Illinois State Capitol Tours
October 14, 2022
This Travel Log from 2020 occurred right as the pandemic broke out in the United States. My tour west was cut short but still included the Illinois State Capitol and the Old State Capitol in Springfield. In a reversal back to Boston I took a quick look at Niagara Falls.
Illinois State Capitol
The Illinois State Capitol is located in Springfield near the center of the state about 200 miles southwest of Chicago. The terrain across most of the state is relatively flat farm land with low rolling hills. The capitol site is located on the highest hill in downtown Springfield where a city ordinance prohibits any other buildings from exceeding the height of the state capitol.
The current capitol is the sixth capitol since Illinois became a State in 1818 and was built over a twenty year time period from 1868 to 1888 with the bulk of the work being completed by 1877. In 1867 a design competition was held for the capitol design and won by John C. Cochrane of Cochrane and Garnsey Architects from Chicago. The design was completed in detail with fellow architects Alfred H. Piquenard and George Garnsey. The result is a beautiful monumental work described as a French Renaissance architectural style with elements of Italianate, Renaissance Revival, and Second Empire styles. At 361 feet tall it is the tallest domed capitol in the United States exceeding even the height of the US capitol in Washington DC. Nebraska and Louisiana have taller capitols but designed in a skyscraper style that are not domed. Piquenard died in 1876 and so another architect William W. Boyington was brought in to assist with some modification to locate the Governor’s offices to the front east wing and complete the interior finishes of the rotunda and galleries. In 2011 a major renovation was done to restore the capitol to its original 1870s appearance by Vinci Hamp Architects and provide updates to building systems in the west wing. Additional renovations are planned for the remaining wings.
The capitol faces east toward East Capitol Avenue with visitor entrances located on both the east and west face at ground level. The south side provides an employee entrance and parking and the north side provides a legislative and executive entrance and parking.
The first floor entrances at ground level lead directly to the rotunda where an interior stained glass dome is lit from the dome windows above. Surrounding the dome are statues murals and sculptural reliefs depicting Illinois state history.
The frieze below the dome by sculptor T. Nicolai is made of plaster and painted to resemble bronze. The relief completely encircles the base of the interior dome and depicts significant events in both US and Illinois history from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds. Some of the depicted events are said to be recognizable and others are not as Nicolai died before the work was completed and left no legend to describe all of the events.
In 1877 the first floor was considered the basement level but between 1884 and 1888 a staircase was removed to provide an entrance to the Governors offices in the east wing on the second level. The grand staircase opposite the Governors offices in the west wing is still in place.
Above the third levels are statues of prominent citizens in Illinois history including John A. Logan a Union General and US Senator, William R. Morrison a soldier and Congressman, Ninian Edwards a Territorial Governor and State Governor, Shadrach Bond the first Governor, and Edward Coles the second Governor.
Sidney Breese a US Senator and Chief Justice, Lyman Trumbull a US Senator and author of the Thirteenth Amendment that abolished slavery, and Ulysses S. Grant a Union General from the Civil War and the eighteenth President. No reference has been found for the sculptors that created these works. Between the statues are four lunette murals by artist George H. Schanbacher depicting an eagle and shield, and three additional murals by artist Robert Wadsworth Grafton representing “ Commerce” over the north wing Senate gallery, “Agriculture” over the east wing Governors offices, and “Industry” over the south wing House gallery entrances.
Between the balconies on the west wall of the grand staircase is a large gallery mural by Gustav A. Fuchs which provides a depiction of George Rogers Clark negotiating with Native Americans at Fort Kaskaskia in 1778. This representation has since been considered folklore as there is no indication that the meeting event actually occurred or that there were Native Americans in the area at that time that could be depicted in this way.
The grand staircase leading up to the large mural is flanked by a pair of sea maiden sculptures which are duplicates proposed and designed by the architect Alfred Piquenard but not installed until the renovation in 2011. The original maidens went to the Iowa State Capitol instead when originally produced in the late 1800s. Above the grand staircase gallery on the third level are bas relief sculptures bordering the fourth floor balconies. They are by an unknown artist depicting on the north side Native Americans migrating or being forced west into the mountains and on the south side settlers hunting and moving west with their livestock.
Additional artistic works include “War” and “Peace” by artist Matt Morgan, and a portrait of George Washington by artist George Sigurd Wetterhoff. Inside the Governors office are two additional works by Morgan titled “Art” and “Literature”.
The former Illinois Supreme Court chambers includes a mural in the ceiling by an unknown artist titled “Goddess of Justice”. In addition there are many other murals paintings and sculptural works not shown here but documented at the Illinois State Capitol website listed in the References section.
The House of Representatives and Senate chambers are located on the third floor with the House in the South wing and the Senate in the North wing. The House of Representatives chambers provide desks for 118 members and seating above in the visitors gallery. The stained glass panel in the center of the ceiling was originally lit by a skylight from the roof above but uses dimmable electrical lighting today.
The Senate chambers provides desks for 59 members and seating for a visitors gallery above. The ceiling once had a stained glass panel lit by a skylight similar to that in the House chambers but was removed and reworked to the current design.
Above the House and Senate chambers are a fifth and sixth floor in the mansard roofs at the end of the north and south wings. These floors provide for House staff offices in the south wing and Senate staff offices in the north wing.
There are eight sculptures surrounding the rotunda gallery on the second level depicting John Wood a Governor by sculptor Cornelius G. Volk, Abraham Lincoln the President during the Civil War by sculptor Leonard Volk, David E Shanahan a Representative by sculptor Frederick C. Hibbard.
Lottie Holman O’Neill the first woman elected to the statehouse by sculptor Abbot Pattison, Richard J. Daley Mayor of Chicago by sculptor Peter Fagan, Richard J. Bar a Senator by sculptor Tryg A. Rovelstad.
Adelbert H. Roberts the first African American elected to the State Senate by sculptor Richard Hunt, and Stephen A. Douglas a US Senator by sculptor Leonard Volk. In the center of the rotunda on the first level is the sculpture “Illinois Welcoming the World” from the 1893 Columbian Exposition by sculptor Julia M. Bracken.
Illinois State Capitol Grounds
Below the Capitol grounds are tunnels leading from a basement level below grade to several buildings around the capitol. The basement includes several vaults once used by the state treasury but used today for general storage. Building construction was accomplished by installation of a railroad spur that circled the capitol with wooden derricks and cranes designed to lift the heavy materials from the railroad cars to the building site. The foundation walls are massive, up to 17 feet thick, and extending about 10 to 25 feet below grade to bedrock. The building construction is primarily load bearing brick masonry walls clad with massive limestone blocks carved to form a beautiful intricate facade.
On the Capitol Grounds are a number of artistic works which include this mural by artist Pat Imming and Pat Winkle titled “Illinois Very Special Mosaic Mural”.
Sculptures on the Capitol Grounds include Pierre Menard a Lieutenant Governor depicted as trading with a Native American by sculptor John H. Mahoney, Abraham Lincoln by sculptor Andrew O’Connor, Stephen A. Douglas by sculptor Gilbert P. Riswold.
Richard Yates a Governor during the Civil War by sculptor Albin Polasek, John McAuley Palmer a Civil War General by sculptor Leonard Crunelle, Everett McKinley Dirksen a US Senator by sculptor Carl Tolpo.
The “Spanish-American War” by an unknown sculptor, “Coal Miner” by sculptor John Szaton and modeled after a painting by Vachel Davis, Illinois Police Officers Memorial by sculptor Keith Knoblock.
Illinois Workers Memorial by sculptor Peter Fagan, and the Illinois Firefighters Memorial by sculptor Peter Brodin.
The Tour Part 1
The Illinois State Capitol is about 10 hours north of Huntsville Alabama making it a long day trip. My travels included lunch at the Oasis Southwest Grill in Kuttawa Kentucky while charging the car, a 2018 Tesla Model 3. My destination for the night in Springfield Illinois the Springhill Suites by Marriott which had a supercharger at the Scheels Sporting Goods store next door. This Scheels had a deli for dinner and several full size sculptures like this one of George Washington by an unknown artist. This March evening was extremely cold and windy in Springfield Illinois, wow! Fortunately the sun came out the next day and it calmed down for my tour of the Illinois State Capitol and the Old State Capitol below.
The Old Illinois State Capitol
The first state capitol was located in Kaskaskia Illinois on the Mississippi River where French Jesuits had established a settlement in 1703, and later in 1809 the US established Kaskaskia as the capitol of the Illinois Territory. In 1881 a dramatic shift in the Mississippi washed away most of the site and eventually destroyed the first capitol building. When Illinois became a state in 1818 the legislature moved the capitol about 80 miles northeast on the Kaskaskia River to Vandalia Illinois where in 1820 the second capitol building was completed. The second capitol building burned soon after completion and so a third was built in 1824 and then a fourth of better construction in 1836. The 1836 building is known as the Vandalia State House State Historic Site and is in use today as a state museum and monument to the pioneer years of Illinois history.
A debate on the capitols location had been ongoing in the state legislature for several years where in 1837 they decided to move the capitol to Springfield Illinois and the fifth state capitol was built. The fifth capitol building is known as the Old State Capitol today. Abraham Lincoln was one of the lawyers and representatives in the state house instrumental in having the capitol move to Springfield in 1837. In addition it was here that Abraham Lincoln announced his candidacy for president in 1858 as did Barack Obama in 2007.
The Old State Capitol was built from 1837 to 1840 and designed by architect John Francis Rague in a Greek Revival architectural style. In 1853 Rague produced a similar design for the Iowa Territorial Capitol in Iowa City Iowa. After the current Capitol was completed in 1888 the Old Capitol was sold to the Sangamon County and used as a county courthouse. By the 1960s the building was in need of extensive repairs so the State bought it back and completely dismantled and rebuilt the building from 1966 to 1969 to restore it to the original design from 1858 when Abraham Lincoln announced his run for president. In addition the downtown capitol grounds square was excavated and an underground parking garage was installed across the entire site.
The visitor entrance is on the south face with an identical entrance on the north face. The facade is constructed of a unique Sugar Creek Limestone that gives it these natural variegated colors.
The first floor entrance gallery includes a central staircase with access from both the north and south entrances and along one of the corridors is another statue of Stephen A. Douglas by sculptor Leonard Volk.
In 1858 the building included a State Library…
… and the House of Representatives and Senate chambers. Today the facility is used as a state historical museum and includes displays and artifacts from state history with some emphasis on the service of Abraham Lincoln.
Other buildings of interest in the area include the Springfield Marine Bank built in 1927 and designed by Helmle and Helmle Architects in a Neo-Classical Revival architectural style with Post-Modern additions to each side by Ferry and Henderson Architects in 1976, and the Illinois Building in an Art Deco architectural style by the architects Law Law and Potter in 1930.
The Tour Part 2
From Springfield Illinois my plan was to head west for a cross-country road trip to Big Sky Montana to attend the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers conference or IEEE Aerospace Conference where I was planning to present a technical paper on space habitats. That trip was going to include tours of the Iowa State Capitol and South Dakota State Capitol along the way out and several more on the way back but then everything stopped and sent me in the opposite direction.
March 6, 2020: Big Sky or Bust
First the extreme cold below freezing would not let me go through Peoria to Davenport as planned, so I had to reroute to a supercharger in Peru Illinois. Driving in extreme cold weather can reduce battery efficiency and mileage range by up to 30% and in 2020 the number of Tesla Superchargers along the interstate routes are just barely enough to get there. From Peru heading west on I-80 I was following a tractor trailer truck when I hit a baseball size rock in the road. The car was on autopilot and stayed straight and smooth but the low tire warning came on within a few seconds indicating an obvious blowout. Fortunately I was still able to drive slowly to the next exit in Princeton Illinois where there was a Boss Truck Stop and truck tire shop.
The tire side wall was blown out and would have to be replaced but the Boss Shop could not help with automobile tires and the Truck Stop itself was pretty gross. Fortunately Tesla roadside service got O’Hare towing to take me to a Tesla service center in Westmont Illinois about one hundred miles northeast toward Chicago, in the wrong direction. In 2020 all tire service had to be done at the Tesla Service Centers because training for towing and service for these new electric cars were limited. From there I took an Uber a few miles away to the Chicago Marriott at Oak Brook Illinois for the night. Throughout the day I had been getting updates from news work and the conference on the COVID-19 spread around the world where their were now outbreaks being in New York and Seattle. The journey west was looking questionable.
March 7, 2020: The Bust
Tesla replaced my tire Saturday the next morning providing great service. By coincidence I met my daughter’s friend Audrey from when they were in college together. She had arranged the servicing for a Saturday to keep me going. Friends from Auburn to Chicago, what a small world it is.
The COVID-19 virus was spreading like crazy so I decided to abandon the Big Sky Montana trip and pick up my wife who was in Boston visiting family and travel back home together. The session chair agreed to present my paper for me at the IEEE conference in Big Sky Montana where they were providing masks for the attendees if they wanted them. I did not have a mask or even understand if one was needed but I did adopted a no touch policy using wet wipes and paper towels to go in and out of everywhere from this point through the rest of the trip to Boston and home. We avoided crowds as much as possible.
March 8, 2020: To Boston via Niagara Falls
My route to Boston went through Niagara Falls so I decided to take that slight detour. Traveling through Canada on the north side of Lake Erie would have been shorter but I decided to stay in the US because I was afraid that getting back into the US from Canada might be difficult. In retrospect it probably would have been fine but I hate all this border security where in my opinion there should be no borders at all. My experience has been that the US troops on our side are pretty scary with all their machine guns and heavy armor looking like they are ready to blow somebody away.
Niagara Falls State Park was not crowded, it was a beautiful day and the sites across the river looked cool. I hope to return to see Niagara Falls from the Canadian side some day. I saw the first people wearing masks at the Niagara Falls visitor center. The couple appeared to be Asian, perhaps tourist from China where masks were already required for everyone. Back at the conference they were providing masks for those that wanted to use them. They were listening to the Chinese which is the only place that was promoting mask wearing for everyone at that time.
Niagara Falls as seen from the US side is made up of three water falls on the Niagara River; American Falls in the foreground, Horseshoe or Canadian Falls in the background, and Bridal Veil falls in the middle between Goat Island and Luna Island. The water flow is now controlled by several bypass tunnels to hydroelectric power plants which keeps the flow consistent to maintain the beauty of the water falls. The Welland Canal upstream also bypasses the falls for shipping from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
Across the river from the US side is the Skylon Tower in Niagara Falls Ontario Canada. It was built in 1965 and designed by Bregman + Hamann Architects in an International architectural style. The 160 meter height tower includes three elevators a rotating restaurant and an observation deck. I hope to check it out in more detail some day.
Safe at Home
I made it to Boston the next day and a few days later my wife and I made the two day road trip home from Boston Massachusetts to Huntsville Alabama. We avoided New York City by routing through Scranton Pennsylvania before turning to the south southwest. Once home we remained home almost all the time, ordering groceries for delivery and working from home. We learned how to make our own masks and eventually found the best available. A changed world.
Photographs and slides by David Smitherman, and data collected from onsite inscriptions brochures Wikipedia and Google Maps. Additional information collected from the Illinois State Capitol website at www.ilstatehouse.com and the Society of Architectural Historians website at https://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/IL-01-167-0039.