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Historic marker unveiled for former Springfield Home for the Friendless

by Admin in From the Executive Director

Mary Jane Tully came to Springfield with her brother and sister in early 1865, destitute and no doubt frightened.

But when she arrived, she found a friend in the Rev. Francis Springer and the home he founded, The Home for the Friendless.


Descendants of both Tully and Springer gathered Thursday at the northeast corner of Seventh Street and South Grand Avenue to dedicate a historical marker on the site of the home, which evolved into the Family Service Center, still operating in the same block after 152 years.


The Home for the Friendless was established on Feb. 12, 1863 — Lincoln's birthday — as part of a national movement to provide shelter for indigent women and children, and later for orphans of the Civil War. Although founded in 1863, the home wasn't built for two years.


The block on which it would sit was donated by Elijah Iles, one of Springfield's founding fathers.


"It was all volunteer," said William Furry, executive director of the Illinois State Historical Society and the great-great-grandson of Tully. "There was no endowment, no state gift, no federal grant."


He said the home was modeled on similar structures in the eastern United States and in Chicago.


Springer, a neighbor and friend of Abraham Lincoln, joined the Union army and was chaplain at Fort Smith, Arkansas. When the fort closed in December 1864, Springer saw many orphaned children roaming the streets and arranged for the widows and children to be sent to Springfield.


Before the home was completed, they were housed in the Ides Manufacturing warehouse at Fifth and Jefferson streets, Furry said.


"Many of them died along the way," he said. "Some were poisoned when they were given the wrong liniments."


Among the dead was one of Tully's brothers, who was buried in Arkansas.


But Tully, sister Mattie and brother Ben made it to Springfield.


"People came and took them (the orphans) into their homes," Furry said. "Mostly they went to work."


Mary Jane Tully was adopted by a Springfield family, Mattie went to New Berlin and Ben to another institution for children, Furry said. Mary Jane married in the early 1870s and had four children.


The marker is jointly sponsored by the Illinois State Historical Society, the descendants of Mary Jane Tully and the Family Service Center.


Furry and his sister, Jody Kienzler, represented their great-great-grandmother's family at the ceremony. William Springer, the great-great-great-grandson of Francis Springer, was there, as were other members of the Springer family.


"We're so proud to be part of this," Furry said. "That was the story of the 19th century — orphans, poor people, indigent people."


Furry's grandmother had a narrative written by Mattie and photographs from the time. She shared those stories with Furry when he was a child.

"Rev. Springer was himself an orphan," Furry said. "He was on a special mission to take care of these kids."


Springer also was Springfield's first superintendent of schools and founded two city churches: Grace Lutheran and Trinity Lutheran.


More than 6,500 poor and homeless women and children were sheltered at The Home for the Friendless over the next 40 years. The home ceased operations in 1904 and was razed in 1935.


Oak Ridge Cemetery established an area many years ago where those associated with the home could be buried free of charge. That area was dedicated and marked with a plaque a few years ago.


The Family Service Center currently serves about 330 at-risk children through its programs that include the Compass after-school program, foster care, adoption, counseling services and the holiday Tree of Wishes program. It employs about 40 staffers.


The event also commemorated 152 years of efforts by the Family Service Center.


"Over those 152 years, we were evolving with the needs of the community," said Christine Lindsey, executive director. "As the community needs change, we will continue to adapt. We look forward to providing the best possible services to those in need for the next 150 years."


The Home for the Friendless became the Children's Service Bureau in the 1920s and the Family Service Center in the 1960s.


The ceremony was in conjunction with this weekend's Lincoln Funeral Re-enactment.


— Contact Chris Dettro: chris.dettro@sj-r.com, 788-1510, twitter.com/ChrisDettroSJR.

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