A House renovated: Automated flagpole to sit atop Springfield site where Lincoln delivered historic anti-slavery speech
A helicopter removed the old manual flagpole from the dome of the Old State Capitol this week in preparation for installing an automated one as part of an ongoing renovation project. Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama both made history at the historic building.
SPRINGFIELD — People walking through downtown Springfield earlier this week might have looked up to an unusual sight — a helicopter hovering over the Old State Capitol, dropping a rope and lifting away the flagpole that sat atop the bronze-colored dome.
The operation took fewer than 15 minutes on Monday and was part of an ongoing renovation project that has kept the historic building shrouded behind scaffolding for about two years.
“We took off the flagpole at the Old State Capitol today in preparation for a new automated one that will be going up probably in a few months,” said Troy Gilmore, assistant site superintendent for the Springfield State Historic Sites in the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, on Monday.
The overall project involves repairing roof leaks, fixing or installing new windows, and replacing portions of the columns known as “capitals” — the decorative portions at the top of the structure’s Corinthian columns.
Gilmore said replacing the manually controlled flagpole with an automated one will improve safety for workers who raise and lower the flag to full or half-staff when occasions call for it.
The Old State Capitol, located a few blocks northeast of the current Statehouse, was used by state lawmakers from 1840 to 1876. It was the state Capitol when Abraham Lincoln served in the Illinois House, and it is where he delivered his famous “House Divided” speech in 1858 after accepting the Republican Party nomination for the U.S. Senate.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” Lincoln told the Illinois Republican State Convention on June 16, 1858. “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”
Nearly a century and a half later, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama stood on the steps of the Old State Capitol on Feb. 10, 2007, and launched the campaign that would end in him becoming the nation’s first Black president. And Obama returned in August of 2008 to introduce then Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.
Gilmore said that when the Legislature left the building in 1876, the structure was purchased by Sangamon County, which operated it for the next 90 years, during which time the county made several substantial changes.
“The most drastic change that the county made was in 1900, when they raised the building up 11 feet taller than it even stands today,” he said. “And that was to add another level of offices on the ground floor. So, after 1902 you walked straight into the building off of the street level, you didn’t even walk up the steps as you would have today.”
The state of Illinois purchased the building in 1966 and launched a three-year restoration project to return it to its original state, a project that involved taking the building apart and rebuilding it piece by piece.
The current renovation project will soon move into its second phase, which will involve removing asbestos from the boiler rooms and installing new restrooms for the first time since the 1960s, Gilmore said.
He did not offer an estimate of when the entire project will be complete.
Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide, as well as hundreds of radio and TV stations. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.