Park Central Square, Springfield, Missouri: A Colorful and Distinguished History

Springfield Public Square in 1913
I'm writing a history of Springfield, Missouri's Park Central Square and invite your help. See end of this post for details.

I was impressed to write a history after I attended a luncheon of the Greene County Historical Society and the History Museum on the Square, April 20, 2013. Springfield architect Allen Casey made a slide and video presentation for a bold, multi-year, $12 million renovation of five historic-site buildings on the northeast quadrant of the square into a premiere museum attraction. Plans include interactive exhibits, a theater, sidewalk-level display windows, traveling exhibits, restoration and preservation of historic architectural features, and a shop with gifts and books. It was a plan to make downtown business owners salivate.

The nonprofit museum occupies one of the historic buildings, the former Barth’s Clothing Company, having moved earlier in 2013 from the musty, cramped, and minimally apparent third floor of Historic Springfield City Hall. When it moved, the museum changed its name to the History Museum on the Square. It had been the History Museum of Springfield-Greene County since the Springfield-Greene County American Revolution Bicentennial Committee organized it in 1975.

Making the rounds
To confirm my strong feelings the square deserved a book of its own, I met with John Sellars, museum executive director; Robert Neumann, supervisor of Greene County Archives and Records; and John Rutherford, local history associate of Springfield-Greene County Libraries. I spoke with Daniel Neal, senior planner for the City of Springfield and liaison with the city’s Landmarks Board; Deb Sheals, historic preservation consultant, Columbia, Missouri who nominated most of the buildings on the square to the National Register of Historic Places; and with my Springfield Writers’ Guild colleagues Yvonne Erwin, Marilyn Smith, Candace Simonson, and Niki Bradley. I heard repeatedly that, while many books existed on the history of Springfield and of Greene County, none was exclusive to the square.

The square has a colorful and distinguished history indelibly linked to the expansion of America’s West, Ozarks folklore, and socio-political events that influenced or changed U.S. history, including:
  • City founder John Polk Campbell platted the square and city in 1835, modeled after his hometown, Columbia, Tennessee. Today’s square sits on what was Campbell’s cornfield. 
  • In 1858, the Butterfield Overland Stage Line began twenty-four-day service from Tipton, Missouri to San Francisco, with a stop on the square.
  • Union troops under Colonel Franz Sigel marched into the square June 24, 1861. A deranged Confederate sympathizer burned the original 1836 courthouse in the center of the square during a Union raid October 25, 1861.
  • James Butler (Wild Bill) Hickok, former Union Army scout and spy, shot to death Dave Tutt on the square July 21, 1865 over a poker debt and Hickok’s watch.
  • An angry mob forcibly took three black men from jail Saturday night before Easter of 1906, hung them from Gottfried Tower on the square, and burned their bodies at the tower’s base. 
  • In 1926, John T. Woodruff led incorporation of the U.S. Highway 66 Association in Springfield that helped bring Route 66 passing through the square on its way from Chicago to Los Angeles.
  • During WWI and WWII, rallies on the square supported our troops.

Send me your memories of the square
The square has been the site of music concerts, classic car displays, art exhibits, farmers’ markets, parades, niche shops, arcades, political speeches, ministries, cookie sales, protests, and more—just about anything of social, cultural, and personal expression. In 2010, the National Register of Historic Places completed listing all but a handful of businesses on the square.

You can help make the history of Park Central Square come alive by sharing your memories of the square to be included in my book. For example, my wife Eryleene had her first date on the square when she was in sixth grade at Pepperdine Elementary School. The boy walked to her house and they took a City Utilities bus to the square for a movie, then had ice cream sundaes at Newberry's.

What do you remember of the square, long ago or recently? Did you work on the square? See a movie at the Fox Theatre? Attend a rally? Become engaged? See an art display or custom car exhibit? Shop at Heer's during your lunch break? Anything you remember doing I would love to know and you could find your name and memory in my book. Send your memories to waynegroner@yourmemoriesyourbook.com, or post at Facebook.com/MeetMeOnTheSquare. Please include your name, current city, and state. By submitting your memories, you give permission for them to be published in my book and to be edited for clarity, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. Publication of your memories is not implied or guaranteed.

Thanks a million. I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo courtesy Springfield-Greene County Library.

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