Historian Burlingame called Hart “the definition of a civic-minded citizen”
Richard “Dick” Hart, an attorney known for his longtime preservation work in Springfield, which included the city’s oldest home and was the winner of the 2021 State Journal-Register First Citizen Award, died Monday at the Springfield Memorial Hospital.
Hart, 79, was visiting Springfield but had recently moved to Bonita Springs, Fla., with his wife, Ann.
In a Nov. 28 article in the SJ-R announcing the award, David Barringer called Hart “the most knowledgeable person in the history of Springfield and vicinity.”
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Hart was president of The Abraham Lincoln Association and the Sangamon County Historical Society and was a prolific writer on local and Lincoln history.
He told SJ-R that his membership in the historical society fueled his start of Springfield Preservation Limited.
Hart’s day-to-day supervision of the preservation and restoration of the Elijah Islands house, now at 628 S. Seventh St., and his fundraising for it was a crowning achievement, he admitted. The Greek Revival Cottage, dating from 1837, is the oldest structure in Springfield.
“That’s where the Springfield story can be told,” Hart said in 2021.
Barringer said through the Iles Foundation that he got to know Hart. Barringer’s father, the late Dr. Floyd Barringer, once owned the Iles home.
“We would drive,” David Barringer recalls, “and he would point to these houses and tell me things. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I wish I had a camera on him when he told me. told all these stories. We would go to the old part of Oak Ridge Cemetery and he was talking about the Pasfields (family) and different people and things that they did, but Dick knew that. I was just fascinated by it.”
Barringer recalled Hart saying Dr. Barringer “was his inspiration to get involved in local history. Dick said to me, ‘I loved your dad’.”
State Journal-Register 2020 First Citizen Kathryn Harris said she respects Hart’s knowledge of Lincoln and Springfield history and considers Hart “a true friend.”
“I’m reading one of Dick’s books right now, so he’s going to be with me for a while,” Harris said, reached Monday.
Harris met Hart while researching articles at Illinois State Historical Library. Harris joined the library staff in 1990 and became its director in 1996.
“He would come to the library at 4 p.m. and we would stop pulling books at 4:30 p.m.,” Harris recalled. “He was always getting books on African Americans and I was nosy and (I asked him about it.) He told me he was very interested in African Americans in Springfield at the Lincoln’s time because back when he was researching, the thought was (Lincoln) didn’t know any African Americans until he became president.
“He dispelled this myth because he knew several African Americans in Springfield. The article in the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association raised a lot of eyebrows in the Lincoln community.”
Michael Burlingame, Naomi B. Lynn Emeritus Professor of Lincoln Studies at ISU and author of “Abraham Lincoln: A Life” (2008), called Hart “the heart and soul of (the Abraham Lincoln) for many, many years.
“He is the very definition of a civic-minded citizen,” Burlingame added.
In 2012, Hart received the Logan Hay Medal, the ALA’s highest honor.
A later interest of Hart was “Lincoln’s Springfield Cottage”. The idea, championed by Burlingame, was to recreate the cottage the Lincolns lived in before Eighth and Jackson’s house looked like it does today.
This house, which is now part of the United States National Park Servicewas the only one Lincoln owned.
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One group has raised $400,000 to get the project started and has architectural plans for it. It would be built in the 600 block of South Eighth Street, a short walk from the Lincoln Home.
Hart majored in history at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He returned to Springfield to practice law with Sorling, Catron & Hardin before establishing his own firm, Hart, Southworth & Witsman in 1985.
According to SangamonLinkan area known as German Settlers Row.
Hart also helped save the Strawbridge-Shepherd House on the campus of the University of Illinois at Springfield, now home to the Illinois State Historical Society. The ISHS presented Hart with its “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2013.
Hart’s booklets and articles covered a wide range of stories, including Springfield’s first black population, Lincoln’s neighbors, and early Springfield entertainment.
Hart received the city’s Preservationist of the Year award in 1999.
Hart served on the board of Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Springfield and Central Illinois Museum of African American History Board of Trustees and the Rutledge Youth Foundation Board of Trustees.
Hart is also survived by three children: Evan in Springfield; Julia in Austin, Texas, and Jay in Sarasota, Florida; and seven grandchildren.
Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788, [email protected], twitter.com/@StevenSpearie.