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             The First Minnesota State Capitol Building


Congress specified that Saint Paul would be the site of the first territorial legislature when Minnesota was organized as a territory in 1849. Elsewhere on these pages, one of the stories about how the capitol remained in the city has been sketched.

Following the grant of statehood, Saint Paul was formally designated as the capitol of the state, and in 1853, the first capitol building was completed. The 1874 lithograph from the Andreas Historical Atlas of Minnesota purports to be that first capitol building, but research as to its accuracy is still underway. We do know that the building portrayed was located on the block bounded by Wabasha, Cedar, 10th and Exchange, and that it was destroyed by fire in 1881, after the lithograph date. We also know that the original building was expanded and updated at some point, and these changes may be reflected in the image above. The original building, according to the early images, had a portico with four columns and a less fanciful cupola above the rotunda, rather than the stout extension shown on the left with five columns, and the airy cupola which flies the federal flag.

Two years after the original capitol burned, in 1883, a second and more substantial capitol was completed, with mansard-style rooflines topping much more imposing, foursquare structure built of red brick. It occupied the same site and served the state until 1904, when the present structure was completed, up the hill. This second building was torn down in 1938, and the site was occupied until recently by the Saint Paul Art and Science Center.

The Rest of the Story

The design and building of the present capitol building, by Cass Gilbert, (as shown in this photo from 1899) represents a number of stories to be told in future site revisions and updates. We also plan to include materials about other structures designed by Mr. Gilbert, and other local architects who went on to both prominence and undeserved obscurity.

Lithographic image is from the permanent collection at the Ramsey County Historical Society

Photographic image is from the Aggregate Industries Historical Collection.