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The Elijah Iles Store Site:
The Oldest Euro-American Site in the State Capital

Elijah Iles was one of the founders of the town of Springfield (originally platted as “Calhoun”), which would become the capital city of Illinois. Iles was a storekeeper, and built the first commercial building in Springfield in 1821. His store consisted of a two-story log structure built upon a large limestone-walled cellar. The building was converted into a residence by 1840, and was torn down in the 1890s.

The archaeological record of Iles’ early years at the site, however, remained intact behind and below the site of the building. The remains were covered over by another commercial structure during the 20th century, but that building was demolished in 2003. About to be redeveloped again (and not subject to state-mandated archaeological survey) the fragile remains at site were immediately threatened.

With the cooperation of the property owners, a weekend of last-minute salvage excavations was conducted at the site in 2003. Within hours, the crew located not only the heavily damaged stone-lined cellar of the store Iles built 182 years earlier, but also a better preserved pit cellar associated with a small outbuilding or rear addition to the building.

That feature produced a number of artifacts dating to the earliest years of Springfield's history. These include several glass tumblers, used to serve liquor at the store, as well as a rare brass "hawk bell". Such bells were commonly used in the fur trade, and Iles himself recalled that during his first years of business, half of his clients were his Indigenous neighbors.  

The results of the work at the Iles Store site were published in the Sangamo Archaeological Center Research Bulletin series, but that report is now out of print. However, a free PDF download is available here:

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An intact segment of the limestone foundation of Iles' 1821 store - the oldest Euro-American archaeological feature in the city of Springfield.

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Refined and unrefined ceramics from a small pit cellar behind the store, circa 1821-1835.

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