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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a large, imposing three‑story house, with a roof pitched at about 70° and two chimneys. The roof appears to be topped by a widow's walk, at any rate a balustraded space. The front door is protected and all but concealed by a deep porch with a cloth awning. It is the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, Illinois.]

The Executive Mansion, Springfield, Built 1856.

 p103  Official Home of Illinois Governors​a

Rarely regarded as an old Illinois house, one dating from pioneer days, is the Governor's Mansion in the state capital. This is due partly to its being kept always in first-class condition and partly to the numerous additions imposed on it from time to time which have somewhat changed its original appearance. Gazing today at its white façade standing out impressively against a beautifully landscaped background, one can hardly believe that this residence is nearly a century old.

But such it is. It was built in 1856. Among those who at intervals watched the brickmasons erecting it was Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer and ex-congressman who was beginning to attract national attention for his political gifts. A year after the house was built, Mr. & Mrs. Lincoln were guests at a brilliant social function held there by the second executive to occupy it, Governor William H. Bissell.

The first chief executive of the state to live here was Governor Joel A. Matteson. It has been the home of every Illinois governor since 1856. Before that time, and beginning with the year 1839 when the state capital  p104 was moved from Vandalia to Springfield, the governors lived in a house at the west corner of Eighth Street and Capitol Avenue (then Market Street). It was a plain, two‑story building and, when abandoned by the state, sold for $2,860.

"The first official act of the Illinois General Assembly looking toward the erection of a governor's mansion was approved on February 12, 1853, writes Paul M. Angle, former State Historian in charge of the Illinois State Historical Library and now director and secretary of the Chicago Historical Society. "An appropriation of $15,000 was voted for this purpose. Two years later, an additional $16,000 was voted for completion of the house. Thus, the total original cost of the Governor's Mansion was $31,000."

Topped by an imposing cupola, the Mansion was remodeled during the term of governor Joseph W. Fifer in 1889. The cupola was removed, the roof raised to a higher pitch, and a balustraded platform built at the peak. A flagpole stands in the center of this platform. Another change made that year was the addition of the present portico. Ever since that time, the state legislature has appropriated funds at intervals for the upkeep and repair of the Governor's Mansion.

The first child born in the Governor's Mansion was Robert Oglesby, son of Governor Richard J. Oglesby, who began his first term in 1873. Another born in this house was Kühne Beveridge, who became a well-known sculptor and writer. She was a granddaughter of Governor John L. Beveridge.

The first wedding in the Mansion occurred in 1856, when Lydia Olivia, daughter of Governor Matteson, married John McGinnis, Jr. The only Governor to die in the Mansion — and the first to die in office — was Governor Bissell, whose death occurred in 1860.

The Mansion is a three‑story brick dwelling, white-painted and standing on a landscaped knoll not far from the Capitol. It contains twenty-eight rooms. The offices of the governor are on the ground floor. The state dining room and reception rooms are on the first floor, and the suites of bedrooms, sun parlor, and library are on the second floor. An oil portrait of Edward D. Baker, friend of Lincoln's, hangs in the state dining room. Painted by an unknown artist, it was bought by Lincoln himself and afterward presented to the state by Mrs. Lincoln.

Thayer's Note:

a One would think that the State of Illinois, having put up a good page on the Executive Mansion (to which I once linked from my footer bar below), would have kept it online; but it has not, replacing it by uninformative fluff on its Christmas decorations.

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Page updated: 10 Dec 07