Michigan State Capitol

Michigan State Capitol
Michigan State Capitol

A statue of Austin Blair stands in the foreground
General information
Architectural style Neoclassical
Town or city Lansing, Michigan
Country United States
Construction started 1872
Completed 1878
Cost $1.2 million
Technical details

225,000 sq ft (20,900 m2)

Michigan State Capitol
Built: 1871
Architect: Myers,Elijah E.
Architectural style: Renaissance
Governing body: State
MPS: Downtown Lansing MRA (AD)
NRHP Reference#: 71000396[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP: January 25, 1971
Designated NHL: October 05, 1992[2]
Design and construction
Client State of Michigan
Architect Elijah E. Myers

The Michigan State Capitol is the building housing the legislative and executive branches of the government of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is located in the state capital of Lansing in Ingham County. The present structure, at the intersection of Capitol and Michigan Avenues, is a National Historic Landmark that currently houses the chambers and offices of the Michigan Legislature as well as the ceremonial offices of the Governor of Michigan and Lieutenant Governor. Historically, this is the third building to house the Michigan government.[3]

The first state capitol was located in Detroit, the original capital of Michigan, and was relocated to Lansing in 1847, due to the need to develop the western portions of the state and for easy defense from British troops stationed in Windsor, Ontario. The present capitol building, preceded by a temporary wood frame structure, was dedicated in January 1879, and is designed in a Neoclassical style, more specifically the Italianate style.[4] The capitol was rededicated in 1992 after a three-year restoration project.



First state capitol

On July 13, 1787, the Second Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, creating the Northwest Territory which included Michigan. In 1805, the U.S. Congress created the Michigan Territory.[4] Michigan first applied for statehood as early as 1832, though it was rebuffed due to a dispute with Ohio over the Toledo Strip, a 468-square mile (1,210 km²) area that included the important port city of Toledo. By 1835, Michigan had formed a state government without receiving authorization from Congress to do so. The boundaries of the state included the contested area.

The original capitol building in Detroit sometime around 1847

The dispute culminated in what has become known as the Toledo War, as Michigan and Ohio militia took up arms in the area. As a condition for entering the Union, Michigan was forced to accept the western three quarters of the Upper Peninsula in exchange for ceding its claim to the Toledo Strip. After a state convention first rejected this condition, a second convention, assembled under some duress in December 1836, reluctantly accepted the terms and Michigan became the 26th state on January 26, 1837, with Detroit as its first capital.

The first building to serve as the State Capitol was built in 1832 as the Territorial Courthouse. This brick structure was one of the earliest Greek revival buildings in Michigan, with a portico of Ionic columns and a central tower of 140 feet (42 m). Built at a cost of $24,500 ($ 540,000 in 2011), the building housed the territorial government and state legislatures until 1848, when a hastily-erected wood building was constructed in Lansing following a decision made March 17, 1847, to move the capital from Detroit to Lansing. The Detroit building then became a public school (the Union School, at one time city's only high school) and library until it burned in 1893.[3]

Second state capitol

The 1835 Michigan Constitution[5] provided that:

The seat of government for this state shall be at Detroit, or at such other place or places as may be prescribed by law until the year eighteen hundred and forty-seven, when it shall be permanently located by the legislature.[3]
The original Lansing structure before 1882

Prior to 1847, Detroit fought to maintain the capital within its jurisdiction, but communities in the growing western part of the state had many reasons for wanting a move inland, including the need to increase defensibility by moving the state government away from the Canadian border.[3] Detroit had been occupied during the War of 1812, and the border area of Michigan of less than a mile between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, at the Detroit River continued to be occupied by British troops on both banks. Proponents of moving the capital also sought to promote settlement and the economy in the interior, as well as making the great government more accessible to the people throughout the state.[3]

Contenders seeking designation as the new capital included Ann Arbor, Jackson, Grand Rapids, and Shiawassee Township in Shiawassee County. At one point during the debate, Marshall officials were so certain of its selection that they built a governor's mansion.[3] After extensive debate, State Senator Joseph H. Kilbourne of Ingham County proposed that the nearly-uninhabited Lansing Township be made the seat of government. The legislature agreed, with the location north of Ann Arbor, west of Detroit, and east of Grand Rapids being deemed a suitable compromise. The legislature renamed it as the Town of Michigan, though by 1848 the original name of Lansing was restored.[4]

Construction began in 1847 on the state capitol building in Lansing, a temporary structure on the block bordered by Washington Avenue, Capitol Avenue, Allegan Street, and Washtenaw Street. It was a simple two-story wood frame structure, painted white with green wooden shutters and topped by a tin cupola. The total cost for construction was $22,952.01[3] ($ 540 thousand in 2011). The building was sold when the permanent capitol building opened in 1879. It was then used as a factory until, like the first capitol, it was destroyed by a fire in 1882.[3]

Third state capitol

The cornerstone for the current state capitol being lowered into place

In the early 1870s, Governor Henry P. Baldwin urged the legislature to fund a new, permanent capitol. On March 31, 1871, a bill was adopted "for the erection of a new state capitol, and a building for the temporary use of the state officers." The new capitol was to cost $1.2 million ($ 22 million in 2011), to be raised by a six-year state income tax.[3]

In 1872, architect Elijah E. Myers of Springfield, Illinois, was selected to design the new capitol building. His design, named "Tuebor" (which means "I will defend"), was selected.[4] Myers used the central dome and wing design found in the United States Capitol in his design and subsequently went on to design two other state capitol buildings, the statehouses of Colorado State Capitol and Texas State Capitol, as well as the former territorial capitol building of Idaho, the most by any architect.[6] The cornerstone was laid on October 2, 1873, with about 7,000 Lansing residents and some 30,000 to 50,000 visitors attending.[3] Construction and finishing work were completed by late 1878. The new capitol, with 139 rooms, was dedicated at the same time as the inauguration of Governor Charles Croswell on January 1, 1879.[3]

The Lansing capitol building inspired a national trend after the American Civil War for fireproof buildings, large enough to house expanding government as well as serving as a durable repository for artifacts of the war[7] (including battle flags that were subsequently moved to the Michigan Historical Museum in 1990[4]).Over the years the dome, which at first matched the light tan of the building, was repainted a bright white. The legislature funded an extensive historical restoration starting in 1989 which was completed in 1992.[4] The restoration returned the dome to an off-white shade and made improvements to the interior, providing for access to people with disabilities as well as restoring many of the original interior designs. One of the largest phases of the restoration entailed removal of "half-floors" that were installed in 1969 to create 50,000 square feet (4,600 m2) of additional office space. The floors were created by dividing the 16-foot (4.9 m)-high rooms horizontally and creating a level of rooms which was accessed from the stairway landing.[8] The Capitol Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on January 25, 1971 (NRHP Reference #71000396), and was designated as a National Historic Landmark on October 5, 1992.[9]

The capitol today


Interior of the capitol dome

The Michigan State Capitol is 267 feet (81.3 m) from the ground to the tip of finial/spire above the dome. The building is 420 feet (130 m) and two inches (128 m) long and 273 feet (83 m) and 11 inches (83.4 m) wide (including approaches). The capitol occupies 1 and 1/6 acres (4,700 m²), has a perimeter of 1,520 feet (463 m).[7] There are four stories in the building, with public entrances on the ground floor. Two grand staircases in the north and south corridors go up to the top floor.[4]

When it opened, the Capitol structure was large enough to host all the state agencies and departments. Due to the growth of state government, however, only the offices of Senate and House leadership, and ceremonial offices for the governor and lieutenant governor remain in the capitol. The former Supreme Court chambers are now used by the Senate Appropriations Committee.[4] The Michigan Library and Historical Center (housing the state library, museum and archives) is located two blocks west of the Capitol. The Michigan Hall of Justice is located at the west end of the Capitol mall. Two legislative office buildings are located across from the east front of the Capitol building.

The ground floor corridors led to "store rooms" designed by the architect in the original building plans. This includes an armory in the southwest corner of the south corridor. The original wood floor has been replaced by gray tiles. The rooms were originally lit with gas fixtures, though by 1900, the entire building had been refitted with electric lights.[4] Today the ground floor is home to several different offices, including the Secretary of the Senate, the Clerk of the House, and the Capitol Tours and Information Service.[4]

Starting with the first floor and continuing to the third, black and white floor tiling is made of Vermont marble and limestone. The exception is the floor of the rotunda which is composed of 976 blocks of translucent glass. The blocks vary in size so that when viewed from the upper floors, they appear to form a bowl which mirrors the dome above. The doorknobs are mostly made of a brass and bronze alloy (most of the original brass doorknobs have disappeared over time). The present doorknobs and hinges, locked for protection, display the state coat of arms. Though the building appears to have walnut woodwork, the wood is actually Michigan white pine that has been wood-grained to give the appearance of walnut.[4]


The first floor gives visitors their first view of the interior of the rotunda. Below the cast-iron dome, the ceiling displays eight muses painted in 1886. For more than a century, the muses' artist remained anonymous; it is now known that it was Tommaso Juglaris, who created them in his Boston studio and never came to Michigan.[4] On the north wall of the first floor is a large clock, called a long-drop clock. It was once the building's master clock and is at least as old as the Capitol. The clock was restored in 1990 and is currently in working condition.[4]

The second floor, in addition to housing the gubernatorial offices, features the Gallery of Governors with portraits of former Michigan Governors on the walls of the rotunda; the gallery extends up to the third floor. The governor's offices were among the most extensively restored during the 1989–1992 restoration. The office features a suite of original furnishings manufactured in 1876 by the Feige Brothers Company of Saginaw.[4] The former chambers of the Michigan Supreme Court are located in the south wing of the building. The court vacated its chambers in 1970 for larger quarters, eventually moving to its current location in the Michigan Hall of Justice.[4]

Public access to Michigan's legislative bodies is through the third floor. The capitol building holds the chambers and offices of the bicameral state legislature, which is composed of the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate. Public galleries are at both ends of the third floor. The Senate, with 38 members, has its chambers on the south side of the building, while the House of Representatives, with 110 members, has its chambers in the north wing. House sessions are normally held on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 1:00 PM and Thursdays at 10:30 AM, while Senate sessions begin at 10:00 AM on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Both houses occasionally convene on Mondays and Fridays.[10] Senate and House sessions are taped by Michigan Government Television, a public service body transmitted to local cable television systems Government-access television channels. Similar to C-SPAN, MGTV has made live coverage of the legislative proceedings available since July 15, 1996.[11]

State Senate chambers
House of Representatives chambers

Although having the same basic floor plan, the House and Senate chambers are decorated very differently, with the former in terra cotta and teal colors and the latter in blue and gold. An oval cartouche in the carpet at the entrance to the House chamber features the state flower, the apple blossom. Presiding over the house is the speaker, whose chair is behind a desk in the center with a plaster and paint version of the state coat of arms. The Senate chambers are somewhat smaller than the House. The president of the Senate is the lieutenant governor, who presides over sessions from a walnut rostrum at the front of the chambers. Both the House and the Senate use computerized voting systems, including wall-mounted screens that allow visitors to follow the voting. Both the House and the Senate also contain glass tiled ceilings that allow natural light to shine through etched glass panels to better light the room. These ceiling tiles feature the coats-of-arms of each state in the United States.[4]


Michigan State Capitol

The Capitol Pediment, located above the main front entrance to the building, is entitled "The Rise and Progress of Michigan." It depicts a central figure, Michigan, who is dressed as a Native American. She offers a book and globe to the people of her state, promising a bright future. She is surrounded by symbols of Michigan's economy, including a plow, cornucopia, and a laurel wreath to represent agriculture. Also included are symbols representing shipping, mining, and lumbering.[4]

The cornerstone, located at the northeast corner of the building, is a large stone with dates carved on it. On one side is "1872", which marks the start of construction of the capitol. On the other side is "1878", marking the year of completion. The stone was opened during ceremonies on November 15, 1978, the centennial of the building's completion. Various documents enclosed within the stone had been damaged by weather, although several coins from the era were recovered. It was closed and resealed with 38 new items depicting Michigan's history, people, and lifestyles. Another stone located on capitol grounds is the GAR Stone, a memorial to American Civil War veterans who fought for the Union. It was erected in 1924.[4]

The Michigan State Capitol

A few notable trees are located on the grounds. An Eastern White Pine, the state tree of Michigan, is located in the front of the building. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tree was planted in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1984. The oldest tree on the grounds is a catalpa that was present at the time the Capitol was dedicated in 1873. The American Forestry Association has certified that this catalpa is the largest living tree of its kind in the United States.[7][12] The most recently dedicated tree is a blue spruce called "the Freedom Tree", planted in 1973 as a memorial to the Vietnam War's missing-in-action and prisoners of war.[4]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15. http://nrhp.focus.nps.gov/natreg/docs/All_Data.html. 
  2. ^ "Michigan State Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1108&ResourceType=Building. Retrieved 2008-06-27. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "The Michigan State Capitol". Michigan Senate (original material from Michigan Department of Management and Budget). 1988. http://www.senate.michigan.gov/Virtualtour/statecapitol.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "Your State Capitol, A Walking Tour" (PDF). Michigan Historical Center. 1999. http://www.michigan.gov/documents/hal_lm_capinfo_54904_7.pdf. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  5. ^ "Constitution of the State of Michigan of 1835". Archives of Michigan, Michigan Library and Historical Center. 2005. Archived from the original on October 12, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20071012183757/http://michigan.gov/hal/0,1607,7-160-15481_19271_19357-56877--,00.html. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  6. ^ "Elijah E. Myers". Michigan Senate (original material from Michigan Department of Management and Budget). 1988. http://www.senate.michigan.gov/Virtualtour/elijah-myers.htm. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  7. ^ a b c Kerry Chartkoff (February 28, 1992). National Historic Landmark Nomination—Michigan State CapitolPDF (1.49 MB). National Park Service  and Accompanying 13 photos, exterior and interior, from c.1885, 1990, 1992, and undated.PDF (1.66 MB)
  8. ^ "The Michigan State Capitol's Historic Supreme Court Chamber". Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society. http://www.micourthistory.org/lansing_capitol.php. Retrieved November 2, 2010. 
  9. ^ "Michigan State Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. 2007-09-18. http://tps.cr.nps.gov/nhl/detail.cfm?ResourceId=1108&ResourceType=Building. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  10. ^ "Citizen's Guide to State Government" (PDF). Michigan Capitol Committee. 2005. http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/publications/citizensguide.pdf#search='michigan%20capitol%20complex. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  11. ^ "The MGTV Story". Michigan Government Television. 1999. Archived from the original on September 29, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070929132104/http://www.mgtv.org/story.html. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 
  12. ^ Gangloff, Deborah (January – February 1992). "Introduction: the 1992 edition, national register of big trees". American Forests. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1016/is_n1-2_v98/ai_11875270. Retrieved 2007-10-13. 


External links

Coordinates: 42°44′01″N 84°33′20″W / 42.733729°N 84.555588°W / 42.733729; -84.555588

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