When Old Capitol's cornerstone was laid on Independence Day in 1840, Iowa City became the first "permanent" capital of Iowa,... (and) when the state government moved to Des Moines in 1857, Old Capitol was deeded to The University of Iowa and became the first building owned by the University. And today this handsome building is still the heart of the University, but a serious blow was dealt to the University's heart nearly 10 years ago.
At 8:30 am, Tuesday, November 20, 2001, the Old Capitol was struck by a fire that destroyed the building's 160-year-old cupola, dome, and bell.
The damaged bell is on display in Old Capitol, and given its appearance, the heat of the fire must have been intense.
No furniture was lost during the fire; however, some of the furnishings suffered water damage.
One of the unique features of the building is its reverse spiral staircase. Our tour guide mentioned that this staircase resembled the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, built by a mystery man, using no nails and no center support (see our blog entry of November 13, 2009).
The staircase suffered a great deal of water damage, all of which was repaired.
The Old Capitol staircase, unlike spiral staircases, starts ascending to the left, turns right, and finishes with the top step directly above the bottom. This shape is known as a reverse spiral.
The reverse spiral design was not easy to build. When architect John Frances Rague walked off the Iowa Capitol project, he took the plans with him. Builders were left guessing how to assemble the staircase.
In July, 2002, a load test was done on the unique reverse spiral staircase to ensure it's stability. An intricate set of braces were erected around the stairs with monitors that rested on the underside of the stairs.
Then sand bags were placed on the treads. After a number of bags were loaded, the monitors were checked to see how the stairs were handling the added weight. In the end 9,000 lbs of sand were placed on the staircase and left for 24 hours.
The staircase was declared stable.
As you can see, I found the curves of the staricase created a number of beautiful designs.
The Governor's Office still looks very formal, and even today the Iowa Governor will journey to the Old Capitol to engage in a ceremonial signing of important legislation.
Its furnishings were multi-functional. The large desk has drawers that open from both sides, allowing two people to work at the same time.
I thought this desk in the Treasurer's Office looked quite functional.
I've forgotten to whom the initials "RJM" on the man's hat box refer.
This was the room in which the members of the Iowa Supreme Court heard cases. After the court moved to Des Moines, two Iowa judges, George G. Wright and C.C. Cole, established the first law school west of the Mississippi. This school transferred to Old Capitol to become the University of Iowa law department in 1868.
This is the Senate chamber. The chandelier hanging from the center of the chamber was installed during the 1920s rehabilitation. 750 crystal prisms hang from this 650-pound chandelier, which is lowered by a pulley system for cleaning.
This is the House chamber.
When Iowa became a state, federal law mandated that every slave state brought into the Union must be accompanied by a free state. Territories admitted in pairs were called "sister states." Texas, the 28th and a slave state, was Iowa's sister state (information from uiowa.edu/oldcap.