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Iowa History Daily: July 4 - Iowa Territory & a New Capitol

Iowa History Daily: On July 4, two major moments for state government in Iowa occurred. In 1838, the federal government organized Iowa Territory out of lands formerly included in the Wisconsin Territory. Fifty years later on July 4, 1886, workers completed construction on Iowa’s iconic State Capitol Building in downtown Des Moines.

The original Iowa organized in 1838 encompassed some 194,000 square miles including the current state, as well as parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. An initial territorial capital at Burlington served for the first few years before moving to Iowa City in 1841. Significantly, Fort Snelling in the modern day Twin Cities stood in Iowa during the territorial era.

Following the close of the conflict commonly known as the Black Hawk War, treaties dispossessed Iowa’s Indigenous peoples while the American population grew. Growing from an initial 10,531 population recorded in 1836, by the time of the 1840 census over 43,000 people emigrated to the eastern portion of the territory. Robert Lucas served as the first territorial governor, and the territory grew to become the 29th state admitted into the United States on December 28, 1846.

Eleven years after statehood the Iowa Legislature decided to move the capital west to centralize. In 1858 the state government moved into a temporary home while plans for an elaborate capitol building started to come together. In 1870 the General Assembly set aside $1.5 million for construction and put together a commission to oversee the project. Although Governor Samuel Merrill laid an initial cornerstone on November 34, 1871, construction and budgetary problems stalled the project.

A second cornerstone laid on September 29, 1873 marked a new era in the project’s construction, and by January 17, 1887, the building proved ready for dedication after crews completed construction on July 4 of the previous year. Audits concluded by the building commission noted $2,873,293.59 went into the project, although $3.77 could not be accounted for over the fifteen year construction process. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryCalendar


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