A Visit to the Old Neighborhood
November 25, 2012 § 4 Comments
Tim Smith, president of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, announced this week that the vacant house at 835 South Fourth Street (one-half block south of the Dana-Thomas House) has been donated to the Foundation. According to The State Journal-Register, Smith said, “We have a mission to improve the area around the Dana-Thomas House.” If the Foundation Board plans to restore the block to its original grandeur, they have a big job ahead of them.
According to the 1902 Springfield City Directory, there were 16 families on the west side of the 800 block of South Fourth Street the year Susan commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to remodel her father’s home. The house now owned by the Foundation was the home of the Lucius M. Castle family that year. Mr. Castle was the principal at Springfield High School. He had been on the faculty for several years before assuming the principalship in 1899. His wife was on the Board of Directors of the Springfield Woman’s Club, and presented a program at the Lawrence House for the Art Department of the Club (Susan was chair of that department.) on “How to Hang a Picture” in December of 1895.
Their neighbors to the north were the family of Christopher Columbus Brown, an attorney who was admitted to the bar by none other than Abraham Lincoln. Brown’s wife Betty was the daughter of John Stuart, one of Lincoln’s law partners. Lincoln attended their wedding. The William L. Gross family lived on the south side of the Castle home. Gross was a respected judge and close friend of Rheuna Lawrence, Susan’s father. Both Brown and Gross were honorary pall bearers at Rheuna’s funeral. The house on the other side of the Gross home was occupied by the family of George (another attorney) and Leigh Gross Day, artist, author, and close friend of Susan (see Chapter 16 of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House).
The Day home was on the south corner of the block, and the family of Mathias Bartel, manufacturer and dealer of boots and shoes, lived on the north corner, across the street from the Lawrence home. A diverse group of Springfield citizens inhabited the elegant homes in between. Among them were an engineer, a teacher of elocution, an entrepreneur, two widows, and a jeweler/optician. Not surprisingly, the neighborhood was called “Aristocracy Hill.” Today many of the houses are replaced or gone. (The site of the Day home is a parking lot.) Most of the eight buildings remaining have been converted to apartment houses or vacated. Improving the neighborhood seems a monumental task. I wish the Foundation Board well.