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Springfield, Illinois

The Lithuanian history of Springfield (the capital of Illinois and home and burial place of President Abraham Lincoln) is immortalized in one of just a few historical plaques/markers for Lithuanian-Americans in the entire United States.

This historical marker, entitled “Lithuanians in Springfield,” was erected in May 2012 on the corner of 7th and Enterprise streets at the southwest edge of Enos Park. It mainly commemorates the several thousand Lithuanians (coal-miners and their wives) who arrived between 1890 and 1914 and from whom the majority of Springfield’s Lithuanian-Americans are descended.

Lithuanians in Springfield commemorative plaque

Lithuanians in Springfield commemorative plaque

Sandy Bakšys, daughter of a World War II Lithuanian refugee, spearheaded the creation of the marker—officially a project of the Illinois State Historical Society (ISHS) and the Lithuanian-American Club of Central Illinois. She wrote the text of the marker, provided proof of its factual accuracy to the ISHS, raised $3,300 for the marker’s creation in an Indiana foundry (including $1,000 of her own money), and obtained permission from the Springfield Park District for its siting.

Several blocks from the historical marker is the parking lot where St. Vincent de Paul Lithuanian Catholic Church (built by Lithuanian coal miners in 1909,) had once stood (at Eighth and Enos streets). The church was simple and towerless, with a basement the coal miners dug themselves after finishing their work day in the mines. It was closed in 1972 over the opposition of its parishioners and demolished in 1976.

The place where St. Vincent De Paul Lithuanian church of Springfield used to stand

The place where St. Vincent De Paul Lithuanian church of Springfield used to stand

Yet for decades, the church had served a Lithuanian community that was scattered around the city due to the scattered sites of mines and miners’ neighborhoods. From about 1900 to 1980, however, there was a “Little Lithuania” with homes, saloons, and groceries about two kilometers north of St. Vincent de Paul’s, along with the southern and eastern boundaries of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. This “Little Lithuania” had the highest concentration of Lithuanian immigrants in the city because it was centered around four active coal mines and two major commercial thoroughfares.

The reason why the Lithuanian plaque was not constructed in the parking lot where St. Vincent de Paul’s once stood was this: The parking lot had private owners (and a city easement), and thus, two different types of owners who might be difficult to negotiate with. Luckily, with the support of the Enos Park Neighborhood Association, the Springfield Park District quickly agreed to the placement of the marker in Enos Park, and even to insure the plaque in perpetuity. Last but not least, the chosen park location was determined to be safer and more stable and scenic for visitors for years to come.

Springfield Lithuanian church before its demolition

Springfield Lithuanian church before its demolition

To the plaque’s sponsors, its care and survival in perpetuity were crucial. The marker was being created to immortalize an immigrant history whose last witnesses had mostly already died. And the only remnant of that community, the Lithuanian-American Club (founded in 1988) was also, already, in steep decline. Sixteen years after the closing of St. Vincent de Paul Church, the Club had formed and had actively lobbied for U.S. support for Lithuanian independence. Yet by 2010, the Club was dying due to a lack of fresh immigration and the disinterest of younger generations with diluted Lithuanian ethnicity.

Therefore, the only solution was to create some form of memory in physical space--to leave behind some concrete mark that could survive. As a result of the plaque, now all the key elements of local Lithuanian history are “in place”--and under the sponsorship of institutions likely to last much longer than any individual human being or community. (Time and again, physical community in the U.S. has proven transient, at least at the lower end of the socio-economic scale.)

The creation of this marker also has led to further Lithuanian historical activity: the creation of a well-populated blogsite (, which, in turn, led to a book (“A Century of Lithuanians in Springfield, Illinois.”) And as a result of all this historical activity, the local Lithuanian-American community also has been temporarily re-energized and revived.

One of the US’s leading senators, Sen. Richard Durbin (born to a Lithuanian immigrant mother), has lived in Springfield since the 1970s. He made a donation for the plaque and has visited Lithuania on numerous occasions, supporting its independence in the U.S. Congress in 1990. Rep. John Shimkus, long-time co-leader of the Baltic Caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, once represented part of Springfield and also contributed to the creation of the plaque.

(The information and text provided by Sandy Bakšys, the author of the book about Springfield Lithuanians)

The map

All the Lithuanian locations, described in this article, are marked on this interactive map, made by the "Destination Lithuanian America" expedition (click the link):

Interactive map of Illinois Lithuanian sites

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