The section along South Grand between Seventh and Eighth streets could be called the Caring Corner. Since the 1860s this area has been the site of a complex of buildings that housed many organizations, which often changed names but with the same mission – to care for orphans, children, families in need, and to provide help with foster care, adoptions and daycare. These organizations included the Home for the Friendless (1863-1928), The Children's Service League (1928-1953), Child and Family Services (1953-1974), and the Family Service Center (1974-present, although now operating in a different facility).
Today, construction is underway for a new Springfield Clinic lab, which will continue care to many.
Rev. Francis Springer and his wife, Mary, had arrived in Springfield in 1839 from Pennsylvania. Orphaned at the age of five, he had been taken in by a Lutheran minister who inspired him to enter the ministry. In Springfield, he opened a school in his home, which was at Eighth and Jackson streets. Springer conducted the first Lutheran service in the city.
During the Civil War, Springer was appointed chaplain at Fort Smith in Arkansas by his neighbor, Abraham Lincoln. When the fort closed in 1864, he saw many orphans in the area. He was asked by the Army to find northern cities which would take in women and children who were refugees of the Civil War. Traveling by boat or train from the Arkansas area, around 200 children and women arrived in Springfield. James Lamb of Springfield became concerned about the plight of the children and set into motion a way to care for them. Elijah Iles donated a piece of his Iles pasture, the area now between Seventh and Eighth streets along South Grand, valued at $5,000, for a home. He stipulated that the public needed to raise money for the structure.
By 1863 the Home for the Friendless was founded. Children lived in various homes, often the homes of board members who took on the role of legal guardians. In 1865, a three-story building with a tower and cupola was completed. It housed 200 children who attended public schools and wore their own uniforms. A 1953 newspaper article looked back at the life in the home and reported, "Old records show the youngsters gathered with their granite bowls in a Dickens-like setting around the dining tale, forbidden to chatter and ordered to observe order and decorum at all times." Whether this was an accurate description of life for the children or merely the reporter's image, is not known, but the children were often referred to as "inmates." Many newspaper articles throughout the years leave a more favorable view of life, with reports of parties and outings given to the children. Articles tell of donations to the home by Springfield families, deaths of staff and children, firsthand accounts of children who had been orphaned, even the capture of two boys who tried to run away.
By the time the home closed in 1904, 6,500 women and children had come through its doors.
In 1913, a coal miners' strike forced women to find jobs as men were out of work. Children who weren't yet in school needed day care; some were being left home alone. Judge J.B. Weaver recognized that something had to be done. Thus, in 1914 the Springfield Day Nursery was opened in the same vicinity as the Home for the Friendless, serving children ages 2 to 6 1/2. Although the nursery moved to various sites within the large block area, it operated until 2002.
In March 1928 the Home for the Friendless changed its name to the Children's Home and merged with the Children's Bureau to form a new agency, the Children's Service League (CSL). The focus was to change the way children were housed. Instead of living at a facility, as had been previously considered the best for children, children would be placed with families, a precursor to foster care. Child care, foster care and adoption were all part of the mission. More individual counseling was added, and day care was expanded.
By 1935 it was announced that the Home for the Friendless would be torn down. The Aug. 24, 1935, Illinois State Journal reported of a man (name not given) who had read the home would be razed. He came with his wife to see the place he had lived from the age of five to ten. While in Springfield, the man arranged to adopt a five-year-old boy through Children's Service.
He recalled "Auntie Susan," a blind lady who had come to live at the Home for the Friendless after the Civil War. She was Susan Moore, who lived at the home for 43 years and died in the home. In 2008, due to the work of Paul Mueller, assistant at Oak Ridge Cemetery and Bill Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society, along with funds raised from Springfield groups, a memorial was erected at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Block 4. It serves as a remembrance of the 230 children and adults who had lived and died at the home.
With the demolition of the home in 1935, around 200 children were placed in family homes. There were still around 50 children living in the Home, necessitating new housing for them. A building that had been used as a toolshed at the fairgrounds was moved to Eighth Street and revamped. By 1936 a new structure called the Children's Cottage was erected. It formed a double L shape with one area serving girls and the other area serving boys. It was in a design of an English cottage with a facing of brick.
Changes in the full block covering South Grand on the south, Vine Street on the north, Eighth Street on the east and Seventh Street on the west continued over the years, with building remodels and movement of services into various buildings. A 1952 city map shows the entire area under the auspices of the Children's Service League. Three buildings face South Grand with the Children's Home near Seventh Street, a day nursery at the corner of Eighth, a clinic between them and the Community Chest Building behind them on Vine Street, which housed several service agencies.
By 1960 the site has been taken over by the newly named Child and Family Services and the map has changed. The children's home still stands in the same place. The day nursery has now been renamed the School for the Retarded, and in between the two structures is a Mental Health Center. The School for the Retarded, operated by Aid to Retarded Children, Inc. (ARC), came to be known as the Little Red Schoolhouse, as the building was painted red. The ARC had been founded around 1951-2 and worked with the Springfield Junior League to form classes for retarded children (the description used at the time). Classes were offered beginning in 1952 and by 1954 had expanded into two churches: Fifth Presbyterian for children ages 12-18 and Westminster for younger children. For several years major fundraising occurred throughout the city with events, theater ticket sale proceeds, dinners, etc. to open a school. In September 1957, a building on the South Grand area was opened to conduct three classes for "trainable mentally handicapped children," ages 3-21. Postal workers donated their time to paint the building red; thus, the Little Red School House became the visible site at 1315 S. Eighth. The school, part of the Springfield School District, operated until 1966 when it moved to South Whittier.
In 1974, Child and Family Services was renamed to become the Family Service Center (FSC). The agency took over the area and operated until 2021, when it was purchased by the Springfield Clinic. The FSC moved to South Spring Street and is still actively working to place children in families for temporary housing, helping people who wish to adopt, and providing shelter for children.
At the South Grand site, the Springfield Clinic is building a $17 million state-of-the-art medical lab, which is slated to open in 2023.
The Family Service Center, the last in the series of groups that began with the Home for the Friendless, will celebrate 160 years of providing care for children in Springfield. For most of that time, constant child care was happening at the Caring Corner – South Grand between Seventh and Eighth Streets. In a way, the area will still be able to be called the Caring Corner as the new clinic's lab will provide care for patients throughout the city.