The bronze sculpture of a woman standing in the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol welcomed us with open arms. She stands directly beneath a beautiful stained-glass dome that tops the building where Illinois law is proposed, debated and put to legislative vote. Taking a look around the Italian Renaissance Revival building, statues, paintings and ornate walls and ceilings surrounded us. To learn more about the art, architecture and what goes on in the capitol, we took the free half-hour tour.
From the time Abraham Lincoln left his family at the age of 22 until he went into law and politics, he ran two general stores, was a surveyor, a postmaster and a captain in the Black Hawk War. During this time, he lived in New Salem, about 20 miles north of Springfield, Illinois. Today you can visit the reconstructed New Salem and explore over 20 recreated log buildings in the area that Lincoln called home at the Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.
I had heard that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum was “really awesome,” but I thought, “How awesome can a museum be?” I knew there were some really neat Lincoln artifacts and exhibits, and for years museums have been making exhibits more interactive with use of “please touch” buttons to activate audio, and more recently, touch screen computers. So although I knew the Lincoln museum would be a pleasant experience, my level of anticipation wasn’t set all that high. Was I ever wrong! The first time I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum I was astonished at the awesome use of special effects. It turns out that one of the museum’s designers was a former Disney animatronics engineer.
The year was 1902. Susan Dana had inherited $3 million and wanted to renovate the Renaissance Italianate home she grew up in. She heard of an up-and-coming architect named Frank Lloyd Wright and hired him to “renovate” the house. What she ended up with two years later was one room left from the original structure within 12,000 square feet of a brand new Frank Lloyd Wright prairie style home, a home with elements unheard of at the time, a home that everyone wanted to be entertained in. Today the home is owned by the State of Illinois, open to the public for tours, and guests are still awestruck by the architectural genius of this mansion.
Wright’s signature traits are all over the house: horizontal lines; a lot of open space and windows, inviting nature into the home and the home into nature; and art glass everywhere—in doors, windows, light fixtures, even in ceiling panels. The one Wright trait that is missing is an entry door hidden from plain view. Susan Dana loved to entertain, and she insisted on a grand entrance for guests. And grand it is.
As you walk through the home, from one area to another, you’ll feel the various moods that Wright meant to evoke. A low ceiling on one side of a room creates a comfortable alcove. Move over a few feet, to where the ceiling is much higher, and you’ll feel the space open, a perfect party space. A long dining table, when expanded to its full length could seat up to 40. A little beyond, a small table in a nook could be curtained off for an intimate family meal.
Landings between levels become balconies, perfect spots from which musicians could entertain. It seems everywhere you turn there are more architectural surprises, including three barrel vaulted ceilings and an extensive use of butterflies, a favorite of Ms. Dana. The butterflies aren’t obvious, but you can detect them in some of the art glass and in the shape of the lamps. Surprises even extend to the lower-level library, where Ms. Dana often entertained children on Saturday mornings. A guest touring the home once said that as a child he had his first ice cream cone here and pointed out the spot of a secret cooler that kept the ice cream cold. The lower level includes a duck pin bowling lane and a billiards room, too.
No photographs are allowed to be taken inside, so you’ll have to take the tour yourself to see the house, the Wright-designed furniture and original sculptures. No doubt, you’ll be awestruck, too, as you walk through the Dana-Thomas House’s 12,000 square feet of phenomenal.
The Dana-Thomas House is located at 301 E. Lawrence Avenue in Springfield, Illinois. Tours are conducted Wednesdays through Sundays. Visit the web site for further details.
Enjoy this post? Click the Subscribe2 button to the left to be notified whenever another post is published on MidwestWanderer.com. (Be sure to click the link when you get the e-mail asking you to confirm.) Visit the Midwest Wanderer Facebook Page, and check out my Examiner.com page, too, where I’ve had over 75 articles published.
Other posts and articles you may enjoy: