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Iowa History Daily: April 8 - The Capitol Rises

Iowa History Daily: On April 8, 1870, the Iowa Legislature provided final approval of a permanent state house. The soaring golden dome on the east bank of the Des Moines River familiar to many Iowans today rose as a result.

The culmination of the efforts of the Capitol Commission tasked with selecting an architect, approving a building plan, and ultimately constructing the building, the General Assembly set aside $1,500,000 in funding while stipulating the project could not result in a tax increase.

After the 1857 Iowa Constitutional Convention chose Des Moines as the new, more centrally located, site of the state’s capital, Wilson Alexander Scott and Harrison Lyon donated a picturesque parcel of roughly ten-acres featuring a gently rising hill on the east bank of the Des Moines River. A new capitol building, eventually known as the Old Brick Capitol, quickly rose near the center of the parcel and served as Iowa’s Capitol for twenty-six years near the site of today’s Soldiers and Sailors Monument. The building burned to the ground in 1892.

As the legislature planned for a more prominent building, the Capitol Commission selected John C. Cochrane and A.H. Piquenard as architects. The grand design familiar to Iowans today started to take shape, and workers laid a cornerstone on November 23, 1871. However, faulty construction and a severe winter deteriorated the initial foundation and forced a restart to the project in 1872. Cochrane resigned his position as the reworking of plans got underway, while Piquenard continued to work on the project until his death in 1876. 

Workers again laid a cornerstone on September 28, 1873, and over the next decade the stone building adorned with elaborate columns, handsome cornices, and imposing capitals started to soar over Des Moines. The building features limestone quarried from the Iowa landscape, as well as wari-colored granite cut from glacial boulders formerly nestled under Iowa’s prairies. The towering signature dome features tissue-paper thin sheets of pure 23-carat gold.

After Piquenard’s death, his assistants M.E. Bell and W.F. Hackney took over the project. Bell left the task in 1883 to serve as supervising architect for the new Treasury Department building in Washington D.C., but Hackney saw the project through until completion in the late 1870s. A two-year move from the Old Brick Capitol commenced, and the General Assembly first met in their new chambers in January of 1884 following the dedication of the building. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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