Road Trip Through History: The Vandalia Statehouse State Historical Site

The first thing you need to remember about the old state capitol building in Vandalia, Illinois, is that it is NOT called the Old Capitol.* The Old Capitol, which is not as old as the state capitol building in Vandalia, is in Springfield. What can I say? Stuff doesn’t always make sense.

Vandalia became the second capitol of the new state of Illinois in 1819**, but it didn’t remain the seat of government for long. The Federal-style building that stands today was the third statehouse in Vandalia, built in 1836 in response to a referendum to move the capitol from Vandalia to Springfield. Building a new statehouse wasn’t enough to stop the move. In 1837, Springfield was chosen as the permanent location for the state capitol. The supporters of other locations immediately lashed out with charges of corruption against Springfield-area legislators, most notably “Honest Abe” Lincoln, then in his second term as a state representative and a major Springfield-booster.

Modern Vandalians are happier with Mr. Lincoln than their 19th century predecessors were. Today you can have your picture taken with him.

The site is historically important for its relationship to Lincoln, who began his political career there, but the tour guides don’t limit themselves to Lincoln lore. Our guide served up a tasty mix of historical odd bits, the day-to-day practice of government in a frontier state, and a nineteenth century political scandal ***

If you’re in the area and looking for a history break, you can’t go wrong with the Vandalia Statehouse State Historical Site.

* Actually, the first thing you need to remember is that the town is Vandalia, not Vidalia, which is the place in Georgia where the onions come from. My Own True Love corrected me on this several times, though he assures me that I didn’t make the mistake when talking to any of the wonderful people who answered my questions in Vandalia. If I did, I apologize. I knew where I was but I was goofy with cold medicine.

**The first capitol was at the French colonial town of Kaskaskia.

*** Theopholis Smith, a supreme court justice and the first Illinois public official to be impeached–for trying to sell a seat in the legislature. Who would have thought such a thing could happen in Illinois?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.