Illinois State Capitols

Assistant Editor of the Blue Book
Blue book of the state of Illinois, 1943-1944
Printed by authority of the state of Illinois
Transcribed by ©K. Torp, 2007
[Pictures added by K. Torp]

A century and a quarter of Statehood has provided Illinois with three different Capitals—Kaskaskia, Vandalia and Springfield; with six Capitol buildings, of which five were State owned, and three still standing; one in Vandalia and two in Springfield.
When Illinois was admitted to the Union in 1818, Kaskaskia was chosen as the Capital; Kaskaskia which had played a vital part in the military and religious history, almost since the first white man touched on soil that now is Illinois. The first State Capitol was a rented two story building.
The first Assembly, meeting there, petitioned the Congress for a grant of land to serve as a State Capital. This request was granted. A committee of five then was named to choose the site, and decided upon Reeves Bluff, later to be known as Vandalia, and which was 80 miles northeast on the Kaskaskia River from Kaskaskia.
The Capital was moved to Vandalia in 1820—and many years ago Kaskaskia became a vanished city, gradually disappearing under the water of the meandering Mississippi River which lapped its shores.In 1881 the Mississippi went on one of its many rampages, changed its course, moving eastward and then southwest to find its old channel. This action created an island and washed away a considerable portion of the ancient capital. Each recurring spring flood encroached further upon the site until the last vestige of Kaskaskia disappeared into the Mississippi. On the remaining portion of the island is a farming community of about 131 persons and the section is called Kaskaskia, perhaps to perpetuate the name of the city that is forever gone.
The original Capitol at Vandalia was a two-story wooden building, with one big room on the ground floor, and two rooms upstairs.

The General Assembly, at its first meeting in Vandalia, voted that Vandalia was to remain the State Capitol for a period of at least 20 years, beginning December 1st, 1820.

On December 9, 1823 fire destroyed this first State owned Capitol. During the summer of 1824, a new building was constructed, made of wood, at a cost of $15,000. Soon thereafter agitation was started for the removal of the Capital to a site nearer the geographical center of the State. This sentiment caused the General Assembly to pass an act in 1833, whereby the voters at the following general election, could decide the location of the Capital. Alton was selected, but the margin was so slender that the Assembly did not feel bound by the choice of the people, and the Capital never was moved to Alton.

Residents of Vandalia, wishing the Capitol to remain there, erected a new building in 1836 at a cost of $16,000, to serve as a new Capitol, and tore down the old. But the gesture was in vain.

On February 25, 1837, the Assembly passed a bill, providing that the Capitol be moved from Vandalia to some place nearer the center of the State, and three days later—February 28, 1837—Springfield was chosen as the new Capital City. Because of the Act of the Assembly of 1820, Vandalia was to continue as the Capital until December 1, 1840, but on June 20, 1839, Governor Thomas Carlin issued a proclamation that all State records be moved to Springfield by July 4th, 1839. However, the State Government did not actually function in Springfield until December, 1839.
The Eleventh General Assembly returned the Vandalia Capitol to the county of Fayette, and the city of Vandalia, and the old Statehouse still stands, but once again is State property.

The cornerstone of the State's fourth capitol was laid at Springfield on July 4, 1837. After many delays the building finally was completed in 1853 at a total cost of $260,000, double the original estimate.

Illinois continued to prosper and to gain in population, and soon it was apparent that a much larger Capitol would be needed. The enabling act was passed by the Assembly on February 24, 1867.

When the new and present Capitol was completed, the old Capitol was conveyed to Sangamon County. Certain alterations were made in the building, the most remarkable one being that of raising the massive two-story structure off the ground and building under it while it was suspended, what now is the ground floor of the three story building, which now serves as a courthouse.

Ground was broken for the present Capitol March 11, 1868. Formal laying of the cornerstone took place October 5th of the same year. Still unfinished, the building was first occupied in 1876. Twenty one years after the Legislature authorized its construction, the building finally was completed. Originally, construction costs were limited to $3,000,000, but, before completion expenditures amounted to more than $4,500,000.

The building is in the form of a Latin cross. The extreme length from north to south is 379 feet, and from east to west 268 feet. From the ground line to the tip of the flag staff the distance is 405 feet. The circular foundation upon which rests the great dome is 92 1/2 feet in diameter, and is 25 1/2 feet below the gradeline, based upon solid rock.

Springfield Capitol Building, 1905

Springfield Capitol Building
c. 1905

The exterior of the building is of Niagara Limestone. Pillars are of polished granite, and floors, corridors, main stairways, inner columns and wainscoting are of vari-colored granite and marble, some of the stone being imported. The ceiling and walls are decorated with paintings and artwork.

This building in Vandalia served as the State Capitol and was the third building in that city used for that purpose. Abraham Lincoln served his first term in the legislature in this Capitol. Since the turn of the century, additional buildings have been erected on or near the capitol grounds as follows:
CENTENNIAL BUILDING—cornerstone laid in 1918, completed in 1923. It was constructed to commemorate the 100th birthday of Illinois as a State of the Union. It cost approximately $3,000,000. The building houses: Memorial Hall, where flags of Illinois regiments are encased; the State Library; the State Historical Library, where many Lincoln relics are displayed; the State Museum and some State offices.

ARCHIVES BUILDING—completed in 1938 at a cost of more than $800,000. It was designed and constructed to house the valuable historic arid semi-current records of the State. It's architecture is unique and although it is seven stories it contains no windows above the third floor. The building is air-conditioned and is as nearly fireproof as modern science can make it. More than 15 miles of steel files are in the building. At the time of construction two buildings of similar design were in the United States.

POWER HOUSE—situated north of the Capitol, across Monroe Street, furnishes heat and electricity to the Capitol group of buildings.

NEW ARMORY BUILDING—to the east of the Power House, was completed in 1937. Here are housed the military branches of the State and Government. Some offices under the Governor's administration also are housed here.

THE SUPREME COURT BUILDING—on Second and Capitol Avenue just east of the Capitol, contains Illinois highest courts, the office of the Attorney General and other judicial offices. The building was dedicated in 1908 and it cost $500,000.
A network of tunnels connect all buildings with the exception of the Supreme Court.
The first tunnel to be constructed is that under Monroe Street, connecting the Power Plant and the Capitol. This tunnel served for many years as a duct for heat pipes and water mains. Ever increasing need for heat and water taxed the tunnel's capacity and in 1931 a new and larger one was constructed. It is more than 500 feet long and "enters" the Capitol under the East wing.
All plumbing excepting the lawn sprinkling water main was transferred to the new tunnel.
The old tunnel seldom is used except for carting freight to and from the Capitol.
When the Centennial Building was erected, a tunnel was constructed to connect the building with the Capitol. This tunnel is more elaborate, it is partitioned down the center. One side houses the plumbing and the other provides an all weather passageway for pedestrians plying between the two buildings.
Because of falling plaster and leaking ceilings, the present Secretary of State reconstructed this tunnel. A leak-proof and soundproof ceiling replaced the old plaster roof and a new modern fluorescent lighting system was installed.
Connecting this main tunnel is still another which provides basement entrance to the Archives building.

1911 May 26—The General Assembly enacted legislation protecting workmen against occupational diseases.
* June 5—By providing a fund for the care of dependent and neglected children, Illinois became the first state to pass state-wide "mother's aid" legislation.
* June 10—The "Starved Rock State Park Bill," providing for a park commission and the acquisition of Starved Rock, became a law. By the end of the year the site of Starved Rock, the first Illinois state park, had been transferred to the State.
* June 10—The General Assembly passed the first workmen's compensation act, providing compensation for death or injury in certain designated industries.

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©2007, K. Torp