Springfield: The Complicated History

By: Liz Norton and Ryan Bishop

Established in 1869, Springfield was once a neighborhood next to Downtown Jacksonville that embodied wealth, architecture, and community. However, when driving through Springfield today, seeing abandoned mansions and boarded up bungalows is a common occurrence.

What happened to this once highly esteemed neighborhood?

Charlotte Cudd, the communications director for historic property developer Meeks and Associates said, “[In the] late 40s or early 50s, all major downtowns started to see a decline and the immediate neighborhoods next to a downtown…it’s in tandem.”

It’s true. Many downtown areas across the U.S. started to see mass migrations shifts from metropolitan areas to more suburban regions. According to Modern Cities’ Evan Halloran, this abrupt and historical change in the region’s land development pattern was largely fueled by the construction of the Jacksonville expressway system and racially motivated public policies leading to the mid-20th century phenomenon referred to as “white flight.”

As residents of Downtown Jacksonville and Springfield moved away throughout the 50s and 60s, their large and affordable vacant homes became a popular idea for multiple-tenant living.

According to Cudd, Springfield became a “hotspot for rooming houses and congregate living facilities” because of the introduction of homeless shelters in the area and its close proximity to public transit and hospitals.

Rooming houses are privately owned homes that are rented out to multiple tenants for a temporary stay.

Longtime Springfield residents and neighbors often speculate about the happenings and uses of these rooming houses. Cudd, who has lived in Springfield for eight years, said private landlords or privately owned organizations would go in and buy the homes and redo them so the houses could fit many people. The rooms were then rented for very low prices. But these speculated multiple-tenant living homes were not always well-maintained. The low costs to live in one sometimes drove bad crowds to Springfield.

According to neighbors, many rooming houses were shut down because of abuse and upkeep. Some of these previously speculated rooming houses can be seen with “condemned” signs on their front doors.

Mike Todd, who owns an upholstery business in Springfield, believes his newly renovated historic home in Springfield was previously a rooming house.

“We saw evidence of dog cages in the backyard, so I had a pretty good reason to believe that was a dog fighting pit in the back of the house,” said Todd. “I saw needles, hypodermic needles in the back room. There was other evidence of people living upstairs in another area.”

Todd paid only $17,000 for his home. He worked tirelessly to restore it back to its original form. Other neighbors like Todd are doing the same. Freshly renovated houses are seen next to condemned, speculated rooming houses. Neighbors that wish to keep the inspiration of the history of Springfield alive display a sign on their homes with the letters ‘SPAR.’ this stands for Springfield Preservation and Revitalization.

These neighbors hope by restoring homes and sprucing up the neighborhood, that this will attract others to move in and do the same.