Kankakee County Courthouse
- 1 The 1st and 2nd Courthouses
- 2 The 3rd Courthouse Overview
- 3 Architecture
- 4 Memorials and Other Features
- 5 References
The 1st and 2nd Courthouses
Courthouse Square was first used as a council ground during the era of the Pottawatomi Indians in the early 1800s. Later a log cabin was built for the son of fur trader Francois Bourbonnais and his Pottawatomi wife, Catish. The cabin was built on land granted to Catish through the 1832 Treaty of Camp Tippecanoe. Much of what is now the City of Kankakee stands on land that was granted to Catish and her children and/or grandchildren.
In 1851, supporters of the Illinois Central Railroad formed the Associates Land Company to buy land and plan town sites every ten miles along the planned IC line. Kankakee Depot (originally platted as the Town of Bourbonnais, also known as Kankakee Depot and later chartered as Kankakee City) was one of those sites. On October 7, 1852, they purchased 960 acres from Isaac Elston, land that he had purchased from the Catish and Maw’teno Bourbonnais reservations just 5 years earlier.
At about the same time period that Illinois Central was building its rail line, the settlers in the Kankakee Valley area decided to form a new county seat. Two contenders for the site were the towns of Momence, first settled in the 1930s, and Kankakee Depot (now Kankakee) which was little more than a town on paper. Associates Land Company had already surveyed and platted Kankakee Depot. Because of their large interest in the town, they offered to donate a square block of land for a courthouse site and $5,000 toward construction. On June 23, 1853, the voters selected Kankakee Depot as their county seat, and Associates Land Company deeded the block of land to the county for $1 with a restriction on the property that reads: Donated to the county to be kept forever vacant of buildings, except a courthouse which is to be placed in the center of the block.
The first board of supervisors’ meeting was held July 18, 1853, in Momence, Illinois. The supervisors adopted the township form of government that still exists today. Attending the first meeting were six supervisors representing the six original townships: Yellowhead, Momence, Aroma, Bourbonnais, Limestone and Rockville. The townships were formed with at least one town or village in each. It wasn’t long before more townships were added and by April, 1854, the supervisors had plans for a courthouse. Robert J. Cunningham was awarded the contract for $19,282.50 and the building was completed by the end of the summer of 1855.
The first Courthouse was a three-story building, 55 feet wide and 75 feet deep constructed of brick and native limestone. The lower level was the jail and jailer’s room, the second story was for county offices and jury rooms, and the third story served as a large courtroom. Its flat-topped, hipped roof held a small cupola with a hemispherical dome. In 1853, Kankakee Depot had one small store built on Court Street among a clump of trees. By the end of the year a hotel was built to accommodate Illinois Central passengers. The small town soon began to expand and new additions were made that expanded the land area. By the end of 1854, the population was 1,000. In 1855, the Associates Land Company laid out a new addition and began to promote the new town.
The first quarry in the Kankakee area was opened in 1853 followed by several others within the city limits. Block limestone was cut and shaped for buildings within the small town’s growing business district. Six historic churches, all built in the mid to late 1800s are within close proximity of the Courthouse and within walking distance of each other. Five of the six were built of native limestone.
As the city of Kankakee grew it became a popular trading place for farmers, and the Courthouse became a social center with special events held inside and on the courthouse grounds. It was also the scene of a number of historical events.
- It was the site of Kankakee’s first and last case of capital punishment. On May 17, 1861, Wiley J. Morris, an African-American man convicted of the murder of a white girl, was hanged from a second floor scaffold made for the occasion.
- In 1858, Senator Stephen A. Douglas spoke at the Courhouse to a crowd of 2,000 during his campaign against Abraham Lincoln.
In 1861, the Civil War began. Five years after the war Kankakee became part of a post-war boom in the industrial North. Foreign immigrants began settling in the Midwest with people of the same nationality generally settling in small colonies. Kankakee County is known for its many churches and is a good example of how churches were often established by groups of people of the same nationality. The largest influx of immigrants were French-Canadians from Canada. The population of Kankakee in 1867 was approximately 5,000 and Kankakee County had 22,000 residents. During the 1860s, the Illinois Central Railroad Company encouraged increased grain production. Field crops slowly replaced cattle as a source of income for farmers and it wasn’t long before small settlements, ten to fifteen miles apart, grew up around grain elevators along the Illinois Central Railroad.
On October 5, 1872, the Courthouse burned due to a fire that started in the cupola. The native limestone walls of the first courthouse were dismantled, cleaned and stacked. They were reused during the construction of the new courthouse. The second Courthouse was nearly an exact duplicate of the first in design. The only difference was the cupula that was redesigned and stood 24 feet higher than the first. The new courthouse opened in October, 1873, approximately one year from the date of the fire.
In 1877, Kankakee was chosen as the site for the Illinois Easter Hospital for the Insane. A 250-acre site was purchased at a cost of $14,000. James Lillie won the contract to build the complex which was the nation’s first “detached cottage” plan. It soon became the pacesetter for mental hospital construction. A year later several towns were platted along the Kankakee and Southwestern Railway. The 1870s was a decade of building in Kankakee County, with schools, churches, businesses and industries being constructed. Fire & ice however destroyed many buildings.
By the turn of the century the courthouse started to deteriorate and was no longer large enough for the County’s needs. In November, 1908, a new building was proposed and accepted by the voters. It took most of the spring of 1909 to dismantle the native limestone blocks used for the walls of the first and second courthouse. The material was sold.
The 3rd Courthouse Overview
The current Kankakee County Courthouse is located on parcel #16-09-32-434-001 in the City of Kankakee, Illinois. This parcel is commonly referred to as Courthouse Square and is clearly defined by Court Street to the north, Indiana Avenue to the west, Merchant Street to the south, and Harrison Avenue to the east. The circa 1853 plat map for the town of Bourbonnais (now Kankakee) shows Courthouse Square. The surrounding streets, with the exception of Indiana Avenue, are clearly labeled on the map. The map at Block 16, Courthouse Square, also states the following: "Donated to County to be kept forever vacant of buildings except a Court House, which is to be placed on the center of the Block." The third Courthouse was designed by Zachary Taylor Davis. On April 24, 1909, W. F. Stilwell of Lafayette, Indiana was awarded the Courthouse contract for $187,000. The cornerstone was laid October 2, 1909. Built with steel, granite and buff limestone, the Courthouse took three years to construct and another $64,000 to furnish. The formal opening and dedication ceremonies were held in July, 1912. The new courthouse had four floors and a new-classic dome standing 140 feet high. The present Kankakee County courthouse stands in the center of Kankakee’s commercial district. It sits on a knoll, in the center of a full city block, fronted by Court Street on the north, Indiana Avenue on the west, Merchant Street on the south and Harrison Avenue on the east, an area we will refer to as Courthouse Square. It is the third courthouse building in the history of the county to stand on its present site. Completed in 1912 it continues to serve as the county seat. It is a stately, three-story, symmetrical structure of the Beaux Arts Style evidenced by its lavishly embellished surface ornamentation. The Courthouse was designed by Chicago architect Zachery Taylor Davis (1872-1946), well known for his designs of national baseball parks in Chicago and New York. The grounds of Courthouse Square, which today are in excellent condition, were landscaped in 1889 during the era of the second courthouse as part of a beautification project that gave the square a park-like atmosphere. Eleven monuments and/or statues have been placed on Courthouse Square through the years to honor people or events associated with the history of Kankakee County.
The Kankakee County Courthouse in Kankakee, Illinois, was designed by Zachary Taylor Davis and built by W. F. Stilwell. The building stands majestically on a full city block in the center of a commercial district shared by six historical churches built in the 1800s.
Beaux Arts Architecture
The term Beaux Arts (Fine Arts) refers to the period in American architecture from 1885-1930. By the late 1800s, American architecture showed a renewed interest in the more formal European designs. The elaborate styles inspired by Americans were influenced by their studies at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, France, an influential school of architecture of that era. Students were taught historic architecture such as Imperial Roman, Italian Renaissance, and French and Italian Baroque. These styles could then be applied to a broader range of models.
Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the success of its contributions of Beaux Arts architecture was a major driving force behind the City Beautiful Movement in the United States. The Exposition was the first major example of such a plan. Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912) planned the Exposition known as White City and supervised the construction using Greece and Rome as his models.
Architect, Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), was the first American born to study architecture at the École des Beaux Arts. In 1858, he opened a studio in New York City. Although he is responsible for several historical Beaux Arts designs, his contribution to the Columbian Exposition was his greatest achievement. The men of the City Beautiful Movement considered Hunt’s Administration Building the symbolic capital of the White City.
The Exposition became an inspiration for the movement toward Classical and Renaissance styles. Businessmen were taken by the grandeur of the Beaux Arts style and they wanted that same stateliness for their public and institutional buildings. The style was also used for grand country estates, freestanding town houses, and row houses. Daniel Burnham’s architectural firm grew through the years to be one of the largest in the world. Their global business techniques became the model for many architectural firms. Burnham became the president of the American Institute of Architects.
Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), one of Chicago’s most influential architects and a design contributor to the Columbian Exposition, was considered America’s first truly modern architect. He studied for one year at the École in Paris; however, he disagreed with the direction Burnham had taken with his Classical designs. Sullivan did not imitate historic styles, he created original designs that evolved from functional requirements and materials and technologies of the time. His buildings were artistically designed using ornamentation derived from nature. It is interesting to note that Zachary Taylor Davis, architect for the Kankakee County Courthouse, worked as a draftsman for Mr. Sullivan in the late 1800s.
There are several excellent examples of Beaux Arts architecture in the United States. New York’s Grand Central Station and its Public Library are two of America’s best. In Illinois, Chicago’s Union Station and the University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium are fine examples.
The beaux Arts architecture of the Courthouse is not common to Kankakee County; however, there are a few courthouses in Illinois and neighboring states that are similar in style.
The Hancock County Courthouse (built 1908) in Carthage, Illinois, is a combination of Italianate, Beaux Arts and Romanesque architecture. The exterior walls are a buff limestone quarried by the Bedford Stone Quarries Company, Inc. of Bedford, Indiana. The first story has horizontal recesses while the upper levels have a smooth wall surface. Above the entry, at the front elevation, is a portico topped by a triangular pediment and supported by paired two story columns. There is a central dome, with a conical roof, rising above the main core of the building. At each elevation of the dome, paired columns and a clock are incorporated into the design. The conical roof is repeated on towers at the corners of the structure. The roof material is red tile.
The Logan County Courthouse (built 1905) in Lincoln, Illinois, is a three story building with a partially exposed basement level. A wide frieze separates the rusticated wall surface of the basement and first story from the smooth wall surface of the upper levels. Each elevation has a centrally located portico with a triangular pediment supported by four, two-story columns. Under the portico an arched door topped by an elliptical design serves as the entrance. A dome rises above the main core of the building incorporating a clock on all four elevations. The structure is a classic design with no distinctive facade decoration.
The Iroquois County Courthouse (built 1866, 1881) in Watseka, Illinois, has features of both the Second Empire and Italianate styles. Second Empire structures with a mansard roof, dormer windows and facade decoration are a sub-type of the Beaux Arts style; however, this structure was built before the Beaux Arts era. It has a mansard roof, molded cornices, and decorative brackets beneath the eaves. The arched windows are tall, narrow, and either paired or in groups of three. The facade is designed with pilasters, cornice lines accented with modillions, and Ionic columns supporting the entry porch. A tower rises above the structure at the front elevation. It has a mansard roof with small dormer windows on each side.
The Elkhart County Courthouse (built 1868) in Goshen, Indiana, has Italianate features. The lower level is rusticated while the upper level has a smooth wall surface. At the second story, of the structures main core, paired columns/pilasters are placed at the corners. A centered portico with a triangular pediment is supported by one-story columns. Under the portico, three arched doors topped by an elliptical design serve as the entrance. There are quoins and pilasters at the corners of the side wings and elaborate inverted U-shaped crowns and keystone lentils at the first story windows. The roof is flat with a roof line balustrade and an octagonal dome rising above the main core of the building. Each elevation of the dome is accented by tall, narrow windows topped by a round window and arched elaborate crowns.
Courthouses built in the early 1800s, such as the Metamora Courthouse (built 1845) in Metamora, Illinois; the Henderson County Courthouse (built 1843) in Oquawka, Illinois, or the Illinois Appellate Courthouse (built 1851-1857) in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, are usually in the Greek Revival style (1825-1860). Several courthouses such as the Edgar County Courthouse (built 1891) in Paris, Illinois, the Warren County Courthouse (built 1894) in Monmouth, Illinois, or the Knox County Courthouse (built 1882-1884) in Galesburg, Illinois, are often a combination of Richardsonian Romanesque (1880-1900) and Chateauesque (1880-1910) styles.
The Kankakee County Courthouse built during the era when Beaux Arts Architecture was popular is a fine example of that style of architecture. In comparing its style to other courthouses throughout the state, it is evident that its architectural features easily exemplify the Beaux Arts style. Several courthouses throughout Illinois and neighboring states have some of the same basic Italian Renaissance features; a symmetrical facade, smooth light-colored stone walls, rusticated first story, prominent dentiled cornice, and a flat roof and roof-line balustrade. However, the elaborate decorative detailing of the courthouse (decorative garlands, floral patterns and shields, the elaborate window crowns and a facade with paired pilasters and columns) is what distinguishes it as a fine example of Beaux Arts.
The Kankakee County Courthouse, with features of the Italian Renaissance (1890-1935) style, is identified as Beaux Arts (1885-1930) architecture due to its lavishly embellished surface ornamentation characteristic of a short-lived more formal period of design in the United States. The three-story facade building is symmetrical in design with a flat roof except for the domed rotunda. The primary exterior material is buff limestone quarried by the Bedford Stone Quarries Company, Inc. of Bedford, Indiana. The first story has horizontal recesses, while the second and third stories, have a smooth designed wall surface. The first floor is separated from the upper floors by a wide frieze broken by a decorative square over each first story window. There is also a partially exposed basement level.
Porticoes topped by triangular pediments and cornices and accented by dentils dominate the north and south elevations of the main core of the building. Four two-story high columns at the second and third story levels, topped with Ionic capitals and separated by balustrade window balconies at the base of the columns, support the projecting porticoes. Enclosed within each of the pediments is an elaborately detailed escutcheon (coat of arms), representing the county seat. An inscription just below the pediment reads: KANKAKEE COUNTY COURT HOUSE. Between the columns are six rectangular windows recessed into the body of the portico, typical of the Italian Renaissance style. The three third story windows are capped by a leaf and fruit designed garland plus a decorative bracket; each topped by a recessed oval window heavily embellished with a leaf and ribbon design (see photo 4). Directly below each of the third story windows are panels with a bas-relief, leaf carving; below those are the three second story windows. The size of these panels and the second story windows are the only variations in style when comparing the north and south elevation. Under the portico, three arched doors, topped by an elliptical design, serve as the south entrance.
On both the north and south elevations there are paired side wings. The first floor windows are topped by decorative brackets and a flat gauged arch (see photo 6). On the second floor the windows are topped by pediments and supportive decorative brackets, while the third floor windows are topped by ornamental brackets and retangular garland made of acanthus leaves.
At both the east and west elevations the second and third floors are accented by two pairs of engaged square columns that separate the three windows, with balustrade window sills below the second story. The arrangement of the three stories of windows is repeated to match the north and south elevation windows.
The flat roof has a decorative balustrade around the perimeter of the building with the main core of the building rising above the roof to support an elaborate 140-foot high dome. The dome is accented by eight sets of paired columns divided by four sets of three arched windows and a single window between the pairs of columns. The dome incorporates a clock on all four elevations. An elaborately detailed arched stone frame surrounds each clock.
At both the north and south elevations, two pedestal light fixtures border the stairs leading to the entrance. They rest on large concrete bases with garland surrounds of acanthus leaves. The glass globes have been replaced through the years, but the actual lamp post has remained intact.
Italian marble was used for some wall surfaces, the stair railings, balusters, and newel posts. There is one large leaded light fixture that hangs over the staircase landing going up to the third floor. Each floor was built around the central rotunda with Italian marble railing at the second and third floors. Standing on the main floor one may view the side walls and ceiling of the dome.
Within the dome, on all four sides, semi-circular murals depict prosperity, history, discovery and progress. Beneath each mural stained glass windows reside in an arched-shaped frame; each of a different design and visible only from the interior. Four leaded glass windows are incorporated into the design of the ceiling of the dome.
Through the years several historical monuments and/or statues have been placed on the grounds of Courthouse Square to honor Kankakee County residents or events that are significant to its past. Many of the objects still exist, but some have been removed for various reasons.
At this time, the exterior of the Kankakee County Courthouse remains virtually undisturbed since it was constructed. The interior has had no changes to the rotunda and main staircases. Many of the original rooms have been repartitioned or remodeled over the years to accommodate a growing county business that required more court rooms, offices and new technology; in addition, restoration work was done to the interior of the dome.
In 1980, architect Robert Bohlmann of Turner-Witt and Associates designed changes needed to update the structure. First floor railings were added on the east and west side to mark a waiting area for those going to court, a new courtroom was added on the second floor, and a third floor chandelier was rewired all at a cost of $300,000.
In 1990, Susan and Bill Beisser restored the dome with the following work being done:
- repaired damaged plaster on the ceiling,
- cleaned the murals,
- washed the walls and restored the colors,
- repaired gold leaf, and
- replaced broken glass in the stained glass windows around the dome and at the top of the dome.
The Courthouse serves the citizens of Kankakee County today as it has throughout its history. It stands majestically on Courthouse Square and continues to be the core of Kankakee’s commercial district.
Memorials and Other Features
Soldier’s Monument Dedicated in Memory of Civil War Veterans
Unveiling Memorial Day 1887 On the northwest section of Courthouse Square, placed on the front lawn half-way between the Courthouse and Court Street, stands a Civil War statue. The statue stands on an eight-foot-high stone pedestal from Kankakee Stone & Lime Company’s quarries. The surmounting figure is that of a seven foot bronze soldier at parade rest holding a rifle resting on its butt. U.S., carved into his belt buckle and a cartridge box on his right hip. There is a bayonet and holster on his left hip. The base is inscribed with the date 1887 by Dr. Andrew S. Cutler, chaplain of the Whipple Post, member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). It was unveiled June 2, 1887.
In 1905, the Woman’s Club of Kankakee placed a large granite boulder on the east (Harrison Avenue) side of Courthouse Square. It was to mark the spot of the last camping ground of the Pottawatomi. Embedded in the face of the rock is a bronze plate with the following inscription: This marks the spot of the last camping ground of the Pottawatomi Indians 1853. Erected by Kankakee Woman’s Club 1905.
In 1918, a concrete flag, placed on the north lawn of Courthouse Square during World War I, was dedicated by Veterans of the Civil War, Spanish-American War and the Women’s Relief Corps (wives and daughter of Civil War veterans). The flag was created from a mold made by Anthony Munich, father of Anna Barsalou of Kankakee. The inscription on a plaque reads: Dedicated to the brave men who have gone forth to preserve for the present and future generations the flag we so dearly love. The base of the plaque was replaced in 2005 due to deterioration.
Memorial to War Dead
In 1958, the Sons of Gold Star Mothers placed a memorial to the County’s war dead. The inscription reads: Dedicated to those of Kankakee County who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country.
In 1964, a flagpole was placed on the north lawn of Courthouse Square, centered in the north/south walkway leading to the Courthouse, as a memorial to Spanish-American War veterans. The inscription on the plaque reads: Presented to KANKAKEE COUNTY by the Spanish American War Veterans V.F.W. Post No. 2857 American Legion Post No. 85 D.A.V. No. 34 Marine Corps League W.W.I No. 1080 1964.
Woman’s Club of Kankakee
In 1998, a stone (with plaque) was placed on the southeast corner of Courthouse Square to honor the 100th anniversary of the Woman’s Club of Kankakee. The inscription reads: GFWC (General Federation of Woman’s Club) 100th Anniversary WOMAN’S CLUB OF KANKAKEE 1898-1998.
On May 30, 2003, a bronze sculpture was dedicated to former Illinois Governor George Ryan and his wife Lura Lynn for their accomplishments during the Governor’s service to the State of Illinois. The bench depicts a boy offering flowers to a reaching girl, with the out-stretched arms of the children creating the back of the bench. A plaque expresses thanks to the Ryans, from the people of Kankakee and Iroquois counties, for their years of service and contributions to area communities. Rose Sandifer of Champaign, Illinois created the sculpture. An identical sculpture is located in the garden of the Governor’s mansion in Springfield.
Monument Honoring Fallen Police Officers and Firefighters of Kankakee County
On September 11, 2003, a memorial was dedicated in the honor of all police officers and firefighters from Kankakee County who died in the line of duty. The polished black granite memorial is 10-feet tall and 16-feet wide. It stands on the northeastern corner of Courthouse Square. The symbol of law enforcement adorns one side and the Firefighters Prayer is inscribed on the other side. Names of all fallen officers and firefighters are also inscribed on the stone. The memorial, which cost $50,000, was funded through donations.
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