Exploring Springfield, the often ignored capital of Illinois

Sun, 2016/10/16

Many people don’t realize that the capitol of the great state of Illinois is not the city of Chicago. Despite Chicago being the state’s most vital economic powerhouse and tourist destination, the Governor of Illinois and the state legislature do not meet and work here, but rather in the much smaller town of Springfield. The town of Springfield, which is the sixth most populous city in the state, was chosen to be the state capitol due to its much more centralized location in the state than Chicago. Prior to Springfield, the state capital had been located in towns near the Mississippi river due to the river’s easy access to other parts of the country. But with the advent of the railroad, the need for river access became much less of a concern for political leaders.

The choice to move the capital of the state to Springfield in 1839 was championed by several political leaders in Illinois, including future president Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln and his associates argued that the increasing industry near the Lake Michigan would become much more important to the state in the near future and that a capital closer to this region would be a wise move to make. This realization was proven to be correct, as a large portion of the population of Illinois live in Chicagoland as opposed to the rest of the state. Even many state political leaders have their official offices and residences in Chicago instead of the smaller capital city.

Regardless of the location preference of politicians for Chicago, the state capitol building still stands proud and tall in stark contrast to the small and humble town that surrounds it. Springfield is home to both the current and previous state capitol, both of which are open for the public to see. The older capitol was the one used during the time of Abraham Lincoln, where he served as a state representative and which he would later use as a starting point for his run for the presidency as Barack Obama would do over a hundred years later. When the new, bigger capitol was completed in 1888, the old capitol was repurposed as the county courthouse, which it was until its closure and transformation into a museum in 1966. The museum is open daily from nine to five, and has free admission.

The newer capitol building is work of art in itself. The building was constructed in the French renaissance style of architecture and was meant to show the wealth and power of the state to all who bore witness. The elegant dome which tops the capitol is the tallest in the nation, surpassing every other state capitol dome and even the federal capitol dome in Washington D.C. by several feet. Inside, the walls and floors are covered in the finest marble the state could get its hands on and the ceilings are covered in fresco paintings and gold leaf.  Many of the structure's finest works are found in the chambers of the House and Senate, where stained glass ceilings and numerous crystal chandeliers hang for all to see. Despite strict security, tours of the building are given daily every half hour and are free for the general public.

These two magnificent and historically valuable sites are some of the greatest tourist attractions that state has to offer outside of Chicago. This is not all this surprising little city on the prairie has to offer, however. The next issue of TechNews will include look at the town’s numerous ties to the 16th President of the United States: Abraham Lincoln, and the sites open to tourists which commemorate that man’s significant impact on the state.