Capitals of Illinois

springfield-capitol-4

let’s continue with a capital theme, shall we? I’ve long had the vague intention of visiting all 50 state capitals during the course of my life, which mostly coalesced into a “goal” once I sat on the mile-high step in Denver. but since we’re on a Midwest thread, let’s stop next in Springfield.

of the three states yet profiled, Illinois has the most protracted and varied history of state capitals. the current building is the sixth since Illinois became a state in 1818 and Springfield is the third town to serve as capital. the town of Kaskaskia, which was a major colonial town established by the French in 1709, served as the territorial capital beginning in 1809 and as state capital until 1819 when it was deemed preferable to have the capital closer to the geographic center of the state. a piece of land about 80 miles northeast along the Kaskaskia River was selected and became the town of Vandalia. (Kaskaskia was destroyed in 1881 when the Mississippi River suddenly changed course and washed away what remained of the town. the town rebuilt but is now located on the western side of the river — the odd little pucker on the map south of St. Louis. the town is still incorporated but is one of the smallest in the state.)

Vandalia was home to two capitol buildings, the first of which burned in the early 1820s. the Second General Assembly, as one of its first acts in Vandalia, passed a motion to remain in Vandalia for at least twenty years. not long after the second capitol was built however (in 1824), calls began to move the capital once again to someplace more geographically favorable. until that point, land along rivers was far more populous, but as railroads expanded and the north of the state opened up to settlement, agitation for relocation grew. in 1833, lawmakers introduced a bill to allow the populace to choose a new capital site from one six locations: Alton, Jacksonville, Peoria, Springfield, Vandalia, and the actual geographic center of the state. after what seems a rather true Illinois fashion, the result of the vote (in which Alton emerged victor) was deemed too close, thereby inconclusive and never announced.

the relocation question was picked up again in the subsequent legislative session by young Abraham Lincoln and supported by several other legislators. in an effort to keep the capital in Vandalia, during the recess residents tore down the existing twelve-year-old capitol and put up a new and extravagant brick building … which failed to prevent legislators from siding with Lincoln and up and moving to Springfield. while the relocation act passed in February of 1837, the previous act of 1820 prevented the complete immediate relocation; the governor issued a proclamation to move all state records to Springfield by mid-1839 but the legislature did not meet at the new site until December of that year.

the delay caused by the 1820 act allowed time to construct a new, grand capitol in Springfield, and the cornerstone was laid on Independence Day in 1837. the building was finally completed sixteen years later (at nearly double the estimated cost) and played host to many significant moments in Lincoln history. here he argued cases before the State Supreme Court, first confronted Stephen Douglas, gave his “House Divided” speech, and finally laid in state in 1865. (can you blame President Obama for selecting the site to announce his candidacy?) the rapid growth and industrialization of the state spurred by the Civil War resulted in overcrowding at the capitol building and in 1867 the legislature again voted to construct a new capitol (the one in use today).

work on the current capitol began in 1868 and finished twenty years later at a cost of $4.5 million. the state recouped some of its expenses by selling the Old State Capitol to Sangamon County for use as a courthouse. the dome is covered in zinc to appear silver while the interior of the dome is plaster painted to look bronze and features events from Illinois history. it is the tallest non-skyscraper capitol in the country, taller than both the one in Washington, D.C., and the one here in Madison.

(more on the Old State Capitol here or here)
(more on the current Capitol here or here)

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.