The plan was to build the National Road all the way to the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Unfortunately, money ran out about 70 miles to the east at Vandalia, Illinois, and that was that. I don’t know where construction stopped in Vandalia, but for me the National Road experience ends at the old Illinois statehouse. If the National Road didn’t actually pass by here, it would have if it had kept going west.
Founded in 1819, Vandalia served as the Illinois capital starting in 1820. This building served as statehouse only briefly. None other than Abraham Lincoln, then serving in the state legislature, led a caucus to move the state capital up to Springfield. The existing capitol building wasn’t well loved, so during the legislature’s recess in 1836, it was torn down and this one was built hurriedly on the same spot. It was hoped that the legislature would enjoy the new building so much they wouldn’t relocate the capital. Alas, Springfield became the new capital in 1837.
Fast forward to 1912. An early coast-to-coast auto trail known as the National Old Trails Road was routed mostly along the National Road in its six states. In 1928, the Daughters of the American Revolution placed Madonna of the Trail statues on the route in each of the National Old Trails Road’s 12 states, honoring the pioneer mothers who helped expand the United States westward. Vandalia got the Illinois Madonna, and it stands on a corner of the statehouse grounds.
The statue looks to have had some restoration since I last visited it, in 2007, as it is much browner now. See some of the other Madonnas of the Trail along the National Road here.
We were fortunate to have arrived at the old statehouse an hour before tours ended for the day. This is the main east-west hallway on the first floor.
The legislature and the Supreme Court operated from this building. Here’s the Supreme Court bench, or at least a reasonable stand-in for it, as much of the original furniture was lost.
My notes are poor, but I’m pretty sure that this is the House chamber and the next photo is the Senate chamber. There’s a chance it could be the other way around, though.
The light in this room was challenging. I shared a photo of the entire room in this post.
Vandalians were pretty unhappy with young Mr. Lincoln for his role in moving the capital up to Springfield. But at some point they got over it, because they placed a statue of him across the street. It makes for a good photo, one in which you can almost imagine him pausing for a short rest before going in to do the state’s business.
Thanks for riding along on my Illinois National Road trip. I’ve written about the National Road extensively over the years. See everything I’ve written here.
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Last updated on 26 March 2020 by Jim Grey