History & Architecture

George Pasfield, Jr. and the Growth of Springfield

Residing in the Georgian Mansion he built in 1897 on the family’s west side estate, George Pasfield, Jr. was among Springfield’s leading citizens. Heir to a family fortune and legacy that dwarfed all but a few of his contemporaries, Pasfield repeatedly accepted responsibility as a prominent member of the community striving to better Springfield. As a respected businessman, Pasfield was trusted by not only his own family, but the city of Springfield and in particular the business community, to continue the Pasfield tradition of leading community interests for the betterment all.

George Pasfield, Jr. was the third in a line of Springfield Pasfields. His grandfather, also named George Pasfield, arrived in Springfield from Kentucky during the spring of 1831. According to family history, the first Pasfield was an English immigrant who had been orphaned in Philadelphia in the 1790s. There he was apprenticed to cooper and eventually was trusted enough to be sent to Cuba with cargoes of staves to be set up for shipping rum and sugar. Years before Abraham Lincoln, Pasfield later operated a business shipping goods from Kentucky to New Orleans via the Mississippi River. Around 1820, Pasfield settled in Paris, Kentucky, opened a general store, and married Mary Forden. After visiting Mary’s brother, who had recently settled in Sangamon County, Illinois, George and Mary Pasfield relocated to the growing town of Springfield. The Pasfields purchased land on the north side of the public square. There, the Pasfields opened a new general store and, in December of 1831, gave birth to their first and only child, George. Over the years, the elder George Pasfield retired from the life of a merchant and instead made his living through the acquisition and management of area farmland and real estate in the town of Springfield. The elder Pasfield also accepted civic responsibility by serving as the modern equivalent of an alderman on Springfield’s town board. In the late 1830s and early 1840s, he would go on to provide substantial financial support for the relocation of the Illinois state capital from Vandalia to Springfield. During the same years that Lincoln rose to prominence, Pasfield was an active member of the Springfield community, serving as a juror in cases argued by Lincoln, on local committees Lincoln was involved with, and even employing Lincoln’s law firm to represent him in lawsuits arising from his business interests.

The second George Pasfield grew up in Lincoln era Springfield and, at the time of his death in 1916, was remembered as a personal friend of Lincoln. In 1855 and 1856, he attended St Louis Medical College, thus earning the title of “Doctor.” Like his father, Dr. Pasfield destiny appears to have been a career of expanding Springfield; Dr. Pasfield’s only medical service appears to have been a brief stint as a contract surgeon at Springfield’s Camp Butler, potentially while it served as a Confederate prisoner of war camp, although he was known as “Dr. Pasfield” for the rest of his life. Like his father, Dr. Pasfield bought, sold, and managed real estate in Springfield and Sangamon County, eventually expanding his interests as far west as Kansas City, Mo. For a time, Pasfield owned so much property in western Sangamon County that a post office bore the Pasfield name. In 1866, Dr. Pasfield married Hathaway Pickrell and together they had three children. Dr. Pasfield was an active member of Springfield’s business community, being a founding stockholder in the Illinois Watch Company, Springfield Iron Works, and the new Leland Hotel Company. Dr. Pasfield became known as a Springfield banker for his service as an executive and stockholder in a number of the city’s banks. As devoted resident of Springfield, Dr. Pasfield reinvested his personal wealth in the community. Dr. Pasfield also served as president of the Springfield Home for the Friendless, was a prominent member of the Lincoln Centennial Association, and was one of the largest donors to the Capitol Grounds Purchase Association. By the time of his death in 1916, he was called the wealthiest man in central Illinois.

As the heir to this legacy, George Pasfield, Jr. was not one to rest on the laurels of his family’s reputation and wealth. Pasfield, Jr. was born on March 22, 1870, the second of three child and the first son of Dr. George and Hathaway Pasfield. The younger Pasfield attended Springfield High School and studied for two years at the University of Illinois. In 1891, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, although he was called home the following spring when Dr. Pasfield fell ill. In 1897, Pasfield married Caroline Merritt and together they had two daughters, Charlotte (who married Robert Vroom in 1922) and Susan (who married Herbert Bartholf in 1922). Not content to merely live in the shadows of his father’s reputation, George Pasfield, Jr. soon expanded his interests beyond family life and became involved in many of Springfield’s most pressing projects.

From the time he returned home from school in 1892, George Pasfield, Jr. was active in Springfield business circles. Pasfield became a prominent member of the Springfield Commercial Association, a predecessor of the modern chamber of commerce. Pasfield, like his father, was involved in charitable organizations as well, including the Home for the Friendless and the Sangamon County Community Foundation. Like his father before him, Pasfield was also active in banking circles, serving the Farmers National Bank of Springfield as a director and as second vice president between 1898 and 1913. In 1920, he was again elected a bank director, this time of Springfield’s Marine Bank. When the original Leland Hotel burned down in 1908 and Springfield began to fear loosing the grand hotel would also lead to loosing the capital, Pasfield Jr. was among the city leaders who formed to build a new Leland. Pasfield was among the directors of the new Springfield Hotel Company and was quickly elected its president. Over the next twenty years, Pasfield guided the hotel’s reconstruction and business. He remained president until 1926, by which point the E. O. Perry, (whom the company had originally hired to run the Leland) family had purchased a controlling interest in the Leland. [Resolution] It was also during Pasfield’s last years with the Leland that Springfield’s famous horseshoe sandwich was invented in its kitchens.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Pasfield Jr., became one of area’s largest landlords. As manager of his father’s properties, Pasfield controlled substantial business buildings on the courthouse square (today’s Old State Capitol Square), properties throughout the city of Springfield, and farmland throughout Central Illinois. The Pasfield properties could be found near Bloomington, Decatur, and even as far west as Kansas City, Missouri. George Pasfield, Jr. became the administrator of the sizable Pasfield estate upon Dr. Pasfield’s death in 1916. In 1917, under the younger Pasfield’s management and primarily through leases, the estate produced an income of over $144,000, the equivalent of over two million modern dollars. By the time of the younger Pasfield’s death, in 1930, it was reported that the family estate had “increased greatly” under his supervision.

Although George Pasfield, Jr. was an important force in Springfield for a variety of reasons, he is best remembered for four major contributions. The first is his contributions to the Illinois Centennial Commission, the official government body charged with celebrating Illinois’s one hundredth anniversary as a state. The second is his involvement with the Capitol Grounds Purchase Association, a Springfield body which lead the effort to double the size of the state capitol grounds. The third, his presidency of the Springfield Pleasure Driveway and Park District, oversaw the expansion and modernization of Springfield’s parks. The final contribution, although started in 1896, is the Pasfield House, George Pasfield, Jr.’s Georgian Revival mansion recently restored to the elegance of Pasfield’s time in Springfield.

Illinois Centennial Commission

One of George Pasfield, Jr.’s most lasting contributions to Springfield and the state of Illinois was his service to the Illinois Centennial Commission. In 1917, newly inaugurated Governor Lowden appointed an entirely new commission of distinguished men and one woman from throughout the state of Illinois, among whom was George Pasfield, Jr. Pasfield was one of only four commission members from Springfield. Once re-organized, the commission members were divided into seven standing committees, three of which would become especially important to Pasfield: Celebration at the State Capitol, Centennial Memorial Building, and Pageants and Masques. Pasfield served on the Commission’s Pageants and Masques committee and as vice chairman to the Celebration at the State Capital committee. As a result of Pasfield and the entire Commission’s efforts, the official celebration was held at the Capitol on October 4-6, 1918. The celebration featured a number of speeches by dignitaries and was highlighted by the dedication of the Stephan Douglas and Abraham Lincoln statues on the capitol grounds. In an effort to bring history to life, the Centennial Commission’s Pageants and Masques Committee created a series of plays showing the history of Illinois. While some plays were written to be performed by children, “The Masque of Illinois” was performed by over one thousand people of all ages at the state fair grounds.

Although the official celebrations have faded from our memories, the Commission created a number of lasting tributes to Illinois’ one hundredth anniversary as a state. The Commission sponsored the publication of the books Illinois in 1818 and a five volume Centennial Memorial History of Illinois, which were provided free of charge to public libraries and sold to individuals. The Centennial Commission’s publications represent a valuable resource to students of Illinois history and are used by historians to this day. The Commission also contributed to the issue of a Centennial Half Dollar, featuring an image of Lincoln and the state seal of Illinois, from the United States Mint. As an outgrowth of the Centennial Commission’s committee on the Centennial Memorial Building, a Centennial Memorial Building Commission was created to contribute to the planning and construction of the Centennial Building. The cornerstone laying ceremony later became part of the official celebration. On October 5, 1918, also the fiftieth anniversary of the laying of the Statehouse cornerstone, the Centennial Memorial Building’s cornerstone was put into place.

Centennial Land Purchase Association

While not a member of Illinois Centennial Commission’s Centennial Memorial Building Committee, George Pasfield, Jr. became closely involved in making the building a reality. In 1915, the Illinois General Assembly decided to take advantage of the celebration by adding a much needed new building to the capitol area. Legislation formed the state’s Centennial Building Commission and decided to build to the south of the capitol. At the encouragement of the Springfield Commercial Association, of which Pasfield was a member, the Capitol Grounds Purchase Association was incorporated to solicit one half of the $250,000 required from Springfield citizens and businesses. One of fifteen individuals who formed the corporation, Pasfield, Jr. served as the organization’s second vice-president and, upon the death of association president Judge J. Otis Humphrey, was elected president.

As a committee to testify before the state senate’s appropriations committee, George Pasfield, Jr. appeared alongside Frank Reisch, Jr. (of the Reisch brewing family) and D.W. Smith (a local politician) to accept the $125,000 obligation. Speaking for the group, Smith testified,

“The bill now before you is not a Springfield measure, it did not originate with us, it is not especially advocated by us. It is a measure of state-wide interest in connection with the proposed celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the admission of our State into the Federal Union. You my very properly ask why, if it is not a Springfield measure, are we willing to donate to the State the sum of one hundred thousand dollars? [the Association and the city of Springfield had already acquired some of the land, valued at $25,000] Our reply is that we do it because we are asked to do it; because it is in accordance with our practice of 78 years standing…From the year 1837 [when the capital was originally moved to Springfield from Vandalia] to the present day we have contributed liberally towards every improvement…made in Springfield by the State of Illinois.”

Pasfield’s presence in the association no doubt encouraged his father, Dr. George Pasfield, to make one of two $10,000 donations, the largest received by the Association, before the fundraising even officially began. Ultimately, Pasfield and the association raised the needed funds and the Centennial Building’s cornerstone was laid in 1918. Completed in 1923, the Centennial Building housed government offices, the Illinois State Historical Library, the Illinois State Museum, and proudly displayed the state’s collection of battle flags. According to many, completion of the Centennial Building officially ended any and all talk of moving the capital from Springfield. The building was later added to in 1928 and 1966, before being renamed in honor of the former Illinois secretary of state Michael J. Howlett in 1992. The property central to the Capital Grounds Purchase Association’s goals is now occupied by the Illinois State Museum, the Illinois State Archives, and the renamed Howlett Building.

Springfield Park District

In 1915, reportedly amidst a financial debacle, all but one member of the Springfield Pleasure Driveway and Park District (now simply the “Springfield Park District”) declined to run for reelection. Amidst this chaos, George Pasfield, Jr. accepted the call to run as the district’s president. Pasfield, Jr. headed the bipartisan “New Board Ticket” of candidates. The board was reputedly close to eighty thousand dollars in debt and Pasfield’s opposition in the election was labeled by the Illinois State Journal as a tool of Springfield machine politics. The State Journal editors wrote, “Springfield’s parks should not be put under the control of any politician, to be exploited by him and his political associates. A vote for the New Board ticket will be a vote against political domination of the parks.” The Journal firmly endorsed Pasfield’s ticket and wrote,

“George Pasfield is not only fully capable but entirely trustworthy. He is no politician, but he is the one type of business man in whom the people can afford to repose implicit confidence in public office. Voters; when you can get such a man as George Pasfield to accept the presidency of the park board, grab it, and take it promptly! Don’t let a chance like that get away from you under any consideration”!

The Illinois Journal further advised,

“The so-called People’s Ticket, while it contains the names of some good men, is primarily the ticket of “Charlie” McBride. Its success will mean McBride domination of the public park system. And for that reason, if for no other, the People’s ticket ought to be defeated…A vote for the New Board ticket will be a vote against political domination of the parks”.

In a landslide victory, the “New Board Ticket” easily won election over the “People’s Ticket.” Pasfield alone received more than two votes to every one received by his opponent.

In 1915, the new park board’s earliest actions were to modernize the parks. They ordered lamps and phones for the field houses in both Washington and Lincoln Parks, as well as the purchase of two Ford automobiles for the use of the general superintendent. After just over a year in office, Pasfield’s Board ordered the construction of 12 new tennis courts, and 2 new ball diamonds. The Board even ordered the construction of two “roque courts,” a game combining billiards and croquet, a new field house, and beach at Bunn Park.

One of the more amusing reoccurring policy issues to confront the Board throughout the entire ten years of Pasfield’s leadership was public dancing in the parks. Almost comically, the Board frequently voted the idea down or postponed decisions concerning dancing. It took only one meeting in July of 1920 to put a stop to a dance at Bergen Park field house and the similarly disreputable activity of playing cards at Bunn Park.

Perhaps the most lasting contribution made to the Springfield Park District and George Pasfield’s Park Board was the hundreds of acres added to the district. In 1915, park land in the district totaled 440 acres and consisted of East Side Playground, Washington, Lincoln, Iles, Enos, Bunn, Forest, Bergen, and Factory parks. Only three months into their first term in office, Pasfield’s Board acquired Reservoir Park from the city of Springfield. In 1916, the Board entered into a cooperative venture with the State Fair governing board to open, improve, and maintain the State Fair Grounds. In 1917, the Board purchased three parcels for use in conjunction with Lincoln Park. The Board purchased an additional tract of 26 acres just two years latter. The end of the World War I marked an agreement between the city’s Home Coming Celebration Committee and the Park District to construct a memorial stadium at Reservoir Park, a project that was in the works by the end of Pasfield’s presidency in 1925 and started the conversion of Reservoir Park to Lanphier High School and the Memorial Stadium, which still stands there today. The largest single and perhaps most lasting addition made by Pasfield’s Board was that of the Carpenter tract, now Carpenter Park, on the north side of the Sangamon River. For the purchase price of $87,310, the Board nearly doubled the amount of Park District land with the addition of over 430 acres, 300 of which had virtually undisturbed since the settlement of central Illinois.

Ultimately, in the years following George Pasfield’s retirement, his legacy was honored by being the namesake for Pasfield Park, the nine-hole golf course located on the west side of the city. Shortly following his death in 1930, the Springfield Park District renamed the new park, previously occupied by Illinois Country Club, on the west side of town in remembrance of his legacy to the district.

Pasfield House

In 1896, at the age of 26, George Pasfield Jr. began construction on a new residence at Jackson and Pasfield streets in Springfield. The home was located at the entrance to the Pasfield family estate, land originally purchased by Pasfield’s grandfather in the 1840s, and overlooked the family home where his father still resided. Even in 1896, the home was at the western edge of Springfield’s business district.

Pasfield’s mansion was built in a Classical Revival style that was popular after the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Pasfield’s wealth enabled him to build fashionably in contrast to the Queen Anne-style, gingerbread homes then occupying Springfield’s Aristocracy Hill. Unlike the typical Queen Anne homes, which were by definition an A-symmetric, Pasfield’s home exemplified the symmetrical elegance of Georgian design popular one hundred years earlier. The mansion featured a grand central staircase and a large veranda reminiscent of antebellum plantations. The detail present in the house’s columns and overall design clearly were the product of an architect and not merely a design taken from a book of plans, as was frequently done at the time.

After Pasfield’s death in 1930, the home was sold by the family and subsequently divided into apartments. In the 1990s, local businessman and former clerk of the Illinois House, Tony Leone, purchased the home and began an extensive rehabilitation to return the home to its former glory. Shortly after the rehabilitation was completed, a local appraiser stated “The house is restored to a standard by which every Springfield restoration project will be judged in the future.” The home now hosts gala receptions and will soon operate as a bed and breakfast.

Legacy

Although George Pasfield, Jr. died on April 1, 1930 at the age of 60, he left many reminders and a considerable legacy still visible in Springfield today. Although no one bearing the Pasfield name is currently active in Springfield, Pasfield’s granddaughter, Carolyn Bartholf Oxtoby, is a prominent downtown landowner (holding some original re) and active in Springfield affairs. Many of the parks and improvements added to the Springfield Park District, including Carpenter Park, remain to this day. Pasfield Golf Course is a daily reminder of Pasfield’s efforts on behalf of the park district. Perhaps the most noticeable contribution is his grand home on Pasfield St., built in 1897, only recently returned to its former glory by Tony Leone. Not the least of Pasfield’s legacies is the Centennial Memorial (now Howlett) Building is a daily reminder of Pasfield’s contributions to keep the capital of Illinois in Springfield and the celebration of Illinois one hundredth anniversary as a state. Although George Pasfield, Jr. is gone, his contributions to the city of Springfield are still with us.

Patrick A. Pospisek is an independent historical researcher working in the Springfield, IL area. He holds both a B.A (North Central College, 2002) and an M.A.(University of Illinois at Springfield, 2004) in history. His master’s thesis, “Inspired Self-Interest: Motivating Factors in the Relocation of the Illinois Seat of Government, 1836-1845,” won UIS’s Outstanding Master’s Thesis award for the 2004/2005. A portion of his thesis will be appearing in an upcoming issue of The Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society.