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Friday, April 7, 2017 03:16 pm

The capital city

Take in the sights and sounds of the seat of Illinois government

Illinois State Capitol houses the executive and legislative branches of the Illinois government.
Photo by David Hine


Illinois State Capitol

Illinois boasts a stunning State Capitol, and recently the legislative chambers and multifloor west wing were magnificently restored. It is well worth visiting this National Historic Landmark. Construction began on the sixth and current Illinois Capitol in 1868 after officials determined that more space was needed for government business. The building took 20 years to complete and cost more than $4.5 million. The first legislative session in the new Capitol was held in 1877, but the structure wasn’t finished for another decade. Designed in the shape of a Latin cross and capped by a 361-foot-high dome, the building stands 74 feet taller than the U.S. Capitol.

In addition to watching Illinois politicians from the balcony-level seating area, visitors can view the awe-inspiring artwork, statues and paintings inside the limestone Italian Renaissance Revival building. Murals, a variety of marbles and a unique architectural design add to the elegance and grace of Illinois’ center of government.

Renovation of the legislative chambers, hearing rooms and west wing involved detailed historical research and highly skilled craftsmanship to restore art glass, ornamental plaster, decorative stencils, woodwork, chandeliers, monumental paintings, the grand staircase, and other features. In 2015 the west wing restoration received an Honor Award for Interior Architecture from the American Institute of Architects. Modern technologies were integrated into the period designs, and the west wing restoration achieved LEED Gold certification for new construction and major renovation.

Guided tours are the best way to learn more about the historic building, Illinois state government, and the history of Illinois represented by statues, murals, portraits, paintings and other artwork. Free tours are given every half-hour on weekdays and start on the first floor, north wing. On weekends, tours are conducted every hour from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Tourists must remain with the tour guide on weekends, so go during the week if you want to explore. Enter through the north door. Visitors must go through metal detectors. Park for free at the Capitol Complex Visitors Center, 425 S. College St.

Illinois State Capitol, Capitol Avenue and Second Street, 217-782-2099. Open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Open many holidays, but call ahead first. For more information, call 217-782-2099. Tour groups comprising more than 15 visitors should call Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau in advance: 800-545-7300 or 217-789-2360.

The Library of the Supreme Court

The Library of the Supreme Court of Illinois was established in 1842. Among the familiar faces during the early days was that of rising star Abraham Lincoln, who was involved in 175 cases that came before the Illinois Supreme Court before 1861, when he departed for the White House.

Since 1908, the court has occupied a site at 200 E. Capitol Ave. Its library is the fifth-largest tax-supported law library in the state of Illinois. Construction of the Supreme Court Building cost $450,500. Although its library mainly serves the court, the library is also available to local, state and federal officials, as well as the general public.

Unlike other states, Illinois does not require justices to relocate to the state capital; small apartments in the Supreme Court building are made available while the court is in session. The state law library is housed in the building, as are the Supreme Court marshal and the clerks of the Supreme Court.

The law library contains more than 100,000 volumes, consisting of federal and state law books, encyclopedias, treatises, loose-leaf legal reports and case digests. The library has subscriptions to more than 350 legal periodicals.

Food, beverages, and smoking are prohibited in the library. The use of cellphones is permitted only in the outside hallway. Handbags and briefcases are subject to search. Tours of the state Supreme Court library may be requested and courtrooms may be viewed when not in use. Visitors must present photo ID to enter. Group tours of 15 or more may be arranged by calling 217-782-7821. The library is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. The building is closed on holidays. For more information, call 217-782-2424 or visit

Illinois Executive Mansion

The Illinois Executive Mansion is closed for renovation. Located at 410 E. Jackson Street, the mansion has been home to Illinois governors and their families since 1855. It is the third oldest continuously occupied governor’s mansion in the United States and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. Over the years, Illinois governors have hosted U.S. presidents, ambassadors and generations of Illinois residents. The Executive Mansion closed to the public for renovations Jan. 1, 2017. For more information on efforts to protect and restore the mansion, go to


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