According to donation land claim records, Stevens was the first settler to stake a claim in the Springfield locale, arriving in October 1847. He commenced building a house with his three oldest sons, and when the house was completed in December, the rest of his family joined him on Christmas day that year.
Another early arrival in the Springfield vicinity was Captain Felix Scott, Sr. who settled between the McKenzie and Willamette rivers in 1847.
In 1854 Springfield School District No. 19 was formed. A small schoolhouse was built near the corner of south 7th and B streets; it served the community until the 1880s. Miss Agnes Stewart, a young woman from Pennsylvania, was the first teacher. She had arrived in Springfield via the Lost Wagon Train of 1853.
The 1860 U.S census listed 399 people as living in Springfield.
In 1861 the worst flooding in recorded history of the Willamette River occurred.
In 1871 the main line of the Oregon and California Railroad bypassed Springfield for Eugene. The story goes that a group of prominent Eugene businessmen paid railroad financier, Ben Holladay, $40,000 to bypass Springfield by crossing the Willamette River near Harrisburg instead of Springfield. Thus began a rivalry that lasts up to the present day.
Springfield was incorporated as a city in 1885. Albert Walker, a blacksmith in town, was Springfield's first mayor.
Because of their closeness, the two cities tend to complement each other: Eugene has the University of Oregon, Springfield a number of lumber mills; Eugene is more liberal, Springfield more conservative; Eugene tends to be upper middle class, whereas Springfield is blue collar. This is a generalization which has become less true with each year, as the economy of Springfield improves and as more medium and high-end housing is built.
For years, the economy of Springfield hinged on the lumber industry, with the largest employer being Weyerhaeuser Company. Weyerhaeuser opened its Springfield complex in 1949, and after years of aggressive logging was forced to downsize as old growth lumber became less available. In the 1990s, the Weyerhaeuser sawmill and veneer (plywood) plants closed, and the paper plant was downsized. Springfield has now developed a more diversified economy, and the largest employers are now Peace Health, which recently opened a new hospital, Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, and Oregon Medical Laboratories.
Author Ken Kesey moved to Springfield at a young age, and graduated from Springfield High School before moving on to the nearby University of Oregon. After some years of wandering (described in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe), Ken bought a farm in nearby Pleasant Hill and remained a prominent local celebrity until his death in 2001. Ken's brother Chuck, and Chuck's wife Sue started the Springfield Creamery in 1960, and the business survives today based partly on sales of their flagship product, Nancy's Yogurt, developed from recipes of Nancy Hamren. In the 70s, the Creamery staved off bankruptcy with the help of the Grateful Dead, who over time held a series of 10 benefit concerts on behalf of the creamery.
The city of Springfield is surrounded by filbert (hazelnut) orchards. The production has declined over time as fields have been developed into housing. Until recently the city has sponsored an annual Filbert Festival in early August as a general summer celebration, featuring music, food, and family fun; this was canceled in 2007 due to withdrawal of a key sponsor, and the future for the festival is presently uncertain. Filbert harvesting occurs in October. 98% of American filbert production is harvested in the Willamette Valley.
With the current influx of the Hispanic populous, Springfield's downtown is seeing an increase in Latino storefronts while traditional downtown stores are in decline. Currently, the city government of Springfield has encouraged this influx of Latino businesses.
The McKenzie River passes by Springfield's northern limits.
There were 20,514 households out of which 35.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.7% were married couples living together, 14.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.3% were non-families. 25.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 7.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.55 and the average family size was 3.03.
In the city, the population was spread out with 27.2% under the age of 18, 11.1% from 18 to 24, 31.4% from 25 to 44, 19.9% from 45 to 64, and 10.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females there were 95.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,031, and the median income for a family was $38,399. Males had a median income of $30,973 versus $22,511 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,616. About 14.8% of families and 17.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 23.5% of those under age 18 and 9.8% of those age 65 or over.
The Wildish Theater, a complete renovation of the historic McKenzie Theater downtown, opened in December 2006. The theater seats 284 people and is designed to host music concerts and recitals, dance, drama, festivals and small musicals. The Springfield Renaissance Development Corporation spearheaded the six-year renovation project, completed at a cost of $3.1 million.
The city was voted on as one of the sixteen possible Springfields across the nation, and took second, to host the premiere of The Simpsons Movie.