Thousand-Year Statehouse

New book showcases the art, architecture and history of Springfield's palace of government

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
David Finnigan's new book is available in Springfield at the Sumac Shop (the Dana-Thomas House Foundation gift shop), Prairie Archives, Books on the Square and online at https://illinoishistory.org/. The retail price is $55.

David L. Finnigan, originally from Lincoln, now of Springfield, was a graduate student in architecture at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 2018 and was reading a book about English palaces. He says, "My first thought was that it is too bad we don't have something like that here. Then, it dawned on me – we do. The Illinois State Capitol is beautiful."

That led to a three-year journey, and he has now published Thousand-Year Statehouse: The Art and Architecture of the Illinois State Capitol (258 pages in an oversized book, published by G.S. Brenac Publishing House, Springfield). Thank goodness he did. This is a book filled with stunning full-page photos of many areas of the Capitol. Finnigan has been a photographer since his mother gave him a camera when he was 10 years old. He took all of the modern photos for the book and has included many historical photos and illustrations, showcasing early years of construction, examples of Greek and Roman architecture, paintings and even sheep that once grazed on the grounds.

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
Bricklayers working at the southeast corner of the new Statehouse, the future Adjutant General's Office, fall 1870. The brick wall backing the stone is ten wythes thick (the mason's term for parallel courses of brick in a wall). The two pockets at the top of the rear wall are for wrought iron beams, which bear on the stone to evenly distribute their weight across the bricks. The man at right is standing on one of the arches supporting the ground floor; note the wood centering below, temporarily supporting it. The entire ground floor is built on brick arches which typically spring north to south.

Photos take us everywhere – on the Capitol lawns and inside the building. We climb the winding staircase into the dome, experience a dizzying view from the observation platform outside the dome, stare directly into the face of a statue, come eye-to-eye with the frieze around the rotunda, peer down into the rotunda from the upper floors, sit in the House of Representatives and Senate galleries, peek around corners, gaze up into the stained glass in the dome, and descend into the winding tunnels in the basement. Finnigan has captured full views of rooms as well as close-ups of designs: ornate ceilings with carvings and gold trim, sparkling chandeliers, intricate ironwork on stairs, even a table-top ship made entirely of jade.

Taking the photos took time; he had to do so over school breaks and holidays. He started in the secretary of state's office where his father worked. "I then discovered that there was not one person who had the authority to give me access to all areas of the Capitol so I had to contact each office. Everyone gave me permission."

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
Julia Bracken's Illinois Welcoming the World, 1895, greets the multitudes with open arms in the rotunda.

Finnigan began research about the Capitol, which influenced his plan. "When I first began research and writing, I thought the main focus was going to be on the architectural history and precedents, and the artworks and artists," he explains. "But after more research I was continually astounded by the number and range of social activities and other events which took place in the building in the 19th and early 20th centuries, from lectures, orchestra performances, ballroom dancing, charity bazaars, weddings, floral exhibitions, physics experiments and even religious services. The most spectacular event was a charity bazaar held during several nights in February 1894, a miniature replica of the Chicago World's Fair with all sorts of attractions and booths." The opening of the book provides a glimpse into this glittering event. Some of the events are documented with old photos.

Thousand-Year Statehouse includes fascinating and well-written information about the history of the Capitol, the architects, designers and artists, information about the paintings and sculptures, identification of architectural techniques such as scagliola (imitation marble) and carton pierre (a type of papier-mâché), and events that were held in the building.

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
Grand Staircase, as seen from across the rotunda. Simple chandeliers by Mitchell, Vance & Co. of the 1870s were replaced in the 1880s by fixtures from W.C. Vosburgh. Present chandeliers are reproductions by the St. Louis Antique Lighting Co., installed 2013.

The architects Alfred H. Piquenard of France and John C. Cochrane of Chicago began the work shortly after the Civil War, around 1868. A senator once asked Cochrane if the building would last a thousand years, to which Cochrane replied, "It ought to." This is how Finnigan came up with the use of "thousand-year" in the title. The building was not completed until 1888, and over the years since then many changes were made. Finnigan explains these as well as more recent renovations and revisions made to various rooms.

The book is divided into sections – each covering an area of the Capitol – and a small map with the area highlighted helps to orient the reader.

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
The Governor's Reception Parlor was perfect for holding formal and informal gatherings. In the 1950s, Governor Stratton met visitors and handed out postcards and souvenirs during a weekly open house on Thursdays. In 1923, a couple were married in the governor's private office.

Finnigan grew up in Lincoln. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Illinois University in Industrial Technology in 2012 and a master's degree in architecture from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 2019. He currently works at Graham and Hyde Architects, and previously with FWAI Architects and the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. He has also written Inside Allerton: The Essential Guide to Robert Allerton Park (2017), which he authored while while a student in graduate school.

Thousand-Year Statehouse is a gorgeous book that provides an in-depth look through photos and text of the Illinois Capitol. It is the tallest of all state capitols and 74 feet taller than our National Capitol in Washington, D.C.

On Sunday, Feb. 20, at the public library in Girard, David Finnigan talks about the Capitol's connection to the Civil War, and the Memorial Hall located in the Capitol building.

click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
At top of dome, all twenty-four ribs curve inward to join at the compression ring. The ring supports both this final spiral staircase, which hangs down from it, as well as the lantern above it, surmounting the dome.
click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
A woman named Bessie looks out on Springfield from a perch below the dome circa 1900. Finnigan writes: "This is among the world's greatest domes, the tallest in American upon its completion, and still today among the tallest in the world at 330 feet to the base of the flagpole."
click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
View across Senate to president's gallery on the north side.
click to enlarge Thousand-Year Statehouse
Restoration work in 2013 exposed limestone piers and brick arches. Imitation gas lamps and terrazzo floors were added as part of this project. These arches supporting the floor above are typically eight inches thick.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna spent many hours in the Capitol when she served as president of the Illinois Education Association and had many opportunities to view the amazing beauty of the building.

Illinois Times has provided readers with independent journalism for more than 40 years, from news and politics to arts and culture.

Now more than ever, we’re asking for your support to continue providing our community with real news that everyone can access, free of charge.

We’re also offering a home delivery option as an added convenience for friends of the paper.

Click here to subscribe, or simply show your support for Illinois Times.

Got something to say?
Send a letter to the editor and we'll publish your feedback in print!

Comments (0)

Add a comment

Add a Comment