Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse, Danville, IL

The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is three stories high with a basement and raised first floor. The building occupies a half a city block and is bounded by Vermillion Street to the west, Harrison Street to the south, Madison Street to the north and a city alley to the east. A lawn and minimal landscaping separate the building from the adjacent sidewalks and streets. A cast bronze replica of Daniel Chester French's armed sculpture, "The Minute Man," stands atop a granite base in front of the west facade of the building.

The exterior wall construction is common brick faced with limestone, on a granite base. The entrance bays are located at each end of the west elevation and project outward from the remaining facade. Wide granite steps lead to the double door entrances containing wood entry doors with clear glass glazing. Attached to the top of the granite steps to either side of the entrance are new, steel lampposts, replicating the appearance of the originals. These new lampposts are painted black. A pediment and entablature accent the top of each door along the west facade. An arch and decorative keystone surround an arched window directly above each pediment. A band of sculpted garlands separates the first and second floor of the entrance bays. The entrances with second floor windows above are flanked by two-story Doric columns. The corner of the projecting entrance bays are accented with rusticated joints.

The seven central window bays on the west elevation consist of one-story Roman arched windows with simple keystones. Rectangular second story windows align with the first floor arched windows. Each window bay is separated by two-story Doric pilasters. Separating the second and third floors is a stone dentilled cornice. The cornice continues around all four elevations breaking on the north elevation and the two-story second floor infilled arched windows. These windows once provided natural light to the second floor courtroom. The cornice also breaks on the east elevation at the change in building height. The central third floor windows are separated by Doric pilasters and the end bay's windows are flanked by projecting limestone elements. A simple stone parapet band tops the facade with shallow pediments at the end bays.

Both ends of the north elevation project slightly with an entrance on the west end. Granite steps lead to the glazed wood double entry doors. Attached to the limestone on either side of the doorway are new, steel light fixtures painted black replicating the appearance of the original light fixtures on the west elevation. A painted wood pediment accents the top of the door frame and a stone arch surrounding and arched transom above the wood pediment. The two-story second floor courtroom windows have been infilled with matching limestone. The south elevation also has an entrance bay on the west side similar to the north elevation entrance bay. A steel black fence surrounds the handicap ramp which leads to the basement level.

The stone work on the east elevation is similar to the elements on the other facades. The east elevation is comprised of three-story end bays and a one-story central bay. Five flat arched windows occur in the central bay while arched and rectangular windows comprise the end bays. These windows provide natural light to the second and third floor corridors. Several of the original window openings on this elevation have been infilled with matching limestone. The stone dentilled cornice separates the second and third floors on the end bays only. The stone-clad sallyport, or garage, was added in 1981 to the north bay on this elevation.

The roof over the three-story section of the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is a metal, standing seam, mansard roof with dormers on the south and west slopes. The roof over the one-story section on the east elevation of the building is a flat build-up surface.

The interior of the building has been modified since its original construction. In 1991, restoration efforts to the first floor lobby, stairwell and corridors on the second and third floors brought them to near original appearances. The original postal windows to the first floor lobby were infilled with wood paneling but the window shelves and postal patron desks were retained. Glass double doors were added to the lobby to serve as an entrance to the new bankruptcy court space. White and green marble and terrazzo decorate the floors, walls, and stairs. These elements, along with the stained wood doors and handrails, were also restored in 1991. The original, two-story courtroom is located on the north end of the second floor. Though simple in appearance, this room remains much as originally designed.

More than others, the Danville Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse speaks of the power of the U.S. Rep. Joseph G. Cannon, speaker of the House, who lived two blocks up Vermillion Street. In 1905, Cannon steered a bill through the U.S. House of Representatives which created the U.S. Eastern District of Illinois. The Danville section extended north to Kankakee, south of Cairo, and west to East St. Louis. The story goes that Cannon wanted to get his family attorney, Fenton Whitlock Booth, a seat on the U.S. Court of Claims in Washington. When the new district was created, Francis M. Wright, of Urbana, was appointed first Judge. Booth was then appointed to Wright's only judgeship on the U.S. Court of Claims.

The present building was begun in 1909 on the site of the former Mike Kelly mansion. Kelly was an Irish immigrant who made a fortune in coal. The Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse replaced a brick post office that stood directly across Vermillion Street, where Turk Furniture it today. Before that, the post office was in a private house, in a building on West Main, and in the basement of the Vermillion County Courthouse. The federal building was one of a series of major downtown structures built around the same time. The Danville Public Library was completed in 1904, the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in 1911, the Danville Elks Lodge in 1912, and the present Vermillion County Courthouse in 1913. The contractor for the federal building was Mangus, Yeager & Sons who also built the Baum Building.

Upon the opening of the new courthouse in 1911, there were 21 clerks and 33 mailmen at the main post office, three branch stations and five substations. A single horse-drawn wagon was used to gather the mail all over town. At the dedication, September 14, 1911, oil portraits of Cannon and Wright were unveiled before a crowd of 400. Attorney Frank Lidley, chairman of the dedication committee, was among the many speakers. "We do not present these portraits because you have gotten this building for the city, and carved out this judicial district, but because we appreciate it, and want you to know it." The life-sized portraits still hang in the first floor lobby of the building.

Cannon was criticized for having the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse built in Danville since the town only had 37,386 people in 1911. It was -and is- smaller than most cities with federal courthouses. But at the dedication, he noted that the Danville court in 1910-1911 handled more than 1,000 criminal cases and nearly 2,000 other suits, more than federal courts located in many major cities.

The Commercial-News noted that "One magazine, when attacking Congressman Cannon a year ago, took him to talk for securing for his district an appropriation of $500,000, for a federal building, making the assertion that the court where the building was to be located did not produce a revenue or do a business of the $50,000 annually." However, the court in 1910-1911 made civil judgments totaling $8.8 million - fifth among all U.S. District Courts. In collected $50,000 in criminal fines in the same year, making the investment of half a million dollars in a new courthouse appear like a very shrewd business deal.

Extensive renovations took place through the years, notably those of 1939 (appropriation of $225,000) and new roofing installed in 1956. By 1959, postal authorities began urging the government to get out of the landlocked federal building. Although the post office space was expanded in 1976, the postal authorities still cited the shortage of parking space and cramped dock conditions. After delays aplenty, a site for a new postal facility was picked and funding was secured. Most of the block bounded by Hazel, Madison, and Seminary were cleared in 1984 for the new post office. In 1985, seventy-three years and millions of postage stamps later, a new and larger U.S. Post Office was built a block away. The federal court and some federal offices stayed in the old building at Vermillion and Harrison. In 1986-87, The General Services Administration purchased the Danville U.S. Post Office and Courthouse from the U.S. Postal Service. The facility was fully renovated in 1991. The $2.7 million renovation included reproduction of lobby lighting, the addition of a sallyport, and the replacement of windows.

The Danville Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The building is considered significant under Criterion A (association with government and political events important to Danville and the central Illinois region) and Criterion C (as possessing architectural importance and being an example of the Neo-Classical style of architecture). An additional item of significance is the cast-bronze replica of the Daniel Chester French statue named "The Minute Man," which stands atop a granite base in front of the west facade of the building. After the new federal building was opened for business in midsummer of 1911, Danville's Gov. Bradford Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, commissioned this work as a memorial to Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Vermillion County, names which are inscribed in the sidewalk at the base. The statue was dedicated in September of 1915 and is centrally located on the west side of the building.

The long-term fate of the Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse is still uncertain. A new $8.3 million courthouse was built in Urbana in 1993 and some of the court operations have moved there. There is no "Uncle Joe" Cannon ruling the House and there is no congressman from Danville, Illinois.

Description Architect
1909 1911 Original Construction Taylor, James Knox
Last Reviewed: 2017-08-13