Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Old State Capitol Comes Tumbling Down

No, this was not the result of terrorists or a meth lab in the basement. This was the old State Capitol being, believe it or not, systematically disassembled in 1966.

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I copied this photo form the book Springfield Time Capsules by Ed Russo, Curtis Mann and Melinda Garvert*. From the book:
The building was in the process of being razed so that excavation could begin for the underground parking lot and new Illinois State Historical Library. Origianally built in 1837 as Illinois' fifth Capitol, this building became the Sangamon County Courthouse in 1876. It was raised at the turn of the [20th] century to add another floor. The state of Illinois bought the old Capitol back in 1961 and leased it to the county government until its new County Building was finished in 1966. The demolition then began. Stones were carefully numbered and stored at the state fair grounds. The fully reconstructed Old State Capitol, sitting over the underground parking and library opened its doors tothe general public on November 15, 1969.
I remember this but barely. Two things stick in my mind: The pieces of the building strewn all over the less traveled corners of the state fair grounds and the construction seeming to take FOR-EVER. Ok, it took a little over three years, but I went from 6 years old to 9 years old and at that age three years IS forever.

A final thing. I have one very fuzzy memory of being in the building when it still housed the county offices. A visiting friend of the family took me there when I was maybe 5 and I still can picture the lettered doors to the various offices towering above me. I'm glad I made it there before it was disassembled.

Oh, and by the way, for those who don't know, the new County Building referred to in the above excerpt from the book is now what houses the city police department next to the municipal building.

*Springfield Time Capsules by Ed Russo, Curtis Mann and Melinda Garvert is published by G. Bradley Publishing, Inc. St. Louis, Missouri. I picked it up at one of thelocal bookstores but I don't remember which one.


Blogger JeromeProphet said...

The cool part was the underground parking lot, and a underground library, and elevators.

Getting on the elevators, and messing around in the parking levels was fun as a kid.

Even now if you go in the parking areas it looks so - late 60's, early 70's.

The excitement of being able to go under a building, and exit into the building next to it!

For a kid - wow!

12:13 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Wow! Dave, great post! This really brings back a flood of memories.

I'll never forget being on a school bus for a field trip when the deconstruction was taking place. I don't remember the purpose of the field trip (probably to the State Museum), but as a side trip, the bus drove up Adams Street and my teacher pointed out what was happening with the old County Building. They were just starting to take it apart.

Obviously, that was before the "mall" was built and Adams was still open to car traffic between Fifth and Sixth. Also, I think parking on that stretch of Adams was at an angle at that time.

As a teenager, I spent many an afternoon hanging out for hours on that mall. That was the best hang out for teenagers during that era, or probably any era in Springfield. It was just so cool. As in, really really cool. I can't stress enough how cool it was. You're a little younger than me, but, were you there?

I have a vague recollection of hearing (or reading) that the city fathers talked about enclosing the mall at one time. That is, putting a roof over both Adams and Washington between Fifth and Sixth. Of course, that never happened – probably because White Oaks was built and downtown commerce and development soon became a fading memory.

Years after the Old State Capitol was reconstructed, I lived in a little rental house on Taintor right behind the fairgrounds. The little house is gone now. The yard around the house was just huge and wide open to the north.

One day the landlord took me on a walk of the grounds behind the rental house. About 200 feet behind the house, a hole had been dug out of the ground to form a little dump. In the dump were a bunch of broken chunks of stone blocks with jagged edges. My memory may be a little off, but one of the chunks seemed about half the size of a sofa. A pretty big chunk.

The landlord told me the chunks were pieces of the stone blocks that were accidentally broken when they took apart the old County Building. I never found out if that was true, or not. I guess I never wanted it to be false. But, it seemed like it could be true because the chunks looked like the same stone from the building.

If it is true, that means they put the building back together without those original blocks. Did they have new blocks manufactured or quarried from somewhere? Or, did they just leave them out? What is the deal with the broken stone blocks? Where are they now?

(If we were in New York City, we'd get a bunch of photo bloggers together and go traipsing around back there looking for evidence. Don't ask; I'm not really up for it. But, if you and JP want to go, I could probably give you some coordinates. Assuming the current owner would even allow it.)

Anyway, I wanted to blog about this for a long time so someone could either come along and refute or confirm it.

I absolutely love that building, by the way. Thanks, Dave.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Interesting stuff, Marie. It would be interesting to find out the real story behind those stones. I'd love to do it but the list of things I'd like to do but don't have time for is already too long.

I didn't hang out downtown too much after I was, say, 13 or 14. I seem to remember spending a lot of time there my freshman year in high school but less after that and virtually never after White Oaks Mall opened (and businesses fled downtown) in 1977.

I am going to post on the beginning of White Oaks Mall sometime too. I was there in the beginning. I even helped open one of the first stores in the summer of 1977 between my Junior and Senior years in HS.

11:32 PM  
Blogger BlogFreeSpringfield said...

The SJ-R should run this photo on the front page with some sort of "War of the Worlds"-type headline about how the aliens have attacked. I bet Milford Franks or Margie Best would have something to say about that.

12:29 AM  
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