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Understanding The Castles Of Illinois Cultural Studies Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2769 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Hundreds of students enter the doors of “Old Main” everyday on their mission of succeeding in their college mathematics classes. Typically, these students call this building the “castle.” One of Eastern Illinois University’s trademarks has become the silhouette of the Livingston C. Lord administration building, or the castle “Old Main.” Many students, and even professors, take this castle for granted. The intricate details and history behind this historical architectural building is overseen. “Old Main,” is one of five Illinois state colleges to house a building with all five having similar architecture. This architectural style derived from the former Illinois Governor John Altgeld who desired to make the state colleges of Illinois unique and refined.

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There are many rumors as to how the five Illinois state colleges compare to each other with their “castle” buildings. These rumors, or stories, try to explain the connection between the five “castle” buildings from the Illinois state schools. One rumor revolves around the fact that all five castles can be put together to create one large castle. Although some believe that the hallways and corridors may be aligned in such a way that they fit perfectly together, there is no proof of such architectural planning. Another rumor is that the buildings came from a large castle; that these pieces were cut and send to each university where they now lay. This rumor has since been proven wrong. All five of the Illinois castles have an architectural structure that is influenced by Altgeld. However, not all of the castles were built by the same groups of architects.

“John Peter Altgeld was the 20th governor of the U.S. state of Illinois from 1893 until 1897” (Wikipedia). On top of being an Illinois governor, Altgeld had a large influence on Illinois architecture. John Altgeld believed that the typical public buildings did not look visually pleasing. He referred to their appearance as a relation to “warehouses or shops” (Frisbie, 6). In order to fix this appearance, Altgeld proposed new buildings with a Tudor-Gothic architectural style.

The Tudor Gothic architectural style is a very intricate and detailed design. “Battlements, towers, turrets, pointed arches, and label molds all are characteristics of the various Gothic revival styles” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 24). Using a naturalistic view, the building’s design revolves around nature. Looking closely at the details of the outside walls, one can see designs of leaves, flowers, and natural shapes carved into the walls and pillars. Another typical feature of this style is the tower. The tower is the section of the building which overlooks the other parts of the structure. It is typically two to three levels higher than the “top” floor. With the Tudor style, the doors and window are more narrow and smaller. Arches are also a major part of the gothic style. These arches are typically pointed and placed at main points of interest. Focusing on all of these aspects, we can note the distinct design in the five Illinois castles. Looking closely at these colleges castles, we should see the natural design on the architecture as well as the great arches and towers.

Out of the five Illinois state schools, two of the “castles” are not named after Governor Altgeld. At Eastern Illinois University, they named their Altgeld inspired building after their first president Livingston C. Lord. At Illinois State University, their Altgeld inspired building was once known as “Altgeld’s Folly,” but is now known as Cook Hall (Wikipedia). The other three state schools include Altgeld’s name within their buildings name. These schools include Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Northern Illinois University at DeKalb. Each school has a different story and different mathematics behind them. We are going to focus mainly on Eastern Illinois University’s building “Old Main.” However, we will cover the basic history behind each of the other four state school’s buildings.

“Old Main” was the first building to be build for Eastern Illinois University. Therefore, before the construction of “Old Main” there was a lot of action that led to its distinct architecture. Before Eastern Illinois University was even built, there was a large competition between where the new state school would be located. Governor John Peter Altgeld helped create this new state school by “signing the act of the Illinois General Assembly which appropriated $50,000 for the establishment of Eastern Illinois State Normal School” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 7). “The contest to become the seat of the new normal school began with Mattoon, Paris, Danville, Shelbyville, Effingham, Kansas, Tuscola, Charleston, and more” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 8). A normal school is meant to train teachers how to perform the correct process of teaching. Not too long after Eastern Illinois State Normal School became a normal school, the school’s name changed to Eastern Illinois State College in 1947. Then in 1957, the school changed its name for the final time to Eastern Illinois University (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 20). This is the name it has been ever since.

Eastern Illinois University was built in Charleston for one main reason. Charleston offered a great deal to the university if the campus was “build within two miles of the Coles County courthouse. Then the city donated 40 acres of land, $35,000 to $45,000 dollars to the school, city water, 4 fire hydrants, and supply the school with water for fifty years at five dollars a year” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 9). Any person would conclude that this was a great deal. The city also offered other amenities to help in the construction process. “On September 7, 1895, Charleston was officially accepted as the site for Eastern Illinois State Normal School” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 9). The forty acres resided on the site known as “Bishop Woods” and the plans for their first building began. These plans took a few years to develop. Altgeld did not approve of the first plan for the new building, because it did not resemble the Tudor-Gothic architecture. Then in the spring of 1896, the plan for the first building was approved and lined out by the Chicago firm of Angus and Gindele (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 11). Altgeld is known to have an influence on “Old Main” by requesting the architects that specialize in the Tudor-Gothic style. “The first stone of the brick and limestone edifice was laid on April 11, 1896 (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 11).

Figure 1 (EIU)- from Wikipedia The final decision on “Old Main’s” structure is not on record. When Angus and Gindele brought the final architectural plan to the site, they noted that there were changes that need to be made with the “porch, main tower, and walls” ( The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 31). Within the drawings, there was a more detailed roofline which is not seen on the building. “At this time, the project acquired a new architect, Charles Ward Rapp of Chicago” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 31).

Charles had previously designed “Altgeld Hall” for Southern Illinois Normal University. The final, and current, building “Old Main” can be seen in figure 1.

There is disagreement that Altgeld had a role in designing “Old Main,” but he definitely had an influence on the buildings style. He was the one to suggest the style, approve the layout, and approve the structure that would remain on the forty acres. In Altgeld’s second biennial message to the Illinois legislature he stated,

“After an examination of the subject I became satisfied that the most inexpensive, as well as the most impressive architectural style of buildings that are to stand alone in a grove, or in a field, is what has been called the Tudor-Gothic style… This style has consequently been adopted in most buildings that have been erected in the last two years, and is found to be very effective” (The Architecture of Eastern’s Old Main, 12).

This speech led to believe that Altgeld not only found an inexpensive way to create buildings with state schools, but to also have these buildings be visually beautiful. “Old Main,” is now described as “a three-story, normal style, building of brick and limestone construction” (Winkleblack, 23). It houses the department of admissions as well as the mathematics and computer science courses.

Figure 2 – from history of EIU’s Old Main webpage Tudor-Gothic architectural style can be seen in both “Old Main,” Pemberton Hall, and Booth Library located on the Eastern Illinois University campus. This type of architectural style was used with the early to mid 1900’s. Within “Old Main” one can note the large ceilings, arches, tall door frames, and naturalistic details. As seen in figure 2, Old Main’s original design was very intricate. Currently, the first,

the second, and the third floors are open to students for mathematics classes and administrative purposes. However, “around 1920 the fifth floor of Old Main’s tower was used as storage for library books and part of a hallway for a reading room” (Booth Library, 6). Currently the tower is closed off to the students and public.

Altgeld’s influence not only affected Eastern Illinois University’s “Old Main” architecture, but he also influenced more state school’s buildings. A total of five Illinois state schools host a building with the Tudor-Gothic architecture influenced by John Altgeld. Each school has their own story of how their part of the “Altgeld’s castle” came to be. The current five Illinois castles are said to all resemble the Tudor-Gothic architectural style and are all fireproofed in order to preserve their structure. Many of these castles have already been renovated to keep them from deteriorating.

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Figure 3 (SIU) – from Wikipedia Just before Eastern Illinois University’s “Old Main” was build, Southern Illinois University was planning on recreating their first building with Altgeld’s Tudor-Gothic architectural style. When Southern Illinois University first opened as a state school, their first building was dedicated on the opening day of July 1, 1874 (Lentz, 18). Their first building’s architecture resembled the Romaic-Gothic style. “Its length from north to south was 215 feet and projecting to the front and rear was 109 feet with the side wings” (Lentz, 18). This building was burnt down in a fire during the year of 1883. However, this building’s foundation was used to rebuild the facility with Altgeld’s inspired “castle” structure. “In 1895, the rebuilding campaign went forward with the cordial support of the Altgeld Administration” (Lentz, 56). This new building, which can be seen in figure 3, formerly entitled “Altgeld Hall” is now used primarily for the science courses at Southern Illinois University. This building’s formal

name of “Altgeld Hall,” is said to describe the style of buildings constructed during the Altgeld period. Since then, this building has gone under two renovations to help preserve its structure and artistic style.

Figure 4 (NIU) – from Wikipedia The construction of Northern Illinois University first began in 1895. Governor John Altgeld signed the legislation which jump started the creation of Northern Illinois University. To commemorate this gesture, the first building build on the Northern Illinois University campus was entitled “Altgeld Hall” but was informally known as the “Castle on the Hill” (Wikipedia). Altgeld Hall can be seen in figure 4. The construction of this first building took just over four

Figure 4 (NIU) – from Wikipediayears to complete. Again, since Governor Altgeld wanted all of the state schools to be unified with the Tudor-Gothic

architecture, this building was built with this style in mind. This first building was the main component of Northern Illinois University for quite some time.

“When Altgeld Hall first opened, it housed the entire university. It was classroom, boardroom, library, gymnasium, administrative office building, and lecture hall. It housed chemical and physical laboratories, executive offices, a 1,200 seat auditorium , biology labs, a study hall, a museum, classrooms, a manual training shop, an independent water system, and finally a “dynamo” for light and power” (wikipedia).

In 1999, this building went under a five year renovation to update its structure from deterioration. Currently this building is served as a house for administrative purposes and technology teaching laboratories.

Figure 5 (U of I) – from Wikipedia “In 1897, architects Nathan Clifford Ricker and James White completed the fourth edition to the castle-style buildings constructed under the order of Governor John Peter Altgeld” (Wikipedia). This fourth Altgeld castle belongs to the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Although Altgeld preferred the Tudor-Gothic style of architecture,

the castle at University of Illinois has more of a Romanesque style. (As seen in Figure 5) The reason this state school chose the Romanesque style was based on their weather conditions. This castle had many names and purposes. It was first known as the “University Library,” then the “Law Building,” and finally named “Altgeld Hall.” “In 1998, an effort was under way to complete a major carillon for the 132 foot tall bell tower” (Frisbie, 6). This building currently resides the mathematics department and mathematics library.

Figure 6 (ISU) – from Wikipedia The last of the five castles was to begin its construction during the panic of 1893. This building was to be constructed in the already existing campus of Illinois State University. Because of the scarce times, the construction was postponed. While this building was being postponed, two additional buildings were constructed. Then in 1955 the construction for the fifth castle began and the building was completed on September of 1956 (Marshall, 8). This building was made with Bedford limestone and was built to be fireproof. Since it was fireproof, this building became Illinois State University’s library. This new building was named after the school’s fourth president, Jesse Williston Cook. “Cook Hall,” was later turned into the school’s gymnasium. This building is also known as the “Old Castle,” “The Gymnasium,” and “Altgeld’s Folly” (ISU). Currently, “Cook Hall” is home to the musical department and can be seen in figure 6.

Altgeld wanted to unify the Illinois state schools in a distinct way. He encouraged each state school to build their first, or main, building in the Tudor-Gothic style. He believed this style demonstrated refinement as well as aesthetically pleasing to the viewers of these campuses. “Altgeld buildings were an expression of the former governor’s determination that a first-class education be available to all state residents” (Frisbie, 6) Since Altgeld helped sign the legislature to build most of these campuses, these state school on thought it right to name their buildings after Altgeld himself. Currently, almost all of these five structures are the oldest buildings on the state campuses. Out of the five state schools to host part of the “Altgeld’s caste,” three have, or currently, house the mathematics department. It seems only correct for the mathematics department to reside in the most historical and architecturally intricate buildings on the state campuses.


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