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posted: 7/8/2018 6:00 AM

Governor's Mansion has new mission

Bicentennial renovation enhances tours, 'visitor experience'

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  • The newly restored Italianate-style Governor's Mansion is ready to host the people of Illinois once again, beginning July 14. Finishing touches are still in progress on the landscaping renovation.

    The newly restored Italianate-style Governor's Mansion is ready to host the people of Illinois once again, beginning July 14. Finishing touches are still in progress on the landscaping renovation.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • The Governor's Mansion during exterior repairs to the brickwork and foundation walls.

    The Governor's Mansion during exterior repairs to the brickwork and foundation walls.
    Courtesy of state of Illinois

  • A farmer in Carthage carved bed and a matching furniture piece for Chicago's Columbian Exposition and then they were donated to the state while Gov. John Altgeld was in office (1893-1897). They now adorn a bedroom dedicated to the 1890s.

    A farmer in Carthage carved bed and a matching furniture piece for Chicago's Columbian Exposition and then they were donated to the state while Gov. John Altgeld was in office (1893-1897). They now adorn a bedroom dedicated to the 1890s.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • A farmer in Carthage carved this intricate furniture piece for Chicago's Columbian Exposition and then they were donated to the state while Gov. John Altgeld was in office (1893-1897). They now adorn a bedroom dedicated to the 1890s.

    A farmer in Carthage carved this intricate furniture piece for Chicago's Columbian Exposition and then they were donated to the state while Gov. John Altgeld was in office (1893-1897). They now adorn a bedroom dedicated to the 1890s.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • Rooms in the Governor's Mansion now reflect different time periods.

    Rooms in the Governor's Mansion now reflect different time periods.
    Courtesy of state of Illinois

  • The Governor's Mansion Office was added with a building expansion begun in 1971.

    The Governor's Mansion Office was added with a building expansion begun in 1971.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • The mansion's original cupola can still be seen from the grand circular staircase inside.

    The mansion's original cupola can still be seen from the grand circular staircase inside.
    Courtesy of state of Illinois

  • A chandelier at the top of the mansion's circular staircase.

    A chandelier at the top of the mansion's circular staircase.
    Courtesy of state of Illinois

  • The first lady's mansion office features beautifully restored furniture and an original fireplace with a painted, cast-iron hearth and mantelpiece.

    The first lady's mansion office features beautifully restored furniture and an original fireplace with a painted, cast-iron hearth and mantelpiece.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • The mansion's 24-seat dining room has a sideboard featuring a display of china used by Abraham Lincoln (although he was never governor) and various governors to present day. There is a complete silver tea service and other silver pieces crafted for the USS Illinois during the 1940s. The ship was never finished so the Navy donated the silver set to the Governor's Mansion.

    The mansion's 24-seat dining room has a sideboard featuring a display of china used by Abraham Lincoln (although he was never governor) and various governors to present day. There is a complete silver tea service and other silver pieces crafted for the USS Illinois during the 1940s. The ship was never finished so the Navy donated the silver set to the Governor's Mansion.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • The newly recreated curved mahogany entranceway off the exterior portico on the second floor leads to parlors on either side.

    The newly recreated curved mahogany entranceway off the exterior portico on the second floor leads to parlors on either side.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

  • An example of the antique chairs found around the mansion that have been refinished and reupholstered for active use into the future.

    An example of the antique chairs found around the mansion that have been refinished and reupholstered for active use into the future.
    Courtesy of Jean Murphy

 
By Jean Murphy
Daily Herald Correspondent

As part of Illinois' Bicentennial observance, its first residence -- the Illinois Governor's Mansion in Springfield -- has been resurrected from its former aged condition and will reopen for daily public tours on Saturday, July 14.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and first lady Diana Rauner will officially reopen the mansion to the public at a 10:30 a.m. ceremony and then public tours, led by mansion curator Justin Blandford and professionally trained docents, will follow, with the mansion closing at 4 p.m.

The public is welcome and encouraged to attend, Blandford said. Tickets will be available in person starting at 9 a.m. on July 14 on the mansion grounds. All visitors over the age of 5 will be required to show a printed ticket to join the tour. Tickets will indicate a specific tour time and tours will take place in 20-minute increments.

The mansion will also be open for extended hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday, July 15, and then regular tour hours of 1 to 4 p.m. daily will begin on Monday, July 16.

The Italianate-style brick and limestone Illinois Governor's Mansion, designed by Chicago architect John M. Van Osdel and completed in 1855, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1976. It is one of the oldest historic residences in the state and, being the official residence of each governor and his family, one of the three oldest continuously occupied governor's mansions in the United States.

"Illinois' governors have called Springfield home since 1839, when the capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield, and the General Assembly passed legislation requiring the governor to 'reside at the seat of Government' during his term. The state provided the governor with housing, originally housing the first family in a state-owned building that also housed the Board of Public Works," according to the state's website.

In 1855, Gov. Joel A. Matteson asked the legislature to build a new executive residence large enough to host his family and state events. The General Assembly granted the governor's request, appropriating $18,000 and hiring Van Osdel to design it. Matteson and his family moved in during January 1856.

The Executive Mansion quickly became the center of the Springfield social scene, hosting weddings and holiday parties. A variety of key figures in American history and culture visited, including numerous presidents, Civil War Gen. William Sherman, "Buffalo Bill" Cody and Annie Oakley.

Over the years, the mansion was remodeled several times. In 1889, the exterior red brick was painted a light stone color in an effort to emulate the White House. Eight years later, in 1897, a portico was added to the front and the original cupola on the roof was enclosed and hidden (but it can still be seen from the grand circular staircase inside). Then, in 1917, the architectural style of the mansion was transitioned to Italianate.

Time and weather have been the mansion's enemies, however. By 1961, it was in such poor condition the Illinois House of Representatives introduced a bill to build a new Executive Residence. But preservationists strongly objected, advocating for the restoration and protection of the mansion as a historic site.

So the governor at the time, Richard Ogilvie, created a commission to study the feasibility and cost of renovations. Eventually he determined the price tag was too high and that the commission's plan would ruin the historic integrity of the building. In 1971, Ogilvie initiated a $3 million effort to restore the mansion that focused on features from the original 1855 construction. The project also included a 24,000-square-foot addition to the south half of the mansion to provide private living quarters for the governor, an expanded kitchen and offices.

Those were virtually the last upgrades to the mansion prior to the current renovations. The building had once again fallen into disrepair. In addition, severe weather in early 2014 caused significant water damage to the modified H-shaped mansion, thanks to a bad roof and poor drainage around the foundation. In fact, several feet of water flooded into the basement.

Gov. Rauner and his wife decided something needed to be done to repair the mansion's falling plaster, peeling paint and an inoperable elevator, so in early 2015 committed themselves to restoring the mansion using private funds.

"I want this to be a place of pride," Rauner said. "This belongs to the people of the state, and it should be taken care of."

The mansion was eventually closed to the public on Jan. 1, 2017, so that it could be restored to its former glory.

"This house is a symbol and the local community appreciates it when governors and their families live here and very intentionally see and talk to citizens in local restaurants. The Rauners understand this," said Blandford, who became the new curator of the mansion in mid-June.

Blandford said a "mindful homeowner approach" was taken to the $15 million renovation because it focused not only on restoring the 16-room mansion's architecture and interiors, but also redecorating the mansion with antique period pieces, upgrading the structure's energy efficiency with modern double-pane windows and a new energy-efficient roof, as well as other improvements. Outside, the use of permeable pavers and new landscaping will move water away from the foundation.

"This was a comprehensive project," Blandford said. "For instance, the mansion was made totally accessible from the front gate to the door and throughout the structure for the first time and light fixtures and pieces of furniture and art that had been harmed by water and time have been repaired, reupholstered and restored."

In addition, items that needed to be purchased or crafted for the mansion were consciously sought out from Illinois craftsmen and companies. The double front door, for example, is curved inward and made of mahogany and beveled glass. It was handmade by a craftsman from El Paso. Similarly, steel stanchions that will be used for traffic control within the mansion were handcrafted by a Springfield firm, Selvaggio Steel, Blandford said.

First lady Diana Rauner devoted herself to restoring "the People's House" for current and future generations.
First lady Diana Rauner devoted herself to restoring "the People's House" for current and future generations. - Courtesy of Jean Murphy

To maintain and furnish the mansion, the nonprofit Illinois Executive Mansion Association was created to raise money. Since the association's creation, first lady Diana Rauner has served as honorary chairwoman, spearheading private fundraising efforts.

"I love seeing history come alive through buildings," Diana Rauner said, "and the mansion is certainly a place where history can come alive. When we came to Springfield, the mansion could not tell a coherent story."

Thousands of citizens donated money to save the mansion, she said. Chicago-based Vinci Hamp Architects was hired to take on the monumental task of overseeing the restoration.

"The people of Vinci Hamp put their hearts and souls into the project, even finding historically appropriate items on eBay and in closeouts to save money," Diana Rauner said.

With the project nearing completion, the mansion has been given a new mission rooted in a visitor experience. The mansion's original kitchen and laundry room have become the Visitor's Center. Rooms are dedicated to historic events such as the Columbian Exposition and past Illinois Governors starting with the Civil War Era. There's a space dedicated to the display of art and artifacts.

Also opening on July 14 is the mansion's inaugural exhibit, Art of Illinois, featuring more than 100 pieces of artwork from Illinois artists. The exhibit will feature fine and decorative arts, as well as industrial arts, generously loaned by museums, organizations and individuals across Illinois, including the Chicago History Museum, the Illinois Legacy Collection at the Illinois State Museum, and the Peoria Riverfront Museum.

Art of Illinois will be on display in the mansion seven days a week through January 2019.

"It bears noting that Springfield sites have been gradually expanding their days and hours of operation over the past several years," Blandford said. "In 2015 Lincoln's Tomb expanded to seven days a week. In 2016 the Old State Capitol began a seven-day-a-week schedule. In 2017 the Frank Lloyd Wright Dana House did the same and now, in 2018, the Governor's Mansion will also be open seven days a week.

"We feel that this will bring a positive economic change to tourism in Springfield and the Rauners feel that having an interest in the past will inspire future generations to pursue a bright future."

An Illinois Governor's Mansion-themed curriculum will soon be available online to teachers across the state so that even those who are unable to make the trip to Springfield can enjoy the mansion and its rich history.

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