You might feel like you’ve stepped into an Antebellum Era time warp when you first see Springfield. A history buff’s paradise, Springfield is home to several sites and museums dedicated to its most well-known resident, Abraham Lincoln. Popular Honest Abe hotspots include his tomb, law office, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, the Old State Capitol Building, and the president’s long-time residence, which has been restored to its pre-Civil War appearance (sorry, apartment hunters, this one's not for rent). There’s undoubtedly a small town, apple-pie-and-picket-fence look and feel to Springfield.
Your best bet for working, shopping, banking, and playing conveniently is via your own set of wheels, as the Springfield Mass Transit District is more suited for historic site-hopping tourists than daily commuters. Luckily, traffic jams pale in comparison to those in the big city, and parking spots are plentiful, even in the commuter-heavy downtown neighborhoods.
The cost of living in Springfield is more than 15 percentage points lower than the national average, and rental prices are among Illinois’ most affordable (less than $700). A few other things you might like to know before taking the Springfield plunge:
It’s not old. It’s distinguished … Historic homesteads (pre-1939) outnumber modern houses (1995 to present) by roughly 2.5 percent in Springfield, and in many neighborhoods, you won’t find a single freestanding house or apartment building built prior to the 1970s. There are a handful of redeveloped lofts and condos in and around downtown.
A buyer’s … er, renter’s … market … About 10 percent of residential properties in Springfield are vacant, and apartments are pretty much always available, so you can afford to be choosy. Most leases are for a full year, but 6-month and month-to-month leases are available as well at some complexes, especially those on the southeast side of Springfield. Apartment managers will typically want to see proof of income and proof of (positive) renting history, or, you’ll need a co-signer to help you score your dream pad.
Now the real fun part: deciding which part of town you want to call your own. To get a true feel for which ‘hoods have the vibe you desire, you should visit Springfield in person before signing the dotted line.
Generally, the southwest side of Springfield has blossomed most in recent years, and this is the area where you’ll find modernized housing/rental units. The Woodside neighborhood is in southeastern Springfield.
The downtown area, meanwhile, offers a variety of dwellings, from high rise apartments and luxury condos to vintage townhouses, bungalows, and older-than-old-school single-family detached homes. Easily the most walker-friendly and compact area of Springfield, downtown is an ideal choice for renters who either work in the inner city or just feel more comfortable in an urbanized environment. Rental prices vary, but if you have a thousand bucks a month set aside for room and board, you’re in good shape.
To the immediate north of downtown is Enos Park, whose tree-lined streets and abundance of historic homes make the neighborhood perhaps Springfield’s most scenic. The area has been redeveloped in recent years and now offers a variety of condominiums and apartments for rent, including some that are available in the mid-$600 range.
Other popular neighborhoods include the Historic West Side, Laketown, and the Lincoln Park area, each of which offers affordable, centrally-located lodgings.
Chicago may have its deep-dish pizza pie and St. Louis its toasted ravioli, but Springfield boasts a culinary treat of its own: the horseshoe sandwich. Traditionally a concoction of two burgers sitting atop a pair of thick-sliced pieces of toast and covered with a mountain of fries and melted cheeses, the horseshoe sandwich is allegedly what made the Giant of Illinois so damn big in the first place (no, not really). In any case, it’s a delectable dish that you’re about to see on every menu in every restaurant you patronize.
And on that tasty note, you’re all set to begin your search. So welcome to the Land of Lincoln, and happy hunting!