Exterior renovations continue at Illinois Old State Capitol

Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 2:45 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Don’t be surprised if you visit Springfield soon and see the Old State Capitol without a flag on the dome. A helicopter removed the flagpole Monday morning to help construction crews finish a two-year renovation of the historic building.

The old flagpole will be replaced by an automated flagpole once work is done on the dome. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said the decision came down to the safety of staff in charge of raising and lowering the flag each day.

“It is quite a long journey to be able to get to the top of the building from the inside via several staircases and ladders,” said Troy Gilmore, the assistant site superintendent for the Illinois State Historic Sites.

A FairLifts helicopter from Kennesaw, Georgia traveled all the way to Springfield to help lift the flagpole to allow for modifications to the cap of the dome. The state is using $2.5 million in funding from the Rebuild Illinois plan to paint, repair some roof leaks and replace the tops of the Corinthian columns.

The building at 526 E. Adams Street operated as the Illinois Capitol from 1840-1876. Illinois leaders started construction on the current State Capitol in 1869. Gilmore said the state took over the property during the Civil Rights era after it was used as the Sangamon County Courthouse for 90 years.

Sangamon County officials had drastically changed the building over time by raising the property 11 feet taller than it stands today using hand-crank screw jacks and cribbing timbers. Gilmore noted that the Old State Capitol was three stories tall until the state assumed the property and had crews disassemble the building to bring back the 1840s appearance.

“So, a lot of what the project is taking place now is repairing a lot of things that have just been broke over the last 52 years,” Gilmore said.

He explained the state expects the automated flagpole may be delayed due to supply chain issues. However, Gilmore hopes it will be ready in a few months.

The Old State Capitol closed for a $1.6 million restoration project in the spring of 2021. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources reopened the doors for public tours on Oct 7, 2021. While crews spent time on plasterwork and painting in 2021, there are two new areas for tourists to explore. The education gallery has 10 historic artifacts that were original to the building. People of all ages can also enjoy a new video room with a short feature explaining the importance of the Old State Capitol.

Thankfully, the building will stay open to the public during the exterior renovations. Gilmore said he is excited about the future of the property.

“It’s not just about the historic structure, but it’s about the people who worked here,” Gilmore said. “So, we want to make sure that we have this opportunity for people to see this building and learn more about the people who worked in this place for a long time to come.”

Painting crews will try to finish their work on the dome while the weather is warmer this week. Gilmore said there are also plans to have new bathrooms and elevators inside the Old State Capitol before large school tours come through Springfield in the spring. He noted that those projects haven’t been done since the 1960s.

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