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Minnesota's Second State Capitol

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Black and white photograph of the second State Capitol, 1886.

Second State Capitol, 1886.

Fire destroyed Minnesota's first capitol building on March 1, 1881. The second capitol, completed in 1883, served as the seat of Minnesota state government for just ten years before state officials began planning a grander, more efficient capitol. The second capitol building stood on the site of the first capitol for fifty-five years until its demolition in 1937.

The loss of the first capitol prompted quick action. On March 3, Governor John S. Pillsbury received an estimate from architect Abraham M. Radcliffe of $60,650 to rebuild the capitol, assuming the reuse of the walls of the old capitol. The legislature approved $75,000 to cover costs, and the governor issued a call for proposals in June. Architect Leroy S. Buffington won the contract.

When the old walls proved unstable, the legislature approved an additional $100,000 for a completely new building. They transferred another $10,000, set aside for repairs to the old capitol, into the building account. The total budget came to $185,000 and carried the stipulation that costs could not exceed this amount. Exceeding the budget carried a misdemeanor penalty.

Buffington designed the new three-story building in the shape of a Greek cross. It featured a foundation of cut stone and walls of red brick with Dresbach sandstone trim. Each wing measured 150 feet in length. The central dome reached 200 feet in height. The main entrance on Wabasha Street opened onto the first floor, where the governor, attorney general, auditor, treasurer, and secretary of state had offices.

Two iron stairways led to the second floor from the rotunda. The Assembly (House of Representatives) chamber in the Tenth Street wing featured a twenty-five-foot ceiling with a large stained glass skylight. Eight windows provided natural light supplemented by two large chandeliers and four electric lights for evening sessions. A third-story viewing gallery ran across the south side of the room.

The Senate chamber, finished in yellow birch and birdseye maple, took up the Wabasha Street wing. A stained glass skylight, wine-colored stained glass windows in the gallery, a large chandelier, and four electric fixtures lit the chamber. Stairways from the hallways led to an upper visitors' gallery encircling the room.

The Supreme Court chamber in the Exchange Street wing featured woodwork of cherry and Hungarian ash. The court wing included five private rooms for the use of the judges, a retiring and consultation room for attorneys, and a law library.

The third floor housed House and Senate galleries, a large caucus room, and a committee room. The building had twenty meeting rooms on the upper two floors. The basement contained offices for the state historical society, supply rooms, a barber shop, and restrooms.

To minimize the threat of fire, slabs made of ashes and cement covered floors and walls. Buffington designed stairways of iron and slate. He covered the hallway surfaces in tile set in cement to prevent fire from spreading from one floor to the next. He included a separate forty-foot-square red brick boiler and engine house on the northeast corner of the capitol square. Heat entered the main building through tunnels to radiators located throughout the building.

The ventilation system of four large air shafts running from basement to the roof, thought to be state-of-the-art, proved the fatal flaw in the building's design. Poor ventilation played a key role in the push for a new capitol building in 1893.

Cost overruns dogged the project from the beginning. By March 1882 Buffington's estimate had risen to $245,000. Governor Lucius Hubbard knew that costs had to stay within the $185,000 appropriation. He estimated that another $40,000 would finish the building enough for it to host the 1883 legislative session and made an appeal for the money. Donations came from the public without conditions, and the legislature met for the first time in the nearly completed capitol on January 2, 1883. To reimburse the private donors and complete the building, lawmakers approved another $175,000 during the 1883 session. State auditor reports from 1881 to 1884 show the total cost of the building as $359,897.60, nearly twice the original estimate.

With the completion of the third state capitol in 1905, the state used the old capitol for meeting space, storage, and parking until its demolition in 1937.

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"Annual Message of Governor Lucius F. Hubbard, Delivered to the Minnesota Legislature Jan. 4, 1883.” St. Paul Daily Globe, January 5, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-01-05/ed-1/seq-2

Annual Report of the State Auditor, to the Legislature of Minnesota. St. Peter, MN: J. K. Moore, Printer, 1881–1884.

"Building of the Minnesota State Capitol." Warren Sheaf, February 16, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059228/1882-02-16/ed-1/seq-2

"The Cap Stone Laid." St. Paul Daily Globe, October 17, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-10-17/ed-1/seq-8

"Expenditures from December 1, 1880, to November 30, 1881." St. Paul Daily Globe, January 19, 1882. http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-01-19/ed-1/seq-8

"Fire at the State Capitol." St. Paul Daily Globe, December 25, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-12-25/ed-1/seq-16

"The Fun Continues." St. Paul Daily Globe, January 21, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-01-21/ed-1/seq-2

General Laws of Minnesota for 1937, Chapter 477. Minnesota Legislature.
https://www.revisor.mn.gov/laws/?year=1937&type=0&group=Session+Law&doctype=Chapter&id=477

"Historical St. Paul." St. Paul Daily Globe, December 31, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-12-31/ed-1/seq-9

Jarchow, Merrill E. "Charles D. Gilfillan: Builder Behind the Scenes." Minnesota History 40, no. 5 (Spring 1967): 221–232.
http://collections.mnhs.org/mnhistorymagazine/articles/40/v40i05p221-232.pdf

"The Legislature." Wadena Northern Pacific Farmer, February 15, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059028/1883-02-15/ed-1/seq-2

"The Legislature." St. Paul Daily Globe, February 17, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-02-17/ed-1/seq-2/

"The Legislature." St. Paul Daily Globe, February 22, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-02-22/ed-1/seq-2

"Midway Between the Cities." St. Paul Daily Globe, October 18, 1885.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059522/1885-10-18/ed-1/seq-11

"The New Capitol." St. Paul Daily Globe, March 30, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-03-30/ed-1/seq-1

"The New Capitol." St. Paul Daily Globe, April 1, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1882-04-01/ed-1/seq-1

"The New State House." Wadena Northern Pacific Famer, December 21, 1882.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn90059028/1882-12-21/ed-1/seq-2

"Official Statement of the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota, Rendered to March 12, 1883." St. Paul Daily Globe, March 18, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-03-18/ed-1/seq-7

"Old Capitol Booked to Fall Soon." St. Paul Dispatch, Second Edition, October 8, 1937.

"Rebuilding State Capitol." (Call for proposals.) St. Paul Daily Globe, June 2, 1881.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1881-06-02/ed-1/seq-4

Records of Governor Lucius F. Hubbard, 1882–1887
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Assorted files on public policy matters, including materials relating to the State Capitol construction.
http://www.mnhs.org/library/findaids/gov023.xml

[No headline.] Saint Paul Daily Globe, February 9, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-02-09/ed-1/seq-4

[No headline.] Saint Paul Daily Globe, February 21, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-02-21/ed-1/seq-4

"St. Paul Illustrated. Some of the Notable Buildings of 1883." St. Paul Daily Globe, December 31, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-12-31/ed-1/seq-10

"The Session's Work." St. Paul Daily Globe, March 2, 1883.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83025287/1883-03-02/ed-1/seq-5

WPA and Relief Project Files, [193-]–[195-]
Minnesota Executive Council
State Archives Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Files on a variety of work relief, disaster relief, and conservation projects financed by the Executive Council, many with Works Progress Administration funds, and on related administrative and financial matters. [Useful boxes: 110.C.6.1 B – Box 1, 110.C.6.2 F – Box 2, and 110.C.6.5 B – Box 5 all contain information on the razing of the second Capitol and/or the proposed parking garage on the NE corner of the grounds of the third capitol.]
http://www2.mnhs.org/library/findaids/ec009.pdf

Related Images

Black and white photograph of the second State Capitol, 1886.
Black and white photograph of the second State Capitol, 1886.
Scan of Buffington's drawing and floor plan of the first and second floors of the second State Capitol Building, which appeared in the St. Paul Daily Pioneer Press, August 29, 1881.
Scan of Buffington's drawing and floor plan of the first and second floors of the second State Capitol Building, which appeared in the St. Paul Daily Pioneer Press, August 29, 1881.
Drawing by Leroy S. Buffington, Architect, for the state capitol building, St. Paul, ca. 1881. Photographed by Farr.
Drawing by Leroy S. Buffington, Architect, for the state capitol building, St. Paul, ca. 1881. Photographed by Farr.
Black and white photograph of the house chamber, second state capitol, ca. 1885.
Black and white photograph of the house chamber, second state capitol, ca. 1885.
Leroy Buffington
Leroy Buffington
Black and white photograph of Governor Knute Nelson's mahogany and leather desk, 1893.
Black and white photograph of Governor Knute Nelson's mahogany and leather desk, 1893.
Black and white photograph of the senate Chamber, second state capitol, St. Paul, ca. 1900. Photographed by Charles P. Gibson.
Black and white photograph of the senate Chamber, second state capitol, St. Paul, ca. 1900. Photographed by Charles P. Gibson.
Black and white photograph of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission office in the second state capitol, ca. 1903.
Black and white photograph of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission office in the second state capitol, ca. 1903.
Black and white photograph of St. Paul looking up Cedar Street toward the third capitol building. The tower of the second capitol is visible left of center, 1904.  Photographed by Francis L. Wright.
Black and white photograph of St. Paul looking up Cedar Street toward the third capitol building. The tower of the second capitol is visible left of center, 1904.  Photographed by Francis L. Wright.
Black and white photograph of a Grand Army of the Republic meeting at the second state capitol, 1909.
Black and white photograph of a Grand Army of the Republic meeting at the second state capitol, 1909.
Black and white photograph of Richard Sackett examining the Minnesota Historical Society vault door in the second capitol building prior to its demolition, 1937.
Black and white photograph of Richard Sackett examining the Minnesota Historical Society vault door in the second capitol building prior to its demolition, 1937.
Black and white photograph of the flag case in the rotunda of the second capitol prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Star Journal.
Black and white photograph of the flag case in the rotunda of the second capitol prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Star Journal.
Black and white photograph of the second state capitol prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Star Journal.
Black and white photograph of the second state capitol prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Star Journal.
Black and white photograph of the Supreme Court chamber in the second capitol building, partially dismantled prior to building demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Tribune.
Black and white photograph of the Supreme Court chamber in the second capitol building, partially dismantled prior to building demolition, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Tribune.
Black and white photograph of the stairway leading to the second floor of the second state capitol building prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by A.F. Raymond.
Black and white photograph of the stairway leading to the second floor of the second state capitol building prior to demolition, 1937. Photographed by A.F. Raymond.
Black and white photograph of Richard R. Sackett, in charge of a historical records survey crew salvaging old documents at the second state capitol prior to demolition, inspects oak paneling, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Tribune.
Black and white photograph of Richard R. Sackett, in charge of a historical records survey crew salvaging old documents at the second state capitol prior to demolition, inspects oak paneling, 1937. Photographed by the Minneapolis Tribune.
Black and white photograph of the wrecking of the old State Capitol, St. Paul, 1938. Photographed by the St. Paul Dispatch.
Black and white photograph of the wrecking of the old State Capitol, St. Paul, 1938. Photographed by the St. Paul Dispatch.
Black and white photograph of the Capitol approach, with Wabasha Street on the left, Cedar Street on the right, showing the site of the second state capitol as a parking lot, 1954.
Black and white photograph of the Capitol approach, with Wabasha Street on the left, Cedar Street on the right, showing the site of the second state capitol as a parking lot, 1954.
Color image of a Eastlake upholstered side chair, used in the second state capitol, ca. 1890s.
Color image of a Eastlake upholstered side chair, used in the second state capitol, ca. 1890s.
Color image of a small maple sloping lid desk used by the Minnesota state Legislature, ca. 1882.
Color image of a small maple sloping lid desk used by the Minnesota state Legislature, ca. 1882.

Turning Point

In 1893, after just ten years in the inefficient second state capitol building, the state begins planning the third state capitol.

Chronology

1881

Fire destroys the first capitol building on March 1.

1881

Meeting in temporary quarters in the newly completed Market House, a large hall designed to accommodate the city's market, the legislature appropriates $75,000 to rebuild the capitol on March 3.

1881

Architect Leroy S. Buffington is hired to design a new state capitol building.

1881

During a special session in November, the legislature appropriates an additional $100,000 for the rebuilding of the capitol and transfers an additional $10,000 into the building fund from the old capitol repair budget.

1882

With funding running short, Governor Lucius Hubbard makes an appeal for an additional $40,000 to get the capitol ready in time for the 1883 legislative session and receives donations from private citizens.

1883

The legislature meets for the first time in the new capitol on January 2, though the building is still unfinished.

1883

The legislature approves another $75,000 for completion of the capitol on January 19.

1883

On February 20, the legislature makes a final appropriation of $100,000 for completion of the capitol.

1893

Due to poor ventilation and other building concerns, plans are laid for a new state capitol.

1905

The third state capitol building opens and the second capitol is used as a meeting place and storage facility.

1932

The old capital is vacated by its last tenant.

1937

On August 5 the Executive Council approves the demolition of the old capitol, which is strongly recommended by the State Fire Marshall and St. Paul City Architect, Charles A. Bassford.

1937

On September 22 a resolution is passed appropriating $25,000 for wrecking the old capitol and the construction of an underground garage at the new capitol.

1938

The Works Progress Administration handles the demolition of the old capitol, which is completed by the end of the year.

1939

The old capitol site becomes a state-owned parking lot.