Illinois Reporter

Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University

Archivist reveals secrets of Illinois

By Trevor Anderson, Kaylen Gehrke and Alivia Kistler

David Joens, director of the Illinois State Archives, is a man who has a passion for Illinois heritage. This passion is exhibited through educating others and maintaining the state’s archives to share Illinois history with others and inspire pride for his state.

Joens, originally from Lombard, Ill., has a doctorate in Illinois history from Southern Illinois University. He also has an extensive background in state government and newspaper reporter work. Joens has spent 12 years in his position as director of the Illinois archives and explained how the two main responsibilities of his job involve preservation and management of the archives.

“Records management is the most important,” stated Joens, as this is his main responsibility in the archives department. Joens also said: “preserving and making the documents accessible” is an important part of his job.


David Joens, the Director of the Illinois State Archives, shared information on the State Capitol building and some of the scandals involved. (Photo by Kaylen Gehrke)

Joens’s witty and knowledgeable countenance exudes his true passion for Illinois and its history.  

The archives facility is temperature- and humidity-controlled to ensure preservation of the importance that lies inside. The archives contain documents dating back before 1818 when Illinois established its statehood. According to Joens, most all of the records are open to the public including older historical documents, deeds, bills and Illinois history. However, nothing can leave the building.

Joens’s favorite document stored in the facility is the original Illinois Constitution of 1818. Among the most popular and intriguing documents remain historical pieces involving President Lincoln and Civil War history.  Joens explains a 47-page-letter that Lincoln wrote “in his own hand” to the governor that is personable and light in its rhetoric. This one- of-a-kind letter, however, is missing Lincoln’s signature. After Lincoln’s death, his signature became a source of revenue and was cut out and stolen.

“They [the thief] should have taken the whole document because of how much it’s worth now,” Joens joked.

Joens’s extensive knowledge on all things Illinois includes certain secrets about the architecture of Capitol Building itself. Officials held a contest to determine who would receive the desirable job of designing the Capitol. The completed structure includes 2.5 million bricks. The motivation behind the construction of this grand Capitol building was to demonstrate Illinois’ status to the rest of the world. “For 130 years [The Capitol] has shocked and awed,” Joens said, which means that goal was made into a reality.

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Outside view of the Illinois State Capitol Building in Springfield, Ill.  The building started construction in 1868.  It was not finished until 20 years later after Illinois voters decided to pay higher taxes in order to finish the project.  The capital was not always Springfield.  The two other cities were Kaskaskia and Vandalia.  Springfield became the capital in 1839 as the third and final capital for Illinois. (Photo by Kaylen Gehrke)



The Governor of Illinois, Bruce Rauner, has two offices.  The one pictured is the office he uses for meetings with state legislators.  This office used to be the front doors of the Capitol.  This  new development was one of the multiple later renovations. (Photo by Trevor Anderson)


This part of the Capitol is known as the rotunda which is the main congregating point for lobbyists. In the middle of the rotunda is a replica of the statue at the first World Fair in Chicago in 1895.  The original statue was designed by a woman. (Photo taken by Kaylen Gehrke)


This staircase is found on the second floor of the Capitol Building.  State Archivist David Joens said the second floor was originally the first floor of the Capitol. (Photo taken by Trevor Anderson)

The magnificently stunning Capitol building however isn’t as luxurious as it is perceived. For example, the pillars on higher floors of the building are made of granite instead of marble so they are less heavy, ensuring the infrastructural stability of the building.


Another fascinating tidbit Joens shared is how every skylight in the building is fake. “There are no outside-facing windows on top of the building.” There are fake lights that shine to create the luminescent glow aesthetic.



This is the dome of the Capitol Building.  Around the dome are eight bronze stills of Illinois history. At the very center is the Illinois State seal.  At one point in time, the seal was not seen inside the Capitol because people would smoke cigars.  The seal was discovered when the building was being cleaned.  No one knew that the seal was underneath. (Photographed by Trevor Anderson)


One of the smallest, ornate details of the Capitol is the Illinois state seal is carved on every “real” door handle.

Joens’s enthusiasm for Illinois history and true love for his job is revealed by his informative and charismatic charm when educating others about the state’s past.

Joens encompassed this passion best in his own words, “I like to give the true story behind it, the stories you want to hear.”






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