Agency urges Illinois State Fair visitors to take note of the numerous Historically significant areas on the fairgrounds

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

The Illinois State Fair has seen its share of butter cows, carnival rides and items on a stick, but this year officials are hoping State Fair visitors take note of the history contained in the 366-acre Springfield fairgrounds.    

"The Illinois State Fairgrounds was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1990, which means it has national historic significance," said Jan Grimes, director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA). "So while fairgoers walk the grounds from August 13 through 22, we want them to be aware of the rich architectural and cultural history that surrounds them."

The first Illinois State Fair was held in Springfield in 1853. It was then held in 12 other cities over 40 years before returning to Springfield for good in 1894. A 156-acre fairground site was built, which has since more than doubled in size. Modern structures stand beside their turn-of-the-century counterparts all along these 366 acres, telling the story of how the Illinois State Fair developed into the institution it is today.

For a printable map to help explore the history of the Illinois State Fairgrounds, visit

Exposition Building, 1894

The Exposition Building was constructed in 1894, making it the oldest existing building, as well as the first permanent Fairgrounds building. It is one of the largest buildings of its kind in the United States and has the words "Illinois State Fair" etched onto the south side.

The Exposition Building was designed by Charles W. Smith and J.I. Rinaker, Jr. These men were greatly inspired by the architecture found at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the influence can be seen in this beautiful building.  It is two and a half stories tall, made of brick and capped by decorative metal domes. The symmetrically balanced façade features a central bay flanked by two smaller bays. It has been called the "Queen of the Fair" and continues to serve its initial purpose of holding exhibitions where all types of goods and events can be presented.

Poultry Building (Artisans Building), 1896

The Poultry Building is located west of the Exposition Building, and its name is etched on the south side of the building. A structure dedicated to poultry has been a fair mainstay for years, but the current structure was not built until 1896 after a storm the previous year killed many of the entries held in sheds.  The building is two and a half stories tall and made of brick, iron, and stone.  The central bay is topped with an open tower and high peaked roof that features deep fiberglass frieze and overhanging eaves. It currently holds the Illinois Artisans' Exhibit and was renovated in 1988.

Coliseum, 1901

The Coliseum can be found on Central Avenue. It was built in 1901 and was designed by the Peoria-based Reeves and Baillie architectural firm. It is made of brick and steel with limestone trim. The Coliseum was remodeled in 1958 to allow for horse shows and livestock judging, for which it is still used today.  The two-tiered windowed roof allows air circulation, and bleachers line the entire building for fairgoers to enjoy the horse shows in indoor comfort.

Dairy Building, 1903

The Dairy Building can be found along Central Avenue past the Illinois Fire Museum. It was built in 1903 and designed by Peoria architects Reeves and Baillie. It is made of painted brick and holds exhibit cases inside. The exterior has an arched entrance flanked by 12 windows topped with other arches.  This, along with its elaborate roof and overhanging eaves, make this building one of the most recognizable structures on the Fairgrounds.

This building provides a place to promote the Dairy Industry and gives fairgoers a place for food, fun, and games. The most popular attraction held there is the State Fair Butter Cow, a tradition since 1922.

Cattle Show Pavilion and Indoor Warm-Up Ring, 1909

Just west of the Coliseum is the Cattle Show Pavilion and Indoor Warm-Up Ring designed by Chicago architect Richard E. Schmidt. It was built in 1909 in the Romanesque Revival style of architecture. It is made of limestone and brick and features arched entrances with large windows. The center has a band of windows along the roof for ventilation. This barn was nearly demolished in the 1990s, but it was remodeled and currently serves as a warm-up ring for horses competing at the Coliseum.

Sears Bungalow, 1909

The former Sears Bungalow building has no sign, but is located about a block east of the Dairy Building. It is a white clapboard structure that is the Illinois State Fair Manager's residence during the fair.

This one-story white home was built in 1909 by Sears Roebuck and Company to serve as a permanent exhibit showing what homeowners could purchase from the company. It used to sit on top of the now-demolished Sears Pavilion, but was moved to its current location in 1920. It still features the original windows, trim, and siding.

Main Gate, 1910

The Main Gate is located along Sangamon Avenue and faces south. It serves as the official entrance to the Fairgrounds and has the words "Illinois State Fair" etched at the top. The Main Gate was built in 1910 and features three archways outlined with lights, providing fairgoers with a picturesque nighttime display.  The structure is made of limestone on the bottom and brick on top.

Sheep and Swine Pavilions, 1912

The Sheep and Swine Pavilions are located on the Avenue of Flags west of the Grandstand. They are mission-style pavilions built in 1912 and designed by Danville architect C.M. Lewis. The buildings are made of concrete tile, limestone trim, and feature half-round-arch openings. Fairgoers can see terra-cotta plaques of swine and sheep as they walk by. The Swine Pavilion also features frieze panels depicting swine instead of the more traditional Greek goddesses. The buildings are still used for their intended purposes.

Horse Barns and Show Horse Barns, 1912 - 1913

The Horse Barns were built in 1912 and are a series of one-story barns with timber frames. Their hip roofs are topped by raised ventilator walls and the sidewalls are covered in clapboard.

The Show Horse Barns were built a year later in 1913. They are single story brick and stucco barns with gable roofs and load bearing walls. The ten barns designed as one in the Tudor Revival style of architecture.

Hobbies, Arts and Crafts Building, 1918

When this building was originally constructed in 1918, it was called the Conservation Building. Its current name of Hobbies, Arts and Crafts Building came later to correctly identify the building with its function of holding hobby and arts and crafts exhibits. To create this structure, builders used brick and iron material from the former Dome Building, which was a beautiful iron and glass structure that burned down in 1917. The Hobbies, Arts and Crafts Building features large exhibit spaces and gable roof porches along the north and east sides.

Grandstand, 1928

The current Grandstand was built in 1928 to replace the old Grandstand that had been built in 1895. It routinely hosts large crowds for horse and auto racing, tractor pulls, and musical performances.

The Grandstand is three stories tall with arched windows and features exhibit space on the ground floor. It can hold a total of 13,000 people, with 8,912 permanent seats under a roof held up by large metal trusses. A total of 2,700 seats are bleachers, and during concerts the track is open for music lovers to stand and get a little closer to their favorite stars.  

Cattle Barns and Sale Barn, 1928 - 1929

The 17 Cattle Barns were built in 1928. They are one story brick barns with load bearing walls, wood frames, and asphalt shingled roofs. Covered walkways join each building on the east and west sides.

The Sale Barn was built in 1929. The brick barn's first floor was originally an open floor plan with a series of three arched openings that were divided by pier walls. These walls are now enclosed with plywood.

Emmerson Building, 1931

The Emmerson Building is located along Main Street east of the Exposition Building. It was built in 1931 and is made of brick with limestone trim and features a flat roof with parapet walls. This building was originally a women's center named in former Governor Louis Emmerson's honor.

The Emmerson Building was designed by prominent Illinois architect Charles Herrick Hammond, who broke with the traditional design of most fair buildings.  Hammond designed the Emmerson Building in the Art Deco/Art Moderne style with angular shapes and stylized ornamentation, making it an excellent example of the characteristic 1930s and 40s style of public and commercial architecture in Illinois. It also features a more elaborate, neoclassic-style grand entrance with classical details. This building currently houses most of the fair offices.

Illinois Building, 1949

The Illinois Building was built in 1949. It is three stories tall and is frequently rented for various functions like wedding receptions or proms. It is styled in the international design and houses concessions, coolers, storage areas, and a 470-seat theater used for entertainment events. The Illinois Building was the first building on the Fairgrounds to exhibit the trends of a square box shape and unornamented façade. Plate glass exhibit windows adorn the ground floor, and the roof holds a covered deck, providing a beautiful view of the fairgrounds.

Conservation World Structures, 1953 - 1959

The structures in Conservation World were built between 1953 and 1959. The structures are wood framed, gable-end buildings covered with clapboard and used for the Illinois Department of Conservation activities and exhibits during the Illinois State Fair.