Springfield is the third largest city in the state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. According to the 2010 census data, the population was 159,498, an increase of 5.2% since the 2000 census. The Springfield Metropolitan Area has a population of 436,712 and includes the counties of Christian, Dallas, Greene, Polk and Webster. Springfield's nickname is the Queen City of the Ozarks and is known as the Birthplace of Route 66 as well as the home of several universities including Missouri State University, Drury University, and Evangel University.
The territory known as Missouri was included in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Soon after, the Delaware Native Americans received treaty land where Springfield’s Sequiota Park and the antique stores of its Galloway Village stand today. To the west, 500 Kickapoo Native Americans built wickiups on the prairie that still bears their name. Missouri became a state on August 10, 1821, and in 1833 the legislature designated most of the southern portion a single county. It was named for American Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene, largely through a campaign by Springfield's founder, John Polk Campbell, to honor a man he admired. A Tennessee homesteader, Campbell announced his claim in 1829. Springfield was officially founded in 1830 and later incorporated in 1838.
The origin of the name Springfield remains unclear; however, the most common view is that the city was named for Springfield, Massachusetts. One account holds that a James Wilson, who lived in the then-unnamed city, offered free whiskey to everyone who would vote for naming it after his home town of Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1883, the historian R. I. Holcombe wrote, to the contrary, "The town took its name from the circumstance of there being a spring under the hill, on the creek, while on top of the hill, where the principal portion of the town lay, there was a field." He went on to note, "This version of the origin of the name is disputed by the editor of the Springfield Express, Mr. J. G. Newbill, who, in the issue of his paper, November 11, 1881, says: 'It has been stated that this city got its name from the fact of a spring and field being near by just west of town. But such is not a correct version. When the authorized persons met and adopted the title of the "Future Great" of the then Southwest, several of the earliest settlers had handed in their favorite names, among whom was Kindred Rose, who presented the winning name, "Springfield," in honor of his former home town, Springfield, Robertson County, Tennessee.'"
Springfield was incorporated in 1838. That same year, Cherokee Native Americans were forcibly removed by the U.S. government from their homelands in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia to the “Indian Territory.” Their route became known as the Trail of Tears due to the thousands of Cherokee deaths on the journey and as a result of the relocation. The Trail of Tears passed through the Springfield area via what is known today as the Old Wire Road. The Trail of Tears National Historic Trail auto tour route is along Interstate 44 westward to US 160 (West By-pass in Springfield) and westward along US 60.
The Old Wire Road, then known as the Military Road, served until the mid-1840s as a connection between Springfield and the garrison at Fort Smith, Arkansas. By 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage began utilizing the road offering passage to California. Two years later, the region’s first telegraph line was strung along the road, and it was dubbed the Telegraph or Wire Road. The road proved vital during the Civil War, and its most historic connection is to the Battle of Pea Ridge in Arkansas. While portions of the road exist today, the most easily accessible is within Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
The 1849 charter of the Pacific Railroad, established to construct a line from St. Louis westward across central Missouri, was expanded in 1852 to include a Southwest Branch. However, after defaulting on its obligations, the state seized this branch and sold it, thus creating a new company, the Southwest Pacific Railroad. (The initial line through central Missouri eventually was renamed the Missouri Pacific Railroad). Subsequent defaults led to the line toward Springfield being known as the South Pacific Railroad and the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, before finally operating under the name St. Louis and San Francisco Railway, more commonly known as the Frisco. Commercial and industrial diversification came with the railroads, and strengthened the City of Springfield and North Springfield when the two towns merged 17 years later in 1887. As railroad construction progressed, Springfield became the crossroads of the Frisco's St. Louis to Tulsa line and the Kansas City to Memphis line, and eventually the Frisco Railroad established its headquarters in Springfield. Today visitors can enjoy the view from the Jefferson Avenue Footbridge, peering below to the locomotive path which is still in use.
With the American Civil War imminent and Missouri a border state, Springfield was divided in its sentiments. On August 10, 1861, opposing forces clashed a few miles southwest of Springfield in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the site of the first major conflict west of the Mississippi River, involving about 5,400 Union troops and 12,000 Confederates. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was killed, the first Union general to die in combat, and the Confederates were victorious. Union troops fell back to Lebanon, then Rolla, and regrouped. When they returned to Springfield, the Confederates had withdrawn.
The First Battle of Springfield, or Zagonyi's Charge, occurred on October 25, 1861. It was the only Union victory that year in southwestern Missouri. The fighting led to increased military activity in Missouri and set the stage for the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, which essentially cemented Union control of the state.
For the next year, possession of the city seesawed. Then on January 8, 1863, Confederate forces under Gen. John S. Marmaduke advanced toward the town square and the Second Battle of Springfield ensued. As evening approached, the Confederates withdrew. The next morning, Gen. Marmaduke sent a message to Union forces asking for proper burials for Confederate casualties. The city would stay under Union control until the end of the war.
Two years after the war ended, Springfield National Cemetery was created. The dead of both the North and the South were interred there, though separated by a low stone wall (later removed). In 1960, the National Park Service, recognizing the significance of the 1861 battle, designated Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. The battlefield near Republic remains largely unchanged and stands as one of the most historically pristine battle sites in the country. The Springfield area is often referred to as: "Where the South Begins".
Wild Bill Hickok shootout
On July 21, 1865, Springfield helped give birth to the Wild West era when the town square was the site of the Wild Bill Hickok–Davis Tutt shootout, a “quick draw” duel between Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt. Two small brass plaques inlaid into the pavement on Park Central Square mark the locations of both Hickok and Tutt during the famous shootout.
On April 14, 1906, a mob broke into the town jail, then lynched two black men: Horace Duncan and Fred Coker, for allegedly sexually assaulting Mina Edwards, a white woman. Later they returned to the jail and lynched another black man, Will Allen, accused of murder. The victims were hanged and burned by a mob more than 2,000 strong in the town square. The men were hanged on the town square from the Gottfried Tower which held a replica of the Statue of Liberty. Judge Azariah W. Lincoln called for a grand jury. The proceedings were covered in both the New York and Los Angeles Times. In the immediate aftermath, two commemorative coins were reportedly issued. Evidence suggests that all three men were innocent, including testimony from Duncan's and Coker's employer. The lynching sparked a mass exodus of African-Americans from the area, who still remain a small minority demographic in Springfield. A plaque on the southeast corner of the square serves as reminder.
Birthplace of Route 66
Recognized by convention as the birthplace of US Route 66, it was in Springfield on April 30, 1926 that officials first proposed the name of the new Chicago-to-Los Angeles highway.
John T. Woodruff of Springfield was elected as the first president of the U.S. Highway 66 Association, organized in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1927. Its purpose was to get U.S. Highway 66 paved from end to end and to promote tourism on the highway. In 1938, Route 66 became the first completely paved United States Numbered Highways in America — the “Mother Road” — stretching from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Coast.
A placard in Park Central Square was dedicated to the city by the Route 66 Association of Missouri, and traces of the Mother Road are still visible in downtown Springfield along Kearney Street, Glenstone Avenue, College and St. Louis streets and on Missouri 266 to Halltown. The red booths and gleaming chrome in mom-and-pop diners, the stone cottages of tourist courts and the many service stations along this route saw America fall in love with the automobile. Red's Giant Hamburg, said to be the birthplace of the drive-up order window, was located on the route.