History & Architecture

The Capitol Grounds before construction

Col. Thomas Mather’s Residence

The block of the current Illinois State Capitol building was originally the site of the home of Col. John Mather. Mather served a number of times in both branches of the legislature, and was instrumental in the 1822-23 general assembly of saving Illinois from becoming a slave state. A statewide referendum prohibited slavery by a margin of 1,800 votes. He acquired the title of Colonel during the administration of Governor Coles, that served between 1822-26. Coles was a slaveholder from Virginia who became an abolitionist. Mather joined Coles to defeat the call for a constitutional convention to consider the legalization of slavery in Illinois.

Mathers moved to Springfield in 1835, reorganized the mercantile firm with which he was associated under the name of Mather, Lamb & Co. Thomas Mather and others, organized the State Bank of Illinois in 1835. He bought the Northern Cross Rail Road that ran from Meredosia to Springfield, restored and extended it to Indiana state line. It later became a part of the Toledo, Wabash & Western Rail Road.

Toward the northeast corner of 2nd and Monroe Streets, Colonel Mather built a large two-story brick residence with sweeping lawns up the hill to the southwest. He resided in this home until his death in 1853. His widow continued residence in Springfield until 1866 when she moved to Chicago.

The former grounds of the Mather residence once were bordered by Monroe, Second, Charles and Spring Street. Charles Street ran between Second and Spring just to the north of where Jackson Street would have ran if it connected east and west between where it ended at Second and took up again at Spring Street towards Pasfield Street where it ended. This non-direct street layout may have been the result of the Pasfield Family Estate being established much earlier further west. At some point the main drive past the Pasfield House up to the original home was converted into a circle drive that was named Jackson Parkway.

On April 24, 1865, nine days after the death of Abraham Lincoln, a committee was chosen to arrange for a burial site. A conditional contract was made for the purchase of the Mather block (which was called Vinegar Hill) where the Mather residence stood. A temporary vault was built about 50 yards north of the current site of the Illinois Capitol but was never used.

Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln had once visited a quiet cemetery at which time Mrs. Lincoln relayed that he said to her, “You are younger than I, and will outlive me, and I want you to bury me in a quiet place like this is.” Mrs. Lincoln declined the suggestion of placing her husband in such a public area, even as a temporary location in the heart of the city. Mrs. Lincoln expressed her preference for Oak Ridge Cemetery, which had been dedicated a dozen years before the Lincolns had left Springfield for Washington D.C.

Ninian W. Edwards Residence

After being built the Capitol grounds expanded to almost twice its size after the elimination of Jackson Street. For a period the Illinois State Capitol grounds stretched from 2nd and Monroe to Spring and Edwards an additional block to the south. The separate tract of land between Jackson and Edwards Street became the first addition to the Capitol Complex of today. The large tract was equal to three city blocks, about the same size as the existing State House Site.

A famous residence within that block was the home of Ninian W. Edwards, member of the Long Nine and Lincoln’s own bother-in-law. In fact Mary Todd resided there when Lincoln courted her. Later the Lincolns were married there.

The Capitol Grounds Purchase Association, organized in 1915, raised private fund to acquire the track of land. George Pasfield, Jr. served as President. A 1920 Association Report states, “It was also contemplated that this tract was of such dimensions that it would accommodate other buildings which the State may require for its use from time to time in the future.” The concept of the Capitol Complex was born.

Pasfield did not proceed earlier acquire the land in respect to Ninian W. Edwards allowing him to remained at his home until his passing.

The removal of three estate homes; that of Ninian W Edwards; Bishop George Seymour; and William Pope. Also removed was a smaller xxx Baker home and the Edwards School that was combined to be the Hay Edwards School located at allowed room for the administration of the State of Illinois to expand. To dissuade those you wanted to move the State Capital to a new city because of the crowded State Capitol Building state government proceeded instead to construct a large rectangular office structure named the Centennial Memorial Building in honor of the State of Illinois One Hundredth Anniversary of Statehood.

It was Illinois Centennial Commission that proposed the concept to erect the building before the General Assembly. George Pasfield Jr. was one of three commissioners from Springfield to serve on that commission. Testifying before the General Assembly to encourage the construction, Pasfield stated that Springfield had fought before to retain the capital in 1867, and at that time leaders promised to provide more land for construction than that of the Mathers residence.