|a statue of “Wisdom” adorns their dome|
as with many new territories, the first capital of Maine did not last (nor did the first capitol building, for that matter, which was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1866). Portland housed the new state government from its independence from Massachusetts in1820 until a selection process settled on Augusta as the new state capital in 1827. the current State House in Augusta was designed by Charles Bulfinch and modeled after his design of the Massachusetts State House. construction on the building began in 1829, using granite quarried from nearby Hallowell (also a capital city contender), and the legislature met in it for the first time in 1832. a faulty heating system resulted in numerous fires but the original Bulfinch facade survives intact, though over the years major expansion and remodeling projects brought the building to its current size and configuration. the original cupola was replaced by the current dome, which reaches 185 feet, and the length of the building doubled to 300 feet.
|the snazzy visitor’s entrance|
during a push in the 1990s to improve general quality of life within the capitol (fix leaks, improve ventilation, etc.), a potential time capsule was discovered embedded in a cornerstone next to the original entrance to the building. however, because of fiscal constraints it was decided to leave the object in place until it could be unveiled with greater ceremony and pomp. unfortunately, the day before the Capitol’s 182nd birthday did not merit such pomp and, in fact, we were the only ones wandering around the grounds!
continuing in this capitol vein, let’s head to Denver’s mile-high capitol. while I may have visited before, my most memorable trip to the Colorado statehouse was on my drive from Madison to San Diego four and a half years ago (wow, really that long ago?!). because my uncle was running for state elected office at the time, upon stopping into the Republican caucus the office person offered to show us around the legislative chambers. apart from my uncle getting into trouble for trying to go into the well of the Assembly chamber (which is, apparently, restricted to elected officials), the tour was somewhat underwhelming. part of the interior was under renovation and mostly I remember it being dark and much narrower than any capitol I’d visited to date.
the building was designed by Elijah E. Meyers (who also designed the Michigan and Texas state capitol buildings) and constructed at the end of the 19th century, opening for use in 1894. unlike Illinois, the selection of Denver as capitol proved primarily uncontentious, the city beating out competitors like Pueblo by more than 17,000 votes. the exterior construction consists of white granite while the interior utilizes rose onyx and a rare rose marble, all from Colorado. the ceiling of the entrance hall rises some 180 feet (seen above) to the top of the dome, though (as I said) I was less impressed with this dome than with others that I’ve seen. the exterior of the dome is covered in gold plate, an addition made in 1908 to commemorate the Colorado gold rush.
the capitol shares its most unique feature with the city’s nickname as the Mile High City. the fifteenth step of the western entrance includes the phrase “One Mile Above Sea Level” and serves as the mark for measuring the official elevation of Denver. subsequent to the step’s placement, however, more accurate elevation measurements have been taken — first by students at Colorado State University in 1969, and again and in 2003. each time, brass markers were added to indicate the adjustment, which currently resides on the 13th step.
learn lots more history here
let’s continue with a capital theme, shall we? I’ve long had the vague intention of visiting all 50 state capitals during the course of my life, which mostly coalesced into a “goal” once I sat on the mile-high step in Denver. but since we’re on a Midwest thread, let’s stop next in Springfield.
of the three states yet profiled, Illinois has the most protracted and varied history of state capitals. the current building is the sixth since Illinois became a state in 1818 and Springfield is the third town to serve as capital. the town of Kaskaskia, which was a major colonial town established by the French in 1709, served as the territorial capital beginning in 1809 and as state capital until 1819 when it was deemed preferable to have the capital closer to the geographic center of the state. a piece of land about 80 miles northeast along the Kaskaskia River was selected and became the town of Vandalia. (Kaskaskia was destroyed in 1881 when the Mississippi River suddenly changed course and washed away what remained of the town. the town rebuilt but is now located on the western side of the river — the odd little pucker on the map south of St. Louis. the town is still incorporated but is one of the smallest in the state.)
Vandalia was home to two capitol buildings, the first of which burned in the early 1820s. the Second General Assembly, as one of its first acts in Vandalia, passed a motion to remain in Vandalia for at least twenty years. not long after the second capitol was built however (in 1824), calls began to move the capital once again to someplace more geographically favorable. until that point, land along rivers was far more populous, but as railroads expanded and the north of the state opened up to settlement, agitation for relocation grew. in 1833, lawmakers introduced a bill to allow the populace to choose a new capital site from one six locations: Alton, Jacksonville, Peoria, Springfield, Vandalia, and the actual geographic center of the state. after what seems a rather true Illinois fashion, the result of the vote (in which Alton emerged victor) was deemed too close, thereby inconclusive and never announced.
the relocation question was picked up again in the subsequent legislative session by young Abraham Lincoln and supported by several other legislators. in an effort to keep the capital in Vandalia, during the recess residents tore down the existing twelve-year-old capitol and put up a new and extravagant brick building … which failed to prevent legislators from siding with Lincoln and up and moving to Springfield. while the relocation act passed in February of 1837, the previous act of 1820 prevented the complete immediate relocation; the governor issued a proclamation to move all state records to Springfield by mid-1839 but the legislature did not meet at the new site until December of that year.
the delay caused by the 1820 act allowed time to construct a new, grand capitol in Springfield, and the cornerstone was laid on Independence Day in 1837. the building was finally completed sixteen years later (at nearly double the estimated cost) and played host to many significant moments in Lincoln history. here he argued cases before the State Supreme Court, first confronted Stephen Douglas, gave his “House Divided” speech, and finally laid in state in 1865. (can you blame President Obama for selecting the site to announce his candidacy?) the rapid growth and industrialization of the state spurred by the Civil War resulted in overcrowding at the capitol building and in 1867 the legislature again voted to construct a new capitol (the one in use today).
work on the current capitol began in 1868 and finished twenty years later at a cost of $4.5 million. the state recouped some of its expenses by selling the Old State Capitol to Sangamon County for use as a courthouse. the dome is covered in zinc to appear silver while the interior of the dome is plaster painted to look bronze and features events from Illinois history. it is the tallest non-skyscraper capitol in the country, taller than both the one in Washington, D.C., and the one here in Madison.
what remains in Belmont is certainly nothing so grand as the oft-preserved and restored structure in Iowa City, but the buildings are older. when the Wisconsin Territory was established in 1836, a land speculator who established the town of Belmont, John Atchison constructed four public buildings in town to attract lawmakers. the ploy worked and on September 9, 1836, territorial Governor Henry Dodge said that at least the first legislative session would meet at Belmont.
part of Belmont’s selection as capital likely due to the population density that nearby lead mines occasioned. at the time, that area was the most populous in the territory. not surprisingly, some questioned Dodge’s intentions in selecting Belmont, insinuating that he’d accepted some sort of bribe. to counter this cynicism, after lengthy debate (and promises of land from speculators in town) lawmakers selected Madison as the permanent capital for the Wisconsin territory.
during the interim, however, the territorial government met in the public houses of Belmont, passing laws that created the structure of Wisconsin’s government and judicial system and established new counties. after the legislative session ended in December, the legislature never met in Belmont again, though they did meet in Burlington (now Iowa) for a time before the town became part of the Iowa territory and forced the government to move to Madison earlier than anticipated.
two buildings still stand at the site of the original territorial capital, one used as the Council House and the other as lodging for legislators.. the Mineral Point Railroad built tracks that passed to the southeast of the original location and many residents and businesses relocated to the new town. the current town of Belmont is three miles from the original site. eventually, the remaining buildings became residences (the latter belonging to the territorial Supreme Court Justice Charles Dunn) before conversion into barns. they’re now owned and maintained by the State Historical Society.
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.