Altgeld Hall

Coordinates: 40°6′34″N 88°13′42″W / 40.10944°N 88.22833°W / 40.10944; -88.22833

Not to be confused with Altgeld Hall (NIU) or Altgeld Hall (SIUC).
Altgeld Hall

Former names University Library
Law Building
General information
Type educational
Architectural style Richardsonian Romanesque
Location University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus
Address 1409 West Green Street
Urbana, Illinois
Current tenants Department of Mathematics
Mathematics Library
Construction started June 10, 1896[1]
Completed December 1, 1897[2]
Owner University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Design and construction
Architect Nathan Ricker and James McLaren White[3]

Altgeld Hall, located at 1409 West Green Street in Urbana, Illinois on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus, was built in 1896-97 and was designed by Nathan Ricker and James McLaren White of the University's architecture department in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. The building was originally the University Library, and received major additions in 1914, 1919, 1926, and 1956.[1] From 1927-55 it was used by the College of Law, and from 1955 on by the Department of Mathematics and the Mathematics Library. The University Chime in the bell tower which marks the hours, half hours, and quarter hours and plays a ten-minute concert every school day from 12:50 - 1:00 PM was installed in 1920. The building was officially named "Altgeld Hall" in 1941.[1]

Altgeld Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 17, 1970.



Planning for the building started in 1892, with Governor John Peter Altgeld and University President Andrew Sloan Draper involved in the design of the building. Initially, the trustees announced a design contest that would award $1200 to the best design. The trustees awarded the prize to Edward G. Bolles, a young man with no experience in building design, but after the building committee met with the young man, they decided to reject the Bolles entry and all the other entries submitted.

Based on a suggestion made by Governor Altgeld, the building committee offered the commission to Daniel Burnham, fresh from his success as the organizing architect of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Artistic conflicts between Burnham and the Governor soon became clear, and the relationship was severed. After two years of looking for an acceptable design, the building committee called upon the university's own architecture department. On February 4, 1896, Professors Nathan Ricker and James McLaren White completed the design plans that included construction costs in less than a month.[2]

Altgeld Hall was one of five Illinois university buildings, the so-called "Altgeld's castles", in whose designs the governor took a personal interest.[4]

Mosaic floor in the entry way


Construction started on June 10, 1896, only four months after the initial building design was submitted by Ricker and White. The cornerstone, which included a time capsule, was set on September 11, 1896. Ricker and White supervised the construction of the building which was completed on December 1, 1897.[2]


The exterior features the only gargoyle on campus, while the interior features four murals painted around the domed ceiling of what is now the Mathematics Library. Newton Alonzo Wells painted the murals at the recommendation of the architects. The four murals were dedicated to the four colleges at the University in 1897. The south mural is "The Sacred Wood of the Muses" dedicated to the College of Literature and Arts. The north mural is "Arcadia" dedicated to the College of Agriculture. The west mural is "The Laboratory of Minerva" dedicated to the College of Science. The east mural is "The Forge of Vulcan" dedicated to the College of Engineering. [5]


At dedication on June 8, 1897, the building was designed as the University Library. In 1927, the School of Law moved in and occupied the building until 1955; an inscription at the north entrance of the building still says Law Building. Since 1955 the Department of Mathematics and the Mathematics Library have occupied the building .[3] In 1941, the building was officially named Altgeld Hall after Governor Altgeld.[1] The building made a brief appearance in the 1945 film The House on 92nd Street, posing as Ohio State University.[6]

Bells in Altgeld Hall Tower

Bell tower

The University Chime was installed in the Altgeld Hall tower in 1920.[7] The University Chime consists of fifteen bells, weighing a total of seven and a half tons, cast by McShane Bell Foundry in Maryland. The University Chime was a gift from the graduating classes of 1914 and 1921 and the United States School of Military Aeronautics. The three largest bells are dedicated to Dr. Edmund Janes James, a past university president, the men trained in the United States School of Military Aeronautics, and the classes of 1914-1921. The Seth Thomas clock mechanism was installed in 1922 that allows the chime to play the Westminster chime to mark the hours and the quarters.[8]


Altgeld Tower bell concerts are performed weekdays from 12:50 to 1:00 PM while school is in session.[9][10] Concerts are performed during special occasions, such as Homecoming Weekend, the University of Illinois Founders Day, and Commencement evening. The concerts have been a tradition since 1920 when the University Chime was installed.

The position of Chimesmaster is currently filled by Sue Wood, a retired environmental chemist. Wood became Chimesmaster in 1995 after the previous Chimesmaster, Albert Marien, retired. Marien became Chimesmaster in 1958.[11] The main responsibility of the Chimesmaster is to supervise the Chimesplayers — volunteer students and faculty members from the university — during the daily concerts. Chimesplayers are allowed and encouraged to arrange music of their choosing to perform. However, it is traditional to perform the university's Alma Mater song, "Hail to the Orange", during every concert.

The bells are controlled by playing a clavier with wooden levers, which looks like a large keyboard. The levers are connected to the clapper inside the bell by a steel wire. The University Chime has an almost complete musical scale which ranges from lower D to upper G with the exception of lower D sharp and lower and upper F natural.[7] For this reason, some tunes must be altered slightly by the Chimesmaster.[8]



  1. 1 2 3 4 "The History of Altgeld Hall" on the website of the Mathematics Department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  2. 1 2 3 Scheinman, Muriel (1969). "Altgeld Hall, The Original Library Building at the University of Illinois: Its History, Architecture and Art".
  3. 1 2 Leetaru, Kalev. "University of Illinois: Campus Tours". Retrieved 2008-10-09.
  4. "One Governor’s Legacy to Higher Education: Altgeld’s Castles". Historic Illinois 28-2, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
  5. "Altgeld Hall Centennial Brochure" (Press release). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 1997-06-16.
  6. "The House on 92nd Street (1945) - Trivia". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  7. 1 2 "The Bells of Altgeld Hall" (PDF). Office of Publications/Public Affairs for the Office of the Provost, University of Illinois. Retrieved 2008-10-20.
  8. 1 2 "Chime Concerts at the University of Illinois Brochure" (Press release). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
  9. Louis, Jane (5/4/05). "UI musical tradition rings on". Retrieved 2008-10-21. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  10. "The Schedule of Concerts". Retrieved 2008-10-21.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Altgeld Hall.

Photographs on the UIUC website

See also

Altgeld's castles

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