Springfield combines the richness of its history as a railroad town with an energy and friendliness that have kept its neighborhoods vibrant. Throughout the day, the low, long whistle of a passing train links together past and present, providing an auditory reminder of the city's founding, and a confirmation of its place as a major stop in the country's expansion westward.
That palpable combination of nostalgia and community give the city a distinct vibe, where visitors can amble over the country's longest pedestrian footbridge in the morning, go swing dancing in the afternoon, and catch a jazz concert in the evening.
Kicking off a Springfield day, first linger over espresso or latte in the downtown district. The Coffee Ethic provides the kind of classic-yet-contemporary atmosphere that sets the tone for a day in the city. Nestled in a historic building, the cafe's exposed brick walls and well-trod hardwood floors put anyone in the mood for local exploration.
Just a few blocks north travelers find Commercial Street, a major Springfield attraction known to residents as "C-Street." Once called Newtown in the late 1800s, the area transformed from a busy railroad stop and commercial hub to an eclectic, artist-driven stretch. Explore C-Street's historic buildings, still rich with century-old details, then dig into fresh vegetables and local pastries in the neighborhood's farmer market. Later, take in a free evening jazz concert in one of the area's coffee shops or clubs, or peruse the works of local artists, who often show their creations on the first Friday of every month at local galleries, including Gallery Art Market.
Heading south of downtown, discover historic Walnut Street, where many elements of 19th-century charm still linger. The area has been designated as a National Historic District, thanks to its architectural and urban features like brick walkways, stained glass windows, carriage houses and Queen Anne architecture.
The turn-of-the-century character of the neighborhood and shops on Walnut Street provide a charming contrast to downtown's bouncy energy, where the night might include a trip to the Springfield Ballet, or DJ-infused dancing at the Vegas-style club Dice Bar & Lounge. For those who prefer baseball to beatbox, Springfield is home to the minor league Cardinals, a newer team that hoping to make its own history.
Walking through the city's historic districts and current mix of shops and restaurants, there's a sense of being transported -- into the past, with its cobblestone roads and brick buildings, and into the present, with events like yoga in the central downtown square, and the annual Grape Stomp Competition to celebrate the fruit's local harvest.
That feeling of transportation is no fluke. Besides its place as a railroad hub, Springfield is also recognized as the birthplace of Route 66, the country's first paved transcontinental highway. Traces of the road are still visible in the downtown area, particularly in the mom-and-pop diners that sprang up to greet road-trippers as they zipped into town. The friendly welcome that brought visitors by railroad and highway remains part of the Springfield tradition—from the first cup of coffee in the morning to the last jazz note in the evening.