Thursday, December 3, 2009

Six Tries to Get It Right

Magnet # 107: Famous Sites of Illinois

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Dad

Today marks the anniversary of the day Illinois became a state in 1818.  It once had the largest concentration of Native Americans north of Mexico - possibly as many as 40,000 people, but by the time French explorers had arrived, that civilization had disappeared, and several tribes had settled in the area.  When they encountered some of the natives here and asked them who they were, they replied that they were Illinois, or "the men."  For a time, France held the area, but eventually the British ended up with it.  Oddly enough, for a time it belonged to Virginia, who eventually gave it over to the United States.  Its time as a territory was fairly uneventful - settlers streamed into the area from Kentucky.  By the time it became a state, its future capital of Springfield was being settled and the area that was to be Chicago mainly consisted of posts and a fort.  The state had a long path ahead to becoming one of the most developed and populated in the nation.

I visited Illinois twice when I was growing up to stay with relatives, but my travels were pretty much limited to the Chicago area, so I'll wait until I post one of my several magnets from there to discuss those trips. For now, I've decided to concentrate on another area of the state, even if I've never actually seen it. But since I've lately become interested in state capitol buildings, I thought I might talk about Springfield and the other cities that have served as the state's capitols. I don't know if there are any other states that have had more buildings serve as its capitol than Illinois - currently the state is on its sixth location. Two or three seems fairly average, but six - really? So just how has one state gone through so many capitol buildings?

Well, the first capitol of Illinois was Kaskaskia, a city located just off the Mississippi River which had served as capitol of Illinois when it was a territory.  The capitol building there was rented by the state and was fairly simple, so before long, the General Assembly began looking for a new location.  It proved to be a wise decision - Kaskaskia was later all but wiped off the map by the mighty Mississippi.  The capitol moved to what would become Vandalia, and two capitol buildings were erected there in short order.  Soon, however, the population began to want a more central capitol location.  Springfield was among the candidates, but it would take awhile to actually determine a new capitol.  In the meanwhile, Vandalia, hopeful to keep its status, tore down capitol building number three and built an extravagant fourth capitol.  However, by then a group of legal professionals that included Abraham Lincoln was backing Springfield, and the General Assembly voted to move there.

The fifth state capitol opened in 1853 and was one of the most impressive in the west.  Abraham Lincoln spent a great deal of time in this building, arguing cases, performing his duties as a state legislator, facing off with Stephen Douglas, and delivering his "House Divided" speech and announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate.  It was even here that he lay in state after his assassination. And yet, the structure proved to be too small to accommodate the rapidly growing population and a new capitol building proved necessary.  Although the state sold this capitol for a time, it soon realized the importance of what happened within these halls and bought it back.  It is now a historic landmark and is open to the public for tours.

Illinois' sixth and, for now, final capitol building, opened in the late 1800's.  It is a truly impressive structure.  It is shaped like a Latin cross, with its points aligned to the compass.  It's also huge because of its very tall dome, which is even taller that of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.  It's the tallest state capitol building that is not actually a skyscraper, and it's even taller than Florida's 22 story capitol.  Only Louisiana and Nebraska have taller capitol buildings.  The dome of Illinois' capitol is particularly beautiful - the zinc that covers its outside gives it a silver color, while its interior is intricately beautiful, with stained glass windows, columns, and a frieze depicting important moments in the state's history.  To make it even more impressive, buildings in the city are not allowed to be built higher than the capitol building.  It seems after years of shifting from one locale to another, Illinois seems to have finally created an ideal capitol building for itself - let's hope it never moves again.  As for me, I'd love to have a chance to visit Springfield and tour both the fifth capitol and its current one - I'm sure I'll make it someday.


  1. FYI: I just visited Chicago this past weekend for the very first time. While I'm not as much a magnet lover, your interesting tidbits about each location or the topic at hand really do intrigue me. I've apparently become so much of a fan that upon passing a display and seeing a magnet there, I immediately thought you would enjoy it. Linz has it now and will pass it along. If by chance you already have it (popular attraction), at least it gives you something to use for future trades. ;-)

  2. Thanks so much! One of my ulterior motives in starting this blog was to remind people to buy magnets for me. Looks like it's working...