gardens, picnic grounds, and a baseball stadium (upper right) that opened in 1925. The Illinois Watch Company, which flanked the western end of the park, is at bottom center.
     The park property was sold by the Springfield Park District to the Springfield School District in the late  1920s, its facilities razed and the land leveled to make way for the construction of a third high school, Lanphier. The reservoir was finally plowed under in the early 30s, following completion of the new reservoir, Lake Springfield, that was created by building Spaulding Dam across Sugar Creek.

Fairs, Facts, Fun: Fall Bringing Lots Of Events for All

CAPTURING HISTORY: At left, led by Miss Clayville, famed Reverend Peter Cartright (portrayed by a costumed Ron Waltrip, center) makes his way past Broadwell Tavern  prior to leading an old-fashioned "Revival Meeting" on Saturday at the Clayville Fall Festival. It was the fire-and-brimstone preaching style -- as demonstrated by Waltrip -- that which helped propel the pioneer Methodist minister into the national political spotlight. Cartwright was twice a member of the Illinois legislature and ran for Congress in 1846, only to be defeated by Springfield Whig Abraham Lincoln. Waltrip, a real-life minister who has performed with the Muni, Jacksonville Theatre Guild and at New Salem, is pastor of Trinity Church of the Nazarene. At right, Will Budinger of Sherman carefully paints a mini-pumpkin, one of many activities for children at the Festival. Below, left, a group of quilters demonstrate their skills to the delight of visiting children. Below, right, Sangamon County Historical Society president David Scott mans the Society's table where books and membership information were available.                                                                                                                                         

(Photos by Virginia Scott)

  As Clayville's Fall Festival proved over the October 2-3 weekend, whether you’re nine or 90, there's plenty to see and do in Sangamon County if you’re looking for events with a historic twist.
     The Clayville event, at first off to a slow start when Mother Nature coated the area with showers and wind Saturday morning, quickly revived when skies cleared by mid-day. Sunday's fair weather also proved to be perfect for fair going, drawing thousands more visitors to Clayville.
      Young and old got a chance to watch artisans and craftsmen demonstrate many of the activities that were part of every day life in Central Illinois, including quilting, outdoor cooking, furniture making, leather crafts, coopering, and more. They also had a chance to tour Broadville Tavern and Inn and other buildings on the site being restored by the Pleasant Plains Historical Society.

The brick tavern was a popular stagecoach stop  through the 1850s. Until the railroads reshaped transportation patterns here, the Broadwell Tavern and Inn drew stagecoach travelers, cattle buyers from the East who wintered in Illinois while they bought livestock to ship the following spring, teamsters hauling dry goods, liquor, groceries and more between Beardstown and Springfield, and families of settlers seeking property for themselves.
     Clayville was established by the Broadwell family which named it in honor of Henry Clay, a leading Whig politician. In its heyday, Clayville was the center of activities for the Whig Party.
At one point, in fact, the Broadwell Tavern was renamed Clay’s Ville and served as home to an organization known as Clay’s Men, whose members included Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln also became the lawyer for members of the Broadwell family, a relationship that lasted for about 20 years.

    Look for additional events at Clayville later this month (Halloween thrills) and a Christmas at Clayville program (see below). In the meantime, here's what's ahead elsewhere in the county:

Fireside Chats Ahead at Iles House
       Elijah Iles House continues its series of Wednesday (5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.) Fireside Chats on October 6 with a talk by Farrell Gay on the history of the Illinois Watch Company. Gay will talk about the evolution of time pieces and watches and show examples from his personal collection. He'd enjoy seeing other Illinois watches people might care to bring along. Reservations are required. Call 652-7302 for information.

Teas at Freeman-Hughes House
     If you act quickly, there’s still time to get in on the Sangamon County Historical Society’s Tea at the Historic Freeman- Hughes House on Thursday, October 7, from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. or on Sunday, October 10, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. It’s a rare opportunity to step inside and be and be among a limited number of visitors allowed to tour this charming, privately-owned 19th century home in Springfield that is listed on the National Register. Built in 1878 by Clarkson W. Freeman, the house eventually passed to a nephew, Arthur Freeman Hughes, whose widow sold the property to Dr. and Mrs. Floyd Barringer, who, passionate about local history, lovingly restored the Italianate-style home with its intricate Carpenter- Gothic trim. The current owner, Mary Ann Langston, has preserved its furnishings and antiques.  At each room, volunteer docents will point out features and answer questions about specific features. Tea will be served.
Ticket sales have been brisk and seating is limited. Tickets are $25 for members, $30 for non-members. Press here for a reservation form or call at 522-2500.

Bus Trip to Sugar Creek
     Tickets are still available for the Society’s Sunday, October 17 trip back in time in a Bus 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 takes about two-and-a half hours, leaving from the Meijer’s parking lot off Veterans Parkway (Route 4), Springfield, at 1 p.m. Sites and history along the route will be detailed by historian Dick Hart. He’ll do the same for the north side of Sugar Creek on the way back. Tickets are $40 for members, $50 for non-members. Press here for a reservation form or call at 522-2500.

Halloween Fun at Clayville
     Clayville will be the setting for Haunted House and Haunted Hayride Fridays and Saturdays, October 22, 23, 29 and 30 and on Sunday, October 31. The Friday evening programs will run from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. and includes visiting the "Haunted House" and a hayride. On Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. will be special "Children’s Hours," in which there will be regular lighting and Halloween special displays on hand designed to avert scaring younger children. On Halloween, the Haunted House/Haunted Hayride will run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Check the Clayville website for additional details,

Historic Activities at Strawbridge-Sherperd House
On Saturday, October 23, you can tour the Strawbridge-Shepherd House in Springfield, which will be open for "Old Settlers Day," 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. You’ll be able to talk to restoration specialists, tour the native tall-grass prairie and compare notes with noted botanists. Period music, impersonators, demonstrators, craftsmen and exhibits will be featured at this free event. In addition, there will be games and crafts for children of all ages. Meals and snacks, fall baked goods and produce will be available. The historic building, which is undergoing restoration, is located at 5251 Shepherd Road, Springfield, just west of Lincoln Land Community College.

Society’s Tree At Festival
Don’t forget to catch the Sangamon County Historical Society’s tree at the Festival of Trees which opens Saturday, November 20 at the Orr Building on the State Fair Grounds in Springfield.  This year’s Society tree will feature hand-made ornaments highlighting historic sites and history makers of Sangamon County. The Festival, the single largest family-oriented holiday tradition in central Illinois, is open daily through November 28. For more information, see


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