Mansion History & Architecture
Nestled between Springfield’s brick-paved streets and the State Capitol, the Illinois Governor's Mansion is the third-oldest state governor's residence in the United States and the oldest gubernatorial residence in the Midwest. It has been home to Illinois Governors and their families since its construction in 1855. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
The Executive Mansion in Springfield, Illinois, has served as an official residence of the Governor of Illinois since 1839, when the capital was moved for the second and final time and the General Assembly designated a state-owned residence for the Governor.
In 1853, fourteen years after the capital was moved from Vandalia to Springfield, newly-elected Governor Joel A. Matteson asked the legislature to build an executive residence large enough to host state events. The General Assembly granted the governor’s request with an appropriation of $18,000, the distinguished Chicago architect, John Mills Van Osdel, was hired. Van Osdel, who had also designed the home of Chicago’s first mayor and the city’s Court House building, constructed the mansion in the then-popular Italianate style while incorporating Greek Revival features typical of 19th-century public architecture.
The Executive Mansion soon became the center of the Springfield social and cultural scene, hosting public receptions and holiday parties. A number of influential American figures have been guests – including Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Abraham Lincoln also made a visit to the mansion in 1860 shortly before his nomination as the Republican candidate for President, stopping by to visit Illinois’ second Governor, William H. Bissell, shortly before he passed away.
While the General Assembly appropriated funds for repairs, general refurbishing, and maintenance approximately every two years, by 1889 the building needed substantial updates. Thus, Governor Joseph Fifer approved a lump sum of $13,500 in additional funding, allowing Springfield architect George Helmle to oversee a remodel of the Executive Mansion. His updates included painting the exterior red brick a “light stone color” to emulate the White House and the addition of a stone portico to the front entrance. The next major renovation was completed in 1917 by Governor Lowden and his wife, who split the $50,000 cost with the State.
As the twentieth century progressed, public officials inquired about replacing the building as it continued to deteriorate. In 1961 a fire in New York State’s executive residence sparked intense scrutiny of the condition of Illinois’ Executive Mansion. Its roof leaked and many of its floors were in danger of collapsing, leading the Chicago Sun-Times to call the mansion “a hazard, as well as a horror.” Thus, the same year as the New York fire, the Illinois House of Representatives introduced a bill to build a new Governor’s residence. Preservationists across the state, including several former governors and first ladies, rallied against the proposal, instead advocating for the restoration and protection of the historic mansion. Funding, however, was not readily available and Governor Kerner vetoed a 1965 bill appropriating $900,000 for Mansion repairs.
In response to the continued debate over whether the Mansion should be renovated or entirely rebuilt, Governor Ogilvie created the Illinois Executive Mansion Commission to study the feasibility and cost of renovation. The commission’s recommended renovations included constructing east and west wings to house administrative offices. Governor Ogilvie and his wife, opposed this plan, arguing that it would destroy the appearance of the historic building. Instead, the Ogilvies charged James T. Hickey and Lowell Anderson of the Illinois State Historical Library with overseeing a $3 million effort to renovate the mansion, which included the restoration of the mansion’s original elliptical staircase. The project, which began in 1971, preserved the original Georgian plan of the mansion and created private living quarters for the first family in a new south wing designed to complement the original building. The Mansion was officially recognized for its historical significance shortly after the renovation in 1976, when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 2015, Vinci Hamp Architects was hired by First Lady Diana Rauner to direct a $15 million renovation funded by private donations – including extensive interior repairs and landscaping that earned the residence a LEED Silver designation from the US Green Building Council. Governor Pritzker continued these renovation efforts with an $850,000 donation of his own in 2019.
In order to minimize the cost to taxpayers, the Illinois Executive Mansion Association was created to maintain and furnish the mansion using privately raised funds. Since the Association’s creation, each of Illinois’ First Ladies has served as honorary chairwoman and spearheaded fundraising efforts.
Renamed the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association in 2018, the organization continues to support the acquisition of and care for the fine furnishings that make the Governor’s mansion a proud Illinois tradition. Come visit and join the effort to preserve Illinois’ unique and special historic place.