Illinois capitol buildings give peek into state’s history


Abraham Lincoln may be the most famous citizen of Springfield, Illinois. But many famous names have served there as governor of Illinois.

Adlai Stevenson. James Thompson. Rod Blagojevich. Good and bad have sat in the governor’s chair.

Stevenson was the Democratic nominee for President in the 1950s.
Stevenson was the Democratic nominee for President in the 1950s.

The current building is actually the sixth to serve as the state capitol for Illinois. Previously, the state capitol was located in other cities. It was relocated to Springfield in the late 1830s. The Old State Capitol, which is a few blocks from the current building, served as the fifth building.


The state capitol has a monument to women in the center of the rotunda on the first floor.


The first floor hallways each are decorated with murals or portraits.

Each mural has a scene out of Illinois history.


One section has the Hall of Governors. Each governor’s portrait is hung in the hallway at the end of his term. The only former governor not to have his portrait hanging in the hall is Rod Blagojevich. You may recall that he was impeached, tried and convicted of wrongdoing following the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008.

“Blago,” as he was nicknamed, was accused of, tried and convicted of seeking bribes to be the person to replace Obama as senator for Illinois in Congress.

Our guide told us that the only way for “Blago” to have his portrait displayed is if he pays for it himself.

The capitol building was laid out well. Four wings make up agency offices, legislative chambers and hearing rooms.


The old Supreme Court room is a senate conference room now.

The Illinois state legislative branch consists of two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate.

The House has 118 members. The Senate has 59 members. Representation is based on equal population for each chamber. The House serves two-year terms. The Senate serves four-year terms.

Abraham Lincoln may be the most famous former House member. He served four terms.


President Obama was a member of the state Senate before his election to the US Senate.

The House chamber resembles most other states’ lower house chambers. Each member has a desk on the floor. They vote electronically. Their votes are recorded and displayed on the wall in front of the legislative chamber.

The Speaker of the House is the leader of the majority party in the House. Currently, a Democrat is Speaker.


The House chamber was rather modestly decorated, when compared with other states’ legislatures. The chandeliers did not strike me as super elegant or expensive (I am sure they’re not cheap). The ceiling and walls had designs, but nothing super elegant.

The Senate chamber was even more subdued with its decorations. The chandeliers were smaller than the ones in the House.


The Senate chamber was set up similar to the House. Senators have their own desk on the floor, and vote electronically. The results are displayed publicly.

The Senate president is the leader of the majority party. It, too, is currently a Democrat.

FYI, Gov. Pat Quinn is also a Democrat.

The governor’s office has a different design style. The entrance is actually enclosed with a glass façade. So, the people can see the governor’s staff at work. I thought this was kind of cool. It lent a sense of transparency to the executive branch. Literally.


The statues on the second floor of the rotunda are considered life size. We saw a statue of Stephen Douglas – Lincoln’s chief political challenger in state and national politics. The guy looked short. I guess his nickname was the “Little Giant.”


Art work along the walls of the capitol appears to be bronze. But, they are actually plaster frieze. They were painted to resemble bronze.

As I previously mentioned, the current building is the sixth to serve as the state capitol. The fifth, and first in Springfield, sits a few blocks away.


The Old State Capitol was the spot where Lincoln and Douglas had debates.

Lincoln delivered his famous “A House Divided” speech on the steps of the Old Capitol building.

A walk through the old building gives visitors a peak into the state’s history – the old House and Senate chambers, as well as the governor’s office. The Supreme Court held hearings here.


Altogether, it was an interesting walk through Illinois’ history.

This was our sixth tour of state capitols. It gave added interest to me since it was in the town that Abe Lincoln called home as an adult.

As we’ve learned, libraries, train depots and state capitols provide great insights into the history of places. They are well worth checking out as tourist stops.


For more information on both the current capitol and the Old State Capitol, please visit the following websites: