US State Capitol Buildings - Compare and Contrast

01
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Nebraska Capitol Building

White limestone building, rectangular base, square tower, small gold dome atop tower
Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, c. 1920s, designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carol M. Highsmith's America Project in the Carol M. Highsmith Archive, [LC-DIG-highsm-04814] (cropped)

Do all US state capitols have domes? Every state has a center of government, but why do so many state capitol buildings look alike? Here's a sampling of architectural styles from coast to coast showing the range of designs used for this important public building.

Remember that capital (with an "a") is the city that heads the state's government, and capitol (with an "o") is the building where elected officials meet to make laws for the state or nation.  So, let's explore some capitols, beginning in Nebraska.

Capitol in Lincoln, Nebraska:

The Nebraska State Capitol building has been called the first truly vernacular state capitol in the US. That means compared with many other capitols in the United States, this functional building "was the nation's first statehouse design to radically depart from the prototypical form of the nation's Capitol and to use an office tower."

Most state capitols up to this time were modeled after the US Capitol in Washington, DC. After becoming a state in 1867, Nebraska had two earlier capitol buildings, which deteriorated because of poor construction. The current Nebraska State Capitol is the result of a national design competition in 1920. The winning entry took capitol design in a new direction, from Neoclassical to a more eclectic direction.

Constructed of Nebraska limestone, the Nebraska capitol building has lavish rooms with mosaic floors, wall murals, marble columns, and tile ceilings.

Location: 1445 K Street, Lincoln, Nebraska
Construction: 1922-1932
Architect: Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue
Architectural Sculptor: Lee Lawrie, Art Deco sculptor of Rockefeller Center in NYC
Tile and Mosaic Designer: Hildreth Meiere
Inscription & Symbolism Consultant: Hartley B. Alexander

Sources: History of Nebraska’s Capitols and Nebraska State Capitol website [accessed December 20, 2014]

02
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Oregon Capitol Building

Art Deco Style Oregon State Capitol, 1938, in Salem, Oregon
Art Deco Style Oregon State Capitol, 1938, in Salem, Oregon. Photo by Jordan McAlister / Moment / Getty Images (cropped)

Salem was not the first city chosen to be the capital of Oregon, and the present capitol was not the first capitol building. The first two capitols, architecturally traditional with pediments and traditionally round domes, were destroyed by fire. The design of the day in the 1930s was Art Deco, which gave the building dome-like look that The Washington Post has called "Something out of a sci-fi movie like the home of a Star Fleet commander."

Location: Court Street, Salem, Oregon
Construction: 1936-1938
Architect: Philadelphia architect Francis Keally, along with the New York City firm of Trowbridge & Livingston

Sources: A Timeline of Oregon's Capitols at oregon.gov; State Capitol buildings that don’t look anything like State Capitol buildings, ranked by Hunter Schwarz, The Washington Post, November 20, 2014 [accessed September 5, 2016]

03
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New Mexico Capitol Building

New Mexico's round state capitol, light brown stucco with white trim
New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe. Photo by Robert Alexander / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

The Roundhouse, as the New Mexico Capitol building is called, has no dome, but it is the only ROUND state capitol in the nation. The Washington Post says it looks like a "Southwestern middle school campus (but from the sky, it looks like the Zia sun symbol, which is used on the New Mexico flag)."

The New Mexico Capitol Building is one of the most recently built, perhaps because the state didn't join the United State until 1912 as the 47th state.

Location: Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Construction: 1966
Architect: Willard C. Kruger, architect; Robert E. McKee, local contractor

Sources: State Capitol buildings that don’t look anything like State Capitol buildings, ranked by Hunter Schwarz, The Washington Post, November 20, 2014; New Mexico State Capitol,

04
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New York Capitol Building

New York State Capitol, 1899, Renaissance and Romanesque styles in Albany, NY
New York State Capitol, 1899, Renaissance and Romanesque styles in Albany, NY. Photo by Daniel Barry / Getty Images News / Getty Images

The English-Canadian architect Thomas Fuller created the first designs for the New York State Capitol building, but he was dismissed in 1876. Perhaps it was because the popular American architect Henry Hobson Richardson had come to town, fresh off the success of Trinity Church in Boston and hot on the design trail for Albany City Hall (1883), across the street from the State Capitol site. Richardson adapted Fuller's design to include his own version of Richardsonian Romanesque with a sprinkle of French and Italian Renaissance stylings.

It is one of the few state capitols entirely without a dome.

Location: State Street and Washington Avenue, Albany, New York
Construction: 1867-1899
Architect: Henry Hobson Richardson, Leopold Eidlitz, Thomas Fuller, Isaac G. Perry

Source: History, New York State Assembly [accessed December 5, 2016]

05
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Virginia Capitol Building

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia
Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Bettmann / Bettmann / Getty Images (cropped)

State capitals are named after US presidents, but it's safe to say that Virginia's capitol building is the only one designed by an American president. Thomas Jefferson designed his state's capitol building while he was United States Ambassador to France. It is modeled after Maison Carée, a Roman temple from 16 BC, which is located in the south of France.

Virginia's State House with its Classical Revival architecture has been called one of the 10 Buildings That Changed America.

Location: Capitol Square, Richmond, Virginia
Construction: 1785-1800
Architect: Thomas Jefferson

Source: Virginia State Capitol, National Park Service [accessed December 5, 2016]

06
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Rhode Island State House

Rhode Island State House Designed by Stanford White, 1904
Rhode Island State House Designed by Stanford White, 1904. Photo by Harvey Meston / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

The white Georgian marble dome of the Rhode Island State House is one of the largest self-supporting domes in the world—the fourth largest after the domes of the Vatican, the Taj Mahal, and the Minnesota State Capitol.

Location: Smith Hill, Providence, Rhode Island
Construction: 1895-1904
Architect: Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White

Source: State House Online Tour, Rhode Island Department of State [accessed December 5, 2016]

07
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Wisconsin Capitol Building

Two angled wings of capitol building in Madison, WI
Wisconsin State Capitol by George B. Post. Photo by Jordan McAlister / Moment / Getty Images (cropped)

Wisconsin's State Capitol is designed with four wings emerging symmetrically from a center dome structure. After a devastating fire in 1904, the capitol was rebuilt and expanded, one wing at a time in the early 1900s.

The Wisconsin Capitol design is one that Frank Lloyd Wright used in 1939 for a private home called Wingspread in Racine, Wisconsin. Wright built his house around a central chimney, with wings to isolate different family functions.

Location: 2 E Main Street, Madison, Wisconsin
Construction: 1906-1917
Architect: George Browne Post

Source: State Capitol History at wisconsin.gov [accessed December 6, 2016]

08
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Arkansas Capitol Building

Arkansas State Capitol by Cass Gilbert looks like other capitol buildings designed by Gilbert
Arkansas State Capitol by Cass Gilbert. Photo by Danita Delimon/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The Neoclassical design of the Arkansas Capitol is traditional for governmental buildings throughout the US. The power and dignity of ancient Greece and Rome are values expressed in the public architecture of the New World. Marble is often the construction material of choice, and Arkansas chose stone from Vermont, Colorado, and Alabama. Exterior limestone was quarried locally for most of the building, except the dome.

The initial design was made by architect George R. Mann, but politics and budget overruns dismissed Mann from completing the project. Architect Cass Gilbert, fresh off the successful completion of the Minnesota Capitol Building, completed the building. Like the New York State Capitol, a famous name attached to design gives any architecture a lasting legacy.

Location: 500 Woodlane Street, Little Rock, Arkansas
Construction: 1899-1915
Architect: George Richard Mann and Cass Gilbert

Source: The Arkansas State Capitol, Arkansas Secretary of State [accessed December 6, 2016]

09
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West Virginia Capitol Building

The West Virginia State Capitol reflected in the Kanawha River looks like the US Capitol in a country setting
West Virginia State Capitol Designed by Cass Gilbert. Photo by Lou Jones/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

By the time was hired to be chief architect of West Virginia's Capitol in 1921, Ohio-born Cass Gilbert had already completed two other state capitol buildings. The Capitol in West Virginia follows the very traditional Neoclassical design of his other government projects, and predicts his design for the US Supreme Court building near the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Location: Overlooking the Kanawha River, Charleston, West Virginia
Construction: 1924-1932
Architect: Cass Gilbert

Source: History of the Capitol, West Virginia General Services Division [accessed December 6, 2016]

10
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Minnesota Capitol Building

Cass Gilbert-designed Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul Minnesota
Cass Gilbert-designed Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul Minnesota. Photo by Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Archive Photos/Getty Images (cropped)

Capitol is a word that comes from the ancient Roman temple on Capitoline Hill, which is why many of our capitols look like the Pantheon in Rome. In fact, you can remember captiol with an O because many capitols (but not all) have a round dome somewhere on the building.

Location: 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155
Construction: Groundbreaking: May 6, 1896; Cornerstone: July 27, 1898; Grand Opening: January 2, 1905
Architect: Cass Gilbert
Style: "Renaissance Revival masterpiece of the Beaux Arts School"
Construction Materials: White Georgian Marble (upper walls and dome), Minnesota granite and sandstone (lower levels, steps, and terraces), and Kasota stone (interior)
Sculptures: Daniel Chester French and Edward C. Potter
Official Description: "The classically styled building, which boasts the second largest self-supported marble dome in the world, features 23 different types of stone, including 16 varieties of marble from around the world, and granite and limestone from Minnesota."

Source: Minnesota State Capitol, Minnesota Historical Society website [accessed December 6, 2016]