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How It Came to be Located in Springfield
A Review of the Early History of the Illinois State House from 1866 to the Laying of the Corner Stone

            Since the completion and opening of the new capitol building many articles have appeared in different papers descriptive of its splendors and the progress of the work, but as the history of the building goes back twenty years, a period beyond the memory of many of our readers, and as the articles referred to have only dealt with the more recent part of its history, we think the following sketch, which is clipped from the Chicago Times of the date of September 7, 1870, will prove both interesting and instructive to many who are too young to remember the events which brought about the permanent location of the state capitol in this city and the erection of our magnificent state house:

                In the month of November, 1866, Capt. J. S. Bradford, being then mayor of the city, sent out private invitations to some forty or fifty of the most prominent men in the place, inviting them to meet him on a certain evening in a public hall named in the invitation.  After they had assembled, Mayor Bradford was invited to take the chair and state the object for which he had called them together.  The mayor then in a brief speech called the attention of those present to the fact that the state of Illinois had outgrown its public buildings so much that its records were unsafe, that many branches of its official business had to be transacted in rented buildings, where much of the valuable property was liable at all times to be destroyed by fire, and that for these and other reasons that must suggest themselves to the minds of those present, a new capitol for the state would soon be imperatively demanded.

                He further gave it as his opinion that until a new capitol building was provided for, so as forever to settle the location of the seat of government at Springfield, the business interests of the city would suffer, and suggested that for the above reasons, measures be taken to bring the subject before the legislature for its action at the approaching session.  Upon comparing views, those present were almost unanimous in favor of action.  By subsequent meetings and consultations with the board of supervisors of Sangamon county, and the city authorities of Springfield, the citizens were prepared to present the subject to the legislature with such convincing arguments in favor of immediate action, that a law was passed and approved by Gov. R. J. Oglesby, Feb. 25, 1867, with a supplementary act approved two days later, providing for erection of a new capitol at Springfield, for the state of Illinois.

                This law provided, first, for the conveyance by the governor of the public square, containing two and a half acres of land, with the state house upon it, to Sangamon county and the city of Springfield, in consideration of $200,000 to be paid to the state of Illinois, and that the grantors cause to be conveyed to the state a certain piece of land described in the bill, and containing between eight and nine acres, upon which to erect the new state house.  The bill also provided that the state should have the use of the old state house until the new one should be completed.  The land was secured at a cost of $50,000 to the city and conveyed to the state: the $200,000 was paid to the county, as provided in the bill, and that amount, with $250,000 to be drawn from the general fund, making $450,000 – was appropriated to commence the work.

                The law named seven men who should act as commissioners to superintend the erection of the new state house and disburse the funds appropriated for the purpose.  The commissioners were instructed to advertise for plans and applications, for thirty days, in two daily papers sold in Springfield and Chicago, and one each in Philadelphia and New York.  After waiting three months, they were to notify the committees on public buildings of the senate and House of Representatives, who were instructed to meet with the commissioners and unite with them in adopting a plan.  The commissioners were to be governed by the plan so adopted.  The total cost of the building was not to exceed $3,000,000.  The commissioners advertised March 15, 1867, a “Notice to Architects,” offering $3,000 to the architect whose design should be adopted for the new state house and asking for plans and specifications to be submitted for their inspection.

                A writ of quo Warranto was issued against the commissioners from the superior court of Chicago, May 13, 1867, on the relation of Matthew Laflin.  Judgment of ouster was entered against him in that court.  The case was taken to the Supreme Court, and the decision was reversed in the Supreme Court at Ottawa, at its September term that year.

                The commissioners having advertised for proposals before the commencement of this suit, they were for this reason given special permission by the supreme court to call to their assistance the committees on public buildings as provided by law, and select a design for the new state house, but were debarred from transacting any other business.  They assembled in the senate chamber, July 15, 1867.  A large number of designs were submitted to their inspection.  After mature deliberation, that submitted by J. C. Cochrane, of Chicago, was adopted.  The commissioners being compelled to remain inactive until after the meeting of the Supreme Court in September, it was too late in the season to do anything more than prepare for active business the next year.  Their first act after the legal proceedings against them had terminated, was on the 8th of November, when they issued an advertisement for sealed proposals to do the excavation and to furnish certain descriptions of stone.

                Jan. 14, 1868, the commissioners appointed John C. Cochrane as architect and superintendent of the work and entered into contract with him for that purpose.

                Jan. 18, a contract was made with N. Strott, of Springfield, to do the excavation; and Jan. 20 with R. W. McClaughrey & Co., of Hancock county, for stone to build the foundation.  Broken stone, for concrete, was purchased, ready delivered, of J. J. & W. H. Mitchell, of Alton.   March 25, 1868, a contract was made with Barnard & Gowan, of Chicago, to do the mason work.  The magnitude of the work may be inferred from the fact that the parties who furnish the foundation stone gave security in the penal sum of $550,000 for the performance of the contract, and those to do the mason work in a penal sum of $200,000.  The excavation was done early in the spring, but, owing to the excessive rains, the ground was not in proper condition to commence laying the stone until June 11, 1869.

                The work was prosecuted until the cold weather put a stop to it for the season.  The foundation of the east wing was first brought to a level with the surface.  The grand master of Masons of the state of Illinois had been invited by the commissioners to assemble the craft for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the new state house, with the imposing ceremonials of the order.  The invitation was accepted, and Oct. 5, 1868, set apart as the day.  A stone was prepared eight feet long, four feet wide, and three feet deep, with a recess for receiving such articles as it was thought desirable to deposit.  A list of them would fill a column of the Times.  On the face fronting east, engraved in the stone, was the names of the state officers, the new state house commissioners, and “Laid by the Masonic Fraternity, A. D. 1868, A. L. 5868.”  “Jerome R. Gorin, M. W. G. M.”

                The day was delightful, and the procession the largest that had ever been seen at the capital of the state, except at the obsequies of President Lincoln, in May 1865.  Masons were present from all parts of the state, and of all degrees, from the entered apprentice to the Knight Templar.  After the corner stone had been tested by the implements of the order and pronounced well formed, true, and trusty, it was placed in its proper position at the northeast corner of the building.  An eloquent oration was then delivered by the Hon. J. D. Caton, of Ottawa.  The ceremonials being completed, the craft and others present were called from below to refreshment, and all repaired to the “rink” to partake of a sumptuous collation prepared by the Lelands.  Dinner being over, the multitude dispersed to their houses, to treasure up memories of the day as one of the most pleasant way-marks of their lives.
Illinois State Register - February 13, 1887

An Interesting Phase of the Early History of Our State
The Houses Where the Legislature Met at Kaskaskia and Vandalia – Removal to Springfield – The Old State House – Growth of Springfield

            Last Sunday we published for the benefit of our readers an extract from an article on the Capitals of Illinois, giving the whole history of the new State House from its inception to the laying of the cornerstone in 1870.  In connection with this we publish this week from the same source the following article, which deals with a still earlier phase of the history of the Capitals of Illinois and contains an explanation by the author of the reasons, which he deems led to the founding of Springfield and the location of the State Capitol here.  The article was written in 1870, and the reader must make allowance where the dates of events are made with reference to present time or facts do not exactly coincide with the present state of affairs.


                By act of Congress Feb. 3, 1869, Illinois was organized under a territorial government, with Ninian Edwards as its first Governor and Nathaniel Pope, first Secretary.  The building which was used as a territorial capitol was a French structure, in the primitive style of the art of building.  “It was a large, rough building, in the center of a square in the village of Kaskaskia, the ancient seat of the western empire for more than 150 years.  The body of this building was of uncut limestone, the gables and roof of the gambriel style of unpainted boards and shingles, with dormer windows.  The lower floor, a long, cheerless room, was fitted up for the House, whilst the Council sat in a small chamber above.”

                “This venerable building was, during the French occupancy of the country, prior to 1765, the headquarters of the military commandant.  Thirty years ago the house was a mass of ruins; and today probably there is not a stone left to designate the spot where it stood.”


                By another act of Congress, April 18, 1818, the people of Illinois were authorized to form a state government.  Nathaniel Pope was delegate in Congress.  The northern line of the new state was expected to run due west from the south end of Lake Michigan, but Mr. Pope, in reporting the bill, so amended it as to extend it to the parallel of 42 degrees and 30 minutes north latitude, which is the present boundary.

                The first legislature of the new state convened in the Capitol at Kaskaskia in October 1818.  That Legislature either continued in session, or there was another renewed early in 1819.  Judge Caton says: “At the session at Kaskaskia, in 1819, there were five Commissioners appointed to select the land appropriated by Congress for a state capital.”


                They made their selection where there was an exceedingly heavy growth of timber, further up the Kaskaskia River, and called it Vandalia.  There has been a great deal of amusement made out of this name, but it would be easy to find vandals enough now to name every town in the State without seeking lose tribes.  As soon as the town was laid out, a public square was selected, the timber cut away, and a two story frame building erected.  It was of very rude workmanship, and was placed in the centre of the square, on a rough stone foundation.  The lower floor was for the House of Representatives, and the upper floor was divided into two rooms, the larger one for the Senate, and the smaller for the office of Secretary of State.  The Auditor and Treasurer occupied detached buildings.  The Archives of the State were removed from Kaskaskia to Vandalia in December 1820.  This wooden State House was burned, and a much larger one, of brick, built on the same ground.  I have not learned the date of the fire, not the fate of the State records.  The brick building is now used as a courthouse by Fayette County, Vandalia being the county seat.

                The grant of land by Congress for the state capital appears from some cause to have been only a temporary affair, from another passage in Judge Caton’s oration.  He says, “As the 20 years during which the seat of government was to remain on land granted by Congress, was about to expire, measures were set on foot to change the location – to put the State House on wheels.”


        The movement originated in Alton, to remove the State Capital from Vandalia, with the hope of taking it to that city, but how did it come that Springfield was selected as the place?  The truth is, towns and cities are born, live, and die, subject to the contingencies of birth, life, and death, analogous to that of human beings.  We cannot on any other principle account for the fact that, of all the wide domain from which to choose, this was the spot selected by the great State of Illinois for her future seat of government.  It is not on a navigable watercourse.  It is no nearer the geographical centre of the state than some other towns of importance.  It occupies a low and originally wet trace of land.  Then why was it selected as the seat of government?

       I will endeavor to relate the facts, and I think the reader will agree with me that it was accident, or the occurrence of events without previous calculation, that first directed attention to this point, until the interests of men were centered here who were good to originate a plot and then carry it out.  We find two ravines, a couple of miles apart, running in a northwesterly direction, and emptying into Spring Creek, which is tributary to the Sangamon River.  One of these ravines, which is called the Town Branch, runs a little north of the Governor’s Mansion, passes between the old and the new State Houses, and empties into the stream previously named.  Within the city limits, it is all arched over and filled in above it, making it one of the main sewers.

                The deer with which this country abounded, before the advent of civilization, made their homes in the timber along the watercourses.  In the morning, they would leave the heavy timber, follow up the ravines, along which the trees became smaller and finally ran out, into the open prairie.  They would pass the day amid the luxuriant grass, roaming about and grazing at pleasure, and as nightfall approached, return down the ravines to the heavy timber, each one to seek its lair for repose.  An old bachelor from North Carolina by the name of Kelly emigrated to the State about the year 1818.  He was exceedingly fond of the chase, and in prospecting for good hunting grounds, wandered in between these ravines, and found the place to his liking.  The deer in passing up and down the ravines, gave him opportunity to fully gratify his ambition for game.  In fact, it seemed so much like a hunter’s paradise to him, that he returned to his old house and induced two older brothers, with their families, and one or more other families among his relatives, to emigrate with him.  More families continued to move into the country, and generally settled at long distances from each other.  Sangamon was not one of the original counties of the State, but about the year 1820 it was formed by taking some territory from two or more other counties.  Commissioners were appointed to temporarily locate the seat of justice.  The Kellys and their relatives had all made themselves homes within less than a mile of where the old State House now stands, and when the Commissioners came to discharge the duties assigned them, it was found that there was no place in the new county where the necessary jurors and other members of the court could find enough families living near each other to accommodate them with board, except among the Kellys, consequently the place was made the temporary county seat, April 3, 1821.  There was so small a number of houses that none could be designated in which to hold court, and a stake was driven in the ground in the open prairie, and a record made describing the place, stating that they had established it as the temporary seat of justice for the county, and that they called it “Springfield.”  March 18, 1823, it was declared by Commissioners to be the permanent county seat.

                Springfield grew steadily, and among the newcomers there was an unusually large number of men of more than ordinary ability, and when the movement was made in the interest of Alton, in 1834, to relocate the capital, Sangamon County had men able to contend with those from any other part of the state.  In the Legislature of 1836-37, that made a final disposition of the State House question, she had two Senators and seven Representatives who were the most able and persistent workers.  They were the most remarkable delegation for another reason. Each and every one of them being much taller than the average of mankind, they were then and are yet spoken of as the Long Nine.  The names of those in the Senate were A. G. Herndon and Job Fletcher; in the House, Abraham Lincoln, N. W. Edwards, John Dawson, Andrew McCormick, Daniel Stone, W. F. Elkin and Robert F. Wilson.  The principal argument against Vandalia was that they fed the members of the legislature solely on venison and prairie chickens, very common articles of food at the time, but the lawmakers wanted something better, although they are considered luxuries now.

                Quite a number of places competed for the capital.  Peoria was a much larger town than Springfield, and more advantageously situated, but the men who represented her could not compete with the Sangamon delegation.  All kinds of maneuvering was resorted to for the purpose of manufacturing public opinion, for or against any given point.  Internal improvements having taken the people captive, every wire was pulled in connection with that question that could in any way affect the location of the state capital.  Among others, that of building a railroad from some point beyond the eastern boundary of the state to connect with the canal being constructed in Indiana, and running west to the different points competing for the capital.  A measure of this kind originated with the Sangamon delegation, and wielded a powerful influence in favor of Springfield.  The route was (now the Wabash, St. Louis & Pacific) substantially that of the T. W. & W. Railroad.   The result was that, along with the internal improvement legislation of 1836-7, the necessary laws were enacted to remove the capital from Vandalia to Springfield.  Early in 1837, a public festival was held here at Springfield in honor of the event.  After dinner, toasts and speeches followed.  Among many others, we find the following toast by Abraham Lincoln, esq.:

                “All Our Friends – They are too numerous to mention now, individually, while there is no one of them who is not too dear to be forgotten or neglected.”

                Immediately following this was one by S. A. Douglas, esq.:

“The Last Winter’s Legislation – May its results prove no less beneficial to the whole state than they have to our town.”


                Soon after the adjournment of the legislature, the three commissioners named in the bill to superintend the erection of the new State House, advertised for plans and specifications, offering $800 for the one that should be adopted.  Nine plans were presented for their inspection, and, after due deliberation, that of G. F. Rague, of Springfield, was adopted.


July 4, 1837, the cornerstone was laid, with for the time, the grandest civic and military demonstrations.  One incident in connection with this event is worthy of notice.  After the cornerstone had been lowered to its position in the wall, it was mounted by E. D. Baker, afterward the lamented colonel of Ball’s Bluff memory – who delivered one of the most thrilling and eloquent speeches, for which he was so famous.  This was the first cornerstone of any building erected for the use of the state with any public demonstration.  While the question of removal was pending, Springfield and Sangamon County pledged themselves to contribute $50,000 and a public square of 2 ½ acres for the use of the state.  These pledges were faithfully redeemed.  It was estimated that the building would cost $130,000, but $150,000 was expended before it was completed according to the original design.  Men here, who have long been connected with the state offices, say that with renewing defective work, additions and repairs, nearly $400,000 has been expended on it to the present time.  The material is a species of limestone, and was taken from a quarry six miles south of the city.  When built, and for a long time after, it was looked upon with wonder and admiration by the people, who regarded it as a model of architectural beauty.  It was thought its size was so enormous that it would answer the purposes of the state for all time to come.

                The legislature first assembled here in the winter of 1839-40, but the new State House not being completed, the lawmaking for that session was done in the two principal churches in the place, and it was not until the winter of 1840-41 that the building was far enough advanced for the accommodation of the General Assembly.

                From that time to the breaking out of the great rebellion, in 1861, the growth of Illinois was beyond anything that its early settlers in their wildest dreams could have conceived.  Springfield has not, (1870) as the capital of the state, improved in anything like its due proportion to the state, but during the war its growth was more rapid.  At the close of the war, it was found that hotel accommodations of Springfield had not kept pave with its other improvements, but there did not seem to be any parties willing to engage in an individual enterprise of the kind.  To meet this want, a joint stock company was organized, and in 1866 the magnificent Leland Hotel was erected and furnished at a cost of $350,000.  This hotel was opened to the public by a sumptuous entertainment at the time of the assembling of the legislature, Jan. 1, 1867.
Illinois State Register - February 20, 1887