"Our goal should be the creation and preservation of communities in which past and present are partners, reminding us of our heritage and enriching the places where we live and work," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has declared this Preservation Week.
In recognition of the importance of preservation efforts, Inside Illinois begins a periodic series featuring historic buildings on the UI campus. Many of us walk by these buildings every day, not really seeing their beauty or understanding their historical significance. Walk with us as we tour these amazing artifacts -- right here in our own backyard.
Altgeld Hall has served as the symbolic landmark of the UI since its completion in 1897 when it housed the library. Fashioned from Minnesota limestone, it has been described as "the finest example of Romanesque architecture west of the Atlantic seaboard." UI alumnus and architecture professor Nathan C. Ricker is credited with the design, which includes arched doorways, vaulted ceilings, a tile roof and a 132-foot bell tower, which houses a 15-bell set of chimes.
The interior of the building is no less grand than its exterior. A combination of Byzantine, Classical and Gothic styles is reflected in the building's ornate ironwork, marble staircases, elegantly crafted woodwork and rotunda, originally covered by a dome of stained glass. The Byzantine-style mural in the rotunda, created by university artist Newton A. Wells, depicts scenes evocative of the UI's four oldest colleges -- Agriculture, Science, Engineering, and Literature and Arts.
In 1941, the building was rededicated in memory of Illinois Gov. John Peter Altgeld, who had played an influential role in its construction. In 1970 and again in 1986, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Altgeld Hall is awaiting cleaning and restoration and is the UI's highest preservation priority.