view of Springfield's Convention Hall is an architect's embellished
drawing, probably one of the hundreds of postcards given to visitors
of the building when it was opened to the public for inspection on
May 15, 1913.
The huge three-story convention center was built in 1913 on the west
side of South Campbell Avenue between Walnut and College Streets near
the Old Calaboose. It began in 1912 with a movement by the Manufacturers
and Jobbers Association to finance the building with money raised
through private stock subscriptions. Area merchants hoped a convention
center would attract business to Springfield. The city of Springfield
owned the land on which the Convention Hall stood. A 50-year lease
on the lot was given to the Convention Hall Association.
The cost to build the Hall was $95,000. The first floor was mainly
used for market booths selling fruits, vegetables, dry goods, dairy
products and baked goods. It also contained the lobby and business
offices. The auditorium covered the entire second floor and could
seat 4,000. A balcony comprised the third floor. Miss Grace Leard,
a vaudeville performer and sister to Mrs. Otis Milligan (a prominent
Springfield grocer), sang for the entertainment of the estimated 10,000
visitors at the building's opening.
The building never raised enough revenue to cover expenses and could
not compete with the new Abou Ben Adhem
Temple auditorium. It was closed down in 1933.
The lot of land the Convention Hall was built on had a colorful history
before the Hall was ever built. It was originally owned by prominent
Springfieldian William Fulbright. He sold it to Daniel D. Berry who
built a log cabin on the site. The lot later came to be used as a
public speaking ground. A famous 1856 speech by Thomas Hart Benton
denouncing then-congressman John S. Phelps was delivered on the lot.
Before the Convention Hall was built, the lot was a trading center,
a place to camp and a general gathering place for swapping tales.