Monday, December 12, 2016

A Brief History of Illinois State Capitol Buildings from 1818 to the Present.

The Illinois State Capitol, located in Springfield, Illinois, is the building that houses the executive and legislative branches of the government for the State of Illinois. The current building is the sixth capital of the state since statehood in 1818. Following is a brief history of all six Illinois statehouses. 

№ 1 - The first Illinois State Capitol (1818-1819). Kaskaskia, Illinois, is a village in Randolph County. As a major French colonial town of the Illinois Country in the 18th century, its peak population was about 7,000 when it was a regional center. As a center of the regional economy, Kaskaskia was named the capital of the United States Illinois Territory, created on February 3, 1809. 
State of Illinois Capitol Building in Kaskaskia, Illinois.
In 1818, when Illinois became the 21st state, the village of Kaskaskia briefly served as the state's first capital until 1819. The capitol was quickly moved to Vandalia, Illinois when flooding destroyed most of Kaskaskia in April of 1881. As of July of 2016, the village of Kaskaskia has a population of 14.
State of Illinois Capitol Building after the Mississippi River
Changed Course Naturally and Flooded Kaskaskia, Illinois.
№ 2 - The second Illinois State Capitol (1820-1823; 1st one built in Vandalia). In 1820, with the completion of the new statehouse in Vandalia, Illinois (eighty miles northeast of Kaskaskia) became the official capitol building of the state. The first of three capitol buildings to stand in Vandalia was a plain two-story frame structure. The entire first floor served as a meeting place for the House of Representatives. In contrast, the second floor was divided into rooms for the Senate and the Council of Revision, which consisted of the governor and justices of the Illinois Supreme Court. Executive offices were located in other buildings. The state treasurer transacted business at his home, while the auditor and secretary of state worked in the brick building that housed the state bank. The bank building burned on January 23, 1823, consuming most of the state's financial papers, and the statehouse was destroyed by fire in December of 1823. 
№ 3. - The third Illinois State Capitol (1824-1836; 2nd one build in Vandalia). Vandalia's second statehouse was built during the summer of 1824 by residents who feared the removal of the capital to another town. Like its predecessor, the building served primarily as a meeting place for the general assembly. State executive offices and the Supreme Court seem to have had no permanent quarters. The building had been constructed hastily, and the effects were soon apparent. By 1834 its floors sagged badly, and the walls bulged dangerously. Two years later, people refused to enter the building, fearing it would collapse. Frightened by an 1834 referendum to relocate the capital, Vandalia residents constructed a third statehouse.

№ 4 - The fourth Illinois State Capitol (1836-1839; 3rd one built in Vandalia). It is located at 315 W. Gallatin Street in Vandalia, Illinois, in the center of a city block downtown. It is the oldest surviving capitol building in the state and costs $16,000.00 to build. Work began in the summer of 1836 the third capitol was demolished. Efforts were made to salvage material from the old building. Though workers attempted to finish the building rapidly, much remained to be done when the legislature convened in early December. Plaster in second-story rooms was still damp, and rooms on the first floor were barely begun. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
Illinois' Fourth (4th) Statehouse, Vandalia, Photographs.
This statehouse was of simple Federal design. The new statehouse was larger than any of its predecessors. The building provided, for the first time, space for all three branches of the government. The first floor contained offices for the auditor of public accounts, secretary of state, treasurer, and all members of the executive branch as well as chambers for the Supreme Court. There was no space specifically assigned to the governor. The second floor is composed of a central hall devoted to the general assembly's needs. The House and Senate chambers each contain a visitor gallery reached by staircases. Although the new brick structure was extravagant, the General Assembly ignored the gesture and voted to relocate the capital to Springfield on February 25, 1837. The last session of the Illinois General Assembly to meet in the Vandalia statehouse closed on March 4, 1839. Before adjournment, the legislature passed an act presenting the building to Fayette County and the town of Vandalia. 

In 1856 Vandalia sold its interest in the building for $3,150.00. Shortly thereafter, county commissioners authorized an extensive remodeling, including the addition of the porticoes that visitors see today. On August 5, 1918, the State of Illinois purchased the old statehouse and public square in order to ensure its preservation for future generations. Though owned by the state, the building continued to serve as the Fayette County Courthouse until 1933, when county offices moved to new quarters. In the 1930s and 1940s, the State of Illinois carried out a major effort to restore the building to its Lincoln-era appearance. Spectators' galleries were reconstructed in the Senate and House chambers in the 1970s

№ 5. - The fifth Illinois State Capitol (1839-1876) is in Springfield, Illinois and is preserved as the Old State Capitol Historic Site at Capitol Avenue and Second Street. On July 4, 1837, the first brick was laid for Illinois' fifth capitol, designed by John F. Rague (who also designed the nearly identical Iowa Territorial Capitol).
In 1853, the capital was completed for $260,000.00, almost twenty times the cost of any previous structure. The building was designed in the Greek revival style from stone quarried six miles (10 km) from the site. For many years, it was the largest and most extravagant capital of the western frontier of the United States. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985.

№ 6. - The sixth is the current Illinois State Capitol (1876-present) is also in Springfield, Illinois. The capital was designed by Cochrane and Garnsey, an architecture and design firm based in Chicago, Illinois. The formal laying of the cornerstone occurred on October 5th, 1868.
Two years later, the cornerstone developed large cracks and had to be replaced.  Although still unfinished after eight years of work, the General Assembly moved into the building in 1876. The project was continually plagued with trouble. Corruption was suspected several times, and at least one workman was killed on the job. Construction continued intermittently for twenty years. During this time, a serious movement was afoot calling for the abandonment of the unfinished structure and the Capital's removal to some other Illinois city.
Civil War veteran Richard J. Oglesby was Governor when the building started and served a third term when the Capitol was finally completed two decades later in 1888. Initially, construction costs were limited by appropriation to $3,000,000.00, but expenditures had risen to over $4,500,000.00 at the time of completion. 
The Capitol, situated on a nine-acre plot and built on the highest point of ground in the city, was designed in the form of a modified Latin cross. The facade is classical, an extremely popular style for government and public buildings in the nineteenth century. The French-style Mansard roofs on the north and south wings are indicative of the influence of Piquenard, a native of France. 
The extreme length of the building from north to south is 379 feet, and 268 feet from east to west. The height from the ground line to the top of the dome is 361 feet and 405 feet to the tip of the flagstaff. The red lights on the dome, electronically geared to turn on when visibility reaches a certain low, were installed as guidance for pilots.
The building is the highest non-skyscraper capital in the United States, with a dome height of 361 feet. A Springfield city statute does not allow buildings to be constructed that exceed the height of the Capitol. 

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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