Iowa City’s Old Capitol Building

iowa-city-capitol

Iowa had several different territorial capitals before Des Moines became the permanent site of state governance. this cornerstone for this particular building, the third and final territorial capitol, was laid in 1840. construction did not start off smoothly, however, as the architect resigned a mere nine days into the project, leaving one of the territorial commissioners to oversee the project. the limestone blocks and oak beams used in construction came from around Iowa and the copper covered the original dome. it took two years to complete four rooms in the capitol, two of which housed the legislature.

the territorial legislature met in this building for six years, until Iowa became the 29th state to join the Union (in 1846). Iowa City remained the state capitol for a decade, after which point legislators decided to move the capital to Des Moines due to its location at the center of the state. the building wasn’t completed until after the removal to Des Moines, which occurred shortly after the appropriation of $4,000 to complete the capitol. among other events, the Old Capitol Building saw the drafting of the Iowa state constitution and the inauguration of the first governor (Ansel Briggs), as well as the authorization of the state’s first public university (now the University of Iowa). in January 1857, the State Historical Society of Iowa was founded in the capitol.

when the capital moved to Des Moines in 1857, the Old Capitol became the first permanent structure owned by the University of Iowa (to that point they’d held classes in rented space). until 1863, the entire university fit into the building, though during the 1858-59 academic year financial and organizational problems kept most of the university closed. (the Normal School — now Department of Education — continue to meet and remained in the Capitol building until 1960.) over the next five decades additional appropriation of funds allowed for the construction of four additional buildings, now known collectively as the Pentacrest, which make up the heart of the UI campus.

renovations occurred throughout the 20th century. the first major project came in the early 1920s, when (among other things) a 650-pound crystal and brass chandelier was added to the Senate chamber and the dome was gilded gold leaf. between 1970 and 1976, historical restoration occurred, returning the building closer to its initial Greek Revivalist design. this project also set out to create a “living museum” that included historic furnishings and displays (not unlike the Wisconsin Historical Society building, I imagine). the Capitol reopened on the nation’s bicentennial and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

in 2001, while removing asbestos from under the dome in another renovation project, contractor using open flame torches and heat guns on the gold dome set it on fire. thank to a concrete slab that was installed beneath the dome during the 1920s restoration, damage was contained to the dome, which was completely destroyed. it has since been replaced by a wood dome covered in gold leaf, complete with new bell (the old, mangled bell is now on display inside). as of 2006, the building is once again open to the public.

visit here for a virtual tour, or here for more extensive history of rectifying the fire damage.
more info from wikipedia.

Author: Erica

born in the midwest with wandering feet.