Illinois State Capitol

A couple weeks ago when we visited Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, we also toured the Illinois state capitol.

Ground was broken in 1868, it took 20 years to complete. It was Illinois’ 6th capitol building and cost the state 4.5 million dollars.

As with many old buildings, this capitol has some significant changes or updates over the years. For this building, the worst changes were done in the 1930s and ’70s. Domed laylights(stained glass), ruby-red scagliola(faux marble) columns, and mahogany scrollwork brackets were torn out. Plywood panels replaced etched-glass internal partitions, shield motifs stenciled on plaster walls were covered over, the carpets were all bland monochromes and acoustic-tile ceilings had been suspended in hallways.

But in recent years, much restoration has been taking place and we were eager to see the results.

We entered the building on the first floor and headed immediately to the rotunda. As with any capitol building we visit, the high point is always to stare up at the inside of the dome.

I loved the colors – very earthy.

The height of the dome is 361 feet.

To support the weight of the dome, its foundation walls are 17 feet thick. When the capitol first opened, the dome was lit with 144 gas jets. Over time, the smoke from the jets blackened the inside of the dome until it was very dark and dingy. But in 1986 the dome was cleaned and the vivid colors revealed.

Next, we visited the Senate chamber.

The Senate chamber too was restored in 2002 revealing the gold, cream, beige, and blue colors of the ceiling.

Love love the chandeliers – there are 12 of them in the chamber and each is Austrian crystal.

Next is the House chamber:

The chandeliers here are also Austrian crystal and weigh 800 pounds each.

The stained glass window, or laylight in the ceiling was rebuilt within the last 10 years. There had been a fire that destroyed the original laylight in the 1930s, and after that it was not restored but the hole simply paneled over. The restoration team was not sure what the colors of the laylight should be as the only photos that existed of it were in black and white. So the they visited the Iowa state capitol which was designed by the same architects to learn what color schemes were used there, and then duplicated the look on the new laylight finished in 2007.

The House ceilings here were also restored to their original colors and the lovely stenciling reapplied.

Next, we visited the old State Supreme Court chamber.

It’s no longer used as a courtroom as a larger room was needed, so today it is used for committee meetings.

It too has been restored revealing paintings that had been covered over.

We loved the painting on the ceiling shown below. It depicts Lady Justice and she’s using a pile of money as a footstool. The silent message here is that justice can’t be bought. Love it.

Just look at the stenciling and bright colors on the ceiling.

Imagine, all this had been covered over in an earlier update of the building.

The most stunning visual evidence of just what had been lost in earlier building updates can been seen in the separate wings of each floor of the building. The restorers are working on one wing at a time on each floor so by walking from one wing to another you can see “before and afters”.

Here’s the first floor “before” with rather blah ceilings and walls:

And here’s the after:

Just look at the ceiling. Can you imagine painting over all that beautiful stenciling? If I worked there, I would have cried that day.

Here’s the 3rd floor “before”:

And 3rd floor “after”:

Can you believe all this splendor was hidden beneath that drab white paint? It’s a crime.

Here’s a close up of the ceiling stenciling of the 3rd floor:


You might be wondering how they knew what was under the drab white paint. Well, they scraped some off..

to see what was underneath. And then, since the old paint was in bad shape, they painted all new colors and stencils to match the original.

 We were so pleased to see this building restored to the beauty it must have been when the first citizens of Illinois walked its hallways more than 125 years ago.

If you would like to see more pictures of the capitol and learn more about it, click HERE to visit their official website.