Billy Sunday Comes to Town

February 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

Billy Sunday in Action

Billy Sunday in Action

One hundred four years ago this week, Billy Sunday began conquering Springfield.  The dynamic but controversial professional baseball player turned evangelist embarked on a six and a half week Springfield revival on February 28, 1909. Through services attended by masses, cottage prayer meetings, and unprecedented support from local clergy, over 4,000 individuals responded to Sunday’s alter calls.  He appealed to all levels of society.  Springfield’s working class flocked to his services, and Sunday spoke to the state legislature, the Illini Country club, Springfield High School, the Women’s Club, and the noon businessmen’s organization.  He was invited to lunch at the Governor’s Mansion and the Lawrence House.  The March 30, 1909, Illinois State Journal reported that Susan entertained Billy Sunday, his wife Helen, and his entire team at a luncheon in her home. The party included two soloists, a pianist, a song leader, a personal worker, two women Bible workers, two men Bible lecturers, and an architect.

The architect was A. P. Gill who had arrived in Springfield in late January to organize the local churches and to build the Tabernacle.  Erected on the corner of First and Adams Streets to the specifications of the Sunday organization, the Tabernacle was the center for the revival meetings.  The temporary building was designed to seat 7,000 people. The slanted front platform accommodated Sunday’s pulpit, a 600 voice choir, and seats for the press, guest clergy, and visitors of note.  Newspaper accounts reveal that Susan was one of those special guests on at least two occasions.  The March 17 issue of the Illinois State Register notes that the Lieutenant Governor, a State Representative, the Secretary of the State Board of Charities, and Mrs. Charles Deneen (the wife of the governor) accompanied by Mrs. Susan Lawrence Dana occupied the coveted seats the night before.  Susan and Mrs. Deneen were also on the platform on April 4 during a special service for women conducted by women on Sunday’s staff according to the April 5 Register.

In Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House, I portray Susan as a constant seeker of spiritual truths.  Most of her quests were non-traditional.  She investigated spiritualism (see Chapter eight), phrenology, astrology, New Thought, Theosophy, Baha’i (see Chapter 15), and numerology (see Chapter 18).  However, like many other Springfield citizens, for six and a half weeks Susan was apparently a mainstream Christian captured by the charisma of Billy Sunday.

Tabernacle in Springfield, Illinoisfrom Billy Graham Center

Tabernacle in Springfield, Illinois, March 1, 1909
(from Billy Graham Center)

A Hot Issue

February 15, 2013 § 4 Comments

Susan was steamed! The state Public Utilities Commission had allowed the Springfield Gas and Electric Company to increase the rates for steam and hot water heat to residences.  The Commission held a hearing at the State Capitol on December 18, 1918, where the public was invited to comment on the rates and service of the company.  So many individuals appeared to protest that the meeting had to be moved from a committee room to the Senate chamber.  Susan’s testimony caught the ear of a reporter and was featured in the December 19, 1918, Illinois State Register:

Brick Bats and Bouquets Handed Utilities Company by Twenty-two Witnesses

Mrs. Susan Lawrence Gehrmann of Fourth Street and Lawrence Avenue stated before the utilities commission yesterday that, in below zero weather, her house was so cold that “she had lost both her friends and her religion.” She testified that on one occasion, when, in bitter cold weather, their heating service had been particularly good, she later found that it was due to a broken main which was shutting off other heating customers on that circuit.  Her heating bills this year would aggregate $625 as against $525 in earlier seasons, she said.

We interpreters have been told that the many drapes in the doorways and open spaces in the house were hung for climate control.  Their function was to keep the cold out and the heat in.  Since Frank Lloyd Wright incorporated those drapes in his 1902 design of the Lawrence House, the steam heat must have been an issue from the beginning and  was still plaguing Susan in 1918.  Fortunately all has been resolved, and with the recently updated heating system, the Dana-Thomas House is very comfortable during these cold months.  No one needs to lose either  friends or religion.

Reception Area with Drapes

Lawrence House Reception Area with Drapes

Edward Payne and the Lawrence Family

February 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

Edward PayneCourtesy of Sangamon Valley Collection

Edward Payne
Courtesy of Sangamon Valley Collection

A story by local historian Tara McLellan McAndrew in the Sunday, February 3, 2013, issue of Springfield’s State Journal Register about Edward W. Payne caught my eye.  Tara describes Payne’s extensive collection of Native American relics and the fate of Payne’s life-long accumulation (click here to read the article).  I was especially interested because Edward W. Payne had such a close relationship with Susan and her family.  I refer to him briefly in Chapter One of Susan Lawrence: The Enigma in the Wright House:

According to news reports, on January 1, 1880, Susie invited Ed Payne to a leap year party at the Leland Hotel.  At that time Payne was a young bank teller with a promising future in the financial business.  In later life he would be one of Rheuna’s [Susan’s father] partners who established the State National Bank.  Rheuna was the bank’s first president, and Payne assumed that position at Rheuna’s death.

The two men evidently maintained a very close personal and business relationship. The association continued with the family after Rheuna’s death because Payne advised Susan on business matters and served as pall bearer at the funerals of Susan’s mother and second husband.  Like Rheuna, he was a school board member, and his bond with the Lawrence family was most obvious in his commitment to build Lawrence School. Details are related in the March 23, 1936, issue of the Illinois State Journal:

To the late Edward W. Payne, Springfield capitalist, must go much of the credit for the establishment of Lawrence school.  At the turn of the century Mr. Payne visualized that neighborhood as one which was to become populous and suggested to the board of education that a school be built in the square block bounded by First, Second, Laurel and Spruce streets. He was criticized in some quarters for wanting to build a school in that sparsely settled section of the city, but he succeeded in convincing the board that such a move would be advantageous…It is said that Mr. Payne personally selected and paid for all the brick that went into Lawrence school.

 At Lawrence the first library in any elementary school in the city was established …  It was furnished by Mrs. Susan Lawrence.  The first phonograph to be used in connection with the study of music in Springfield schools was placed in the Lawrence school.  It was donated by Mr. Payne and was the finest instrument of its kind available at that time. The school was named in honor of Rheuna D. Lawrence, mayor of Springfield from 1891 to 1894, and for many years a prominent banker here.

Even after Edward Payne’s death, his family continued the connection to the Lawrence family in a unique way. Nanette Payne, one of Edward’s three daughters, married Charles C. Thomas who purchased the Lawrence House for corporate headquarters of his publishing firm and preserved and protected the Frank Lloyd Wright designed house and furnishings for all of us to enjoy.

The Dana-Thomas House Foundation

February 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Wright in Springfield

I was pleased to read in the winter edition of Wright in Springfield, the newsletter of the Dana-Thomas House Foundation, part one of a detailed account of the restoration of the Lawrence Library (briefly described in an earlier post on this blog).  As usual, the attractive publication for Foundation members is full of fascinating historical information, site updates, and announcements of future events.

Wright in Springfield is just one of the perks of membership to the Dana-Thomas House Foundation.  Celebrating in 2013 its 30th year of preserving and protecting Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie jewel, the Foundation offers everyone an opportunity to financially support the ongoing programs at Susan’s house.  In addition to receiving the newsletter, members enjoy a discount at the Sumac Shop (the Foundation’s gift store) and first notification of special events and trips.  Incidentally, the guests at the ground-breaking dinner in the dining room last spring were only Foundation members because the response to the initial membership mailing filled the seats.

 The next Foundation event as announced in the current Wright in Springfield will be a presentation by Margo Stipe, Curator and Registrar of Collections at Taliesin West.  Her topic will be “Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan: A Collector’s Passion and Inspiration.”  (For a story of Susan’s experience with Frank Lloyd Wright and Japanese prints, click here) With no admission charge, the lecture will be on April 24 at 7 pm in the Springfield Art Association’s Edwards Place Gallery.

I am proud to say that I served in several capacities on the Foundation Board including president in earlier years.  Over the past 30 years I have observed the organization time and again fill in gaps when the state of Illinois lacked resources.  Foundation projects have included, for example,  hiring temporary help, purchasing artifacts and site equipment, recruiting volunteers, and educating the public.  To join me and others who are committed to preserving and protecting the Lawrence/Dana-Thomas House, click here.

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