Colorado State Capitol Virtual Tour
By Martin A. Wegner - Assistant Colorado State Archivist (1950s) Published in The Denver Westerners Brand Book 8, 1952 Photos and Images Courtesy of the Colorado State Archives
Obstacles and Obstinance
Colorado was not yet ten years old when the first effort got under way to erect a statehouse. Still a territory, Colorado had already had two other capital cities when the Seventh Legislative Assembly on December 9, 1867, made Denver the official capital city. Although Golden had been the official capital for several years, most of the government business was transacted in Denver and popular convenience led to officially moving the capital there. In Denver the territorial offices were scattered about town and the legislature met where it could.
The Act of 1867 authorized Governor Hunt to appoint a three-man Capitol Commission whose first task was that of securing a donation of ten acres of land suitable as a site for a capitol building. Almost immediately a prominent and successful real estate man, Mr. Henry C. Brown, offered ten acres at East Colfax and Lincoln streets. The offer was readily accepted as it occupied a sloping hillside with a commanding view of the city and the mountains to the west. Mr. Brown, who came to Colorado from Missouri in 1860 and who later was to build the famous Brown Palace Hotel, gave the valuable location to the state with the expectation that it would enhance the value of adjacent land which he also owned. This land, bounded by Colfax on the north, Fourteenth Avenue on the south, Lincoln on the west, and Grant on the east, was deeded to the State of Colorado on January 11, 1868.
From the Robinson Atlas of Denver, 1885
The Territory was without funds at this time for the construction of any kind of a capitol building. The total financial assets in 1867 were only $25,406! Therefore, when Henry Brown presented his land to the state a number of public-spirited citizens offered lots to the state which it could sell to raise a capitol building fund.
Thus matters stood for the next few years. No effort was made to sell the lots or to otherwise advance the project. In December 1873, Jerome Chaffee, Colorados delegate to Congress, introduced a bill providing statehood for Colorado. The likelihood of the passage of this bill was great. Stimulated by this prospect, the Territorial Legislative Assembly reopened the building project on February 13, 1874, by appointing a new commission and authorizing it to take such action as would enable the building to be completed by January 1, 1876. There were virtually no funds available; title to the donated lots had not been perfected; and there was still considerable difference of opinion as to whether a capitol building should be erected in Denver at all.
Two weeks later, however, when the commission met again to discuss the financial problem involved John Evans spoke at some length urging that no definite action be taken until statehood was achieved and not until the capital city was permanently located. He did not want to see the people fritter away their money by premature action, nor did he desire to see an inferior building constructed. He then offered a resolution to postpone the Capitol building project. Time amply proved the wisdom of John Evans judgment. The commission took no further action and made no report to the legislature. All attention at this time was focused upon Washington where Colorado was soon to be admitted to the Union. The anticipated constitutional convention assembled October 25, 1875, and submitted its proposed constitution to the people for their approval July 1, 1876. The vote was 15,443 in favor, 4,062 against. A month later President Grant admitted Colorado to the Union by a proclamation of August 1st. The new constitution provided that the capital city of the state was to be selected at a general election to be held in 1881.
The patience of Henry Brown now wore thin. He had informed the Capitol Commissioners in 1875, that unless $50,000 worth of improvements were made on the land by the state he would revoke the deed. The commission had done nothing about his threat. Thus when it became apparent that Denver might lose the seat of government altogether, Brown on May 11, 1879, filed a deed of revocation reclaiming his ten acres on the ground that the state had broken its part of the agreement. He immediately proceeded to board up the area with a wooden fence. The state of Colorado countered at once by having its Attorney General, Charles Wright, file an action of ejection. Thus began nearly seven years of trials and new trials, appeals and counter appeals which finally ended by a decree of the United States Supreme Court on January 4th, of 1886.
The election on November 8, 1881, made Denver the capital by some 17,000 vote majority. Denver received 30,248 votes, Pueblo had 6,047, Colorado Springs 4,790, Canon City 2,788 and Salida 698. Another 929 votes were scattered among other cities.
|Location of State Capital
Abstract of Votes, 1881
Dollars, Delays, and Designs
When Governor Frederick Pitkin delivered his Second Biennial Message to the legislature on January 4, 1883, the project for the constructing a capitol building was fifteen years old. Henry Brown had donated his land in January, 1868, and as yet no dirt had been turned upon it. The United States Supreme Court had ruled against his revocation, however, and Denver was the certain seat of government for the new state. Thus it was that Governor Pitkin sought to stimulate further action when he told the legislature that: "There are no longer any obstacles to the Legislature providing for the erection of a suitable building for a State House. I think that there can be no question that the public interests require that provision be made by this legislature for the erection of the building."
The Act of February 11, 1883, created a Board of Directors and Supervision, commonly called the Board of Capitol Managers, and authorized the board to transfer $150,000 from the internal improvement fund for its use. The act itself named the members of the board and made the governor of the state the chairman of it.
This board met for the first time on February 24 and elected George T. Clark secretary. Clark was the genial and generous former mayor of Denver. The Board called for quarries over the nation to submit specimens of stone that might be used for the construction of the building.
A "Notice to Architects" was published, calling for plans to be submitted not later than May 9th for the construction of a "State Capitol Building" not to exceed one million dollars in cost. Certain requirements were listed and it was specified that one wing of it of not less than 9,000 feet was to be built at once. The notice was advertised March 1st and also mailed to five hundred "leading architects of the nation." Plans were to be submitted under a nom de plume. The architects name was to be sent in another sealed envelope which the Board would not open until after the selection of the winning plans.
|An Early Entry Called "Renaissance"|
The board soon received a number of letters from architects stating that that two and a half months was insufficient time to draft plans for a building of such proportions and pointing out that it was customary to award winning plans with some monetary prize to induce architects to undertake the work involved.
Nevertheless, nine sets of plans were received and the Board duly considered them. Dissatisfied with the plans, all of which were accompanied by a protest of the limited time available for preparation, the Board decided on May 19th to tour the Midwest visiting the capitals of various states and interviewing officials to learn for themselves the problems of construction. The Board left Denver May 22nd and visited Des Moines, Madison, Lansing, Indianapolis, Springfield, and Topeka before returning to Denver on June 4th.
As a result of the trip the Board requested Governor Grant to call an extra session of the General Assembly for the purpose of modifying the Act of February 11th. The Board had found that his act required certain specifications which were either unwarranted or unwise.
There is no doubt that the Board was entirely right in its appraisal of the problem. On June 19, 1883, Governor Grant wrote a letter to the Board refusing its request for a special session of the legislature. He cited as his reasons the fact that the occasion was not an extraordinary one since " none of the vital interests of the people are affected in the least" and went on to state that it was simply a question of starting building in 1883 or waiting until 1885. He questioned the wisdom of starting out to build a million dollar Capitol with $80,000 in cash and the hope that the people would approve a proposed bonded indebtedness of $300,000. The levying tax on the assessed evaluation of the state would bring, he asserted, only $50,000 per year, and twelve years would be required to raise the remaining $620,000. Therefore, Grant suggested that the Board wait until the next legislature convened.
Once again the project for the construction of a state capitol building was suspended. Nothing further happened until the Fifth General Assembly passed a new law April 1, 1885. The new law required that the Capitol building be completed by the first day of January, 1890, and it limited to $200,000 the amount of money the managers could spend each year on construction. It specified also that all materials were to be obtained in the State of Colorado provided high quality could be obtained as cheaply in Colorado. Moreover, construction was not to begin until the state gained an undisputed title to the land donated by Henry C. Brown.
|Notice to Architects (1883)
From the 1st Report of Capitol Board of Managers
Governor Eaton called the Board together April 15, 1883 and George T. Clark was again elected secretary. A new "Notice to Architects" was ordered published. Five hundred notices were again mailed to "leading architects." The State this time offered an award of $1,500 for the best set of plans, $1,000 for the second best and $800 for the third best set. Deadline for receiving plans was set for the tenth day of July.
When the Board met July 13th it found it had twenty-one sets of plans. These plans are listed here to show the interesting code names which each architect gave to his design:
|1. Corinthian||11. Sketches by Boz|
|2. Practical||12. Romanesque|
|3. Classic||13. Nitor in Adversum|
|4. Freedom and Justice||14. Governor|
|5. Granite||15. Marshalltown|
|6. Simplex Munditiis||16. Memo|
|7. Nil Sine Numine||17. Good Luck|
|8. Labor Amoris||18. A.D.S|
|9. Cactus||19. Crude|
|10. Columbia||20. Silver Ore|
|21. Star and Crescent|
The Board eliminated all but five sets and assigned Board members Routt, Kassler, and Nettleton to meet with J.W. Roberts, and architect, and Peter Gumry, a "practical builder," to examine the five sets in great detail.
The Board of Capitol Managers met on August 31, 1885, heard the report of the examining committee together with the opinion of the Attorney General and then voted upon the five plans. "Corinthian" by E. E. Myers of Detroit, Michigan, was awarded first place; "Simplex Munditiis" by F. E. Edbrooke of Denver was chosen second place and "Nil Sine Numine" by H. B. Seeley of Denver won third place. The winning architect, Mr. Elijah E. Myers, subsequently appeared before the Board and requested three months time for preparing detailed plans of construction. Myers then got sick and the plans were not submitted until January 2, 1886.
E. Myers Letterhead Showing Sketch of Texas State Capitol Building
Contractors, Construction, and Controversy
The next step to be taken was the employment of a contractor. Advertisements for sealed proposals were published January 6th. The Board reserved the right to select the quality and grade of stone. A successful bidder would be required to post a bond of two and a half percent of the total amount of the contract.
Only two contractors replied. These were Hennesey and Richardson. The two modified bids were referred to Architect Myers for technical considerations. By certain omissions and alterations Richardson reduced his bid $70,000 and Hennesey Brothers cut their costs $180,000. Richardson had cut the cost by substituting steel for iron in certain places and omitting elevators. Myers reported that the fiber resistance of steel was actually twenty percent stronger than iron and that as far as the elevators were concerned, these could be classified as furniture and left to the future.
While considering the proposed alterations the Board employed Peter Gumry as superintendent of the building. It also visited various quarries over the state to learn of the quantities of stone available.
On March 30th, the Board of Capitol Managers met and issued sixteen orders. Among these was one appointing E. E. Myers Supervising Architect and another awarding the contract for construction to W.D. Richardson and fixing the contract price at $930,485.
Mr. Richardson signed his contract on the first day of April, 1886, left immediately for Springfield, Illinois, to get his machinery and promptly fell ill. As a result the construction did not get under way until the sixth day of July when the first dirt was turned on the excavation work. By November 10th, the concrete work and most of the sewage system were finished and at the end of the year Richardson wrote the Board predicting that all the basement and first story work would be finished during the year 1887. Likewise at the end of 1886, the Board of Capitol Managers reported that "all the work thus far executed has been first class and fully up to the contract, plans, and specification." At long last the Capitol was on its way up!
|At Work at the Marble
Finishing Mill Sometime
New difficulties plagued the Capitol Managers in 1887. Contractor Richardson submitted a claim for $45, 656 beyond original estimates, attributing it to alteration required for a suitable foundation. He stated in his claim dated October 24, 1887, that the superintendent and the architect had agreed verbally to the changes he had made. Construction work was halted the same day. Investigation by the Board revealed that creditors were pressing the contractor for money. All persons concerned except Richardson denied his claim that a verbal agreement had been made for the alterations. After learning that Richardson had underestimated his costs and was in bad financial condition, the Board on February 9th severed its contract because Richardson had "failed and neglected to carry on the work" since the previous October 24th.
Advertisements were published for new proposals and in June of 1888 the Denver firm of Geddis and Seerie was employed to finish the work at a cost of $700,000. This contract did not include all the work to be done on the building. It is interesting to observe that once again Peter Gumry bid for the work and that his bid was among the highest. Gumry, a superintendent, apparently was well aware of the problem facing any contractor who undertook the job!
A rather unhappy event now occurred. On June 3, 1889, the Board of Capitol Managers suddenly announced the dismissal of E. E. Myers as Supervising Architect. Myers threatened to sue and later applied for reinstatement but to no avail. It is difficult to uncover the objections the Board had to Mr. Myers, but considerable dissatisfaction apparently existed. The Board hinted that the reason for his dismissal was that garnishee notices against Myers had been served to the Board by a bank in Denver and one in Springfield, Illinois. Myers blamed the new membership of the Board for the action, hinted that [Otto] Mears was the instigator, and spoke highly of Dennis Sullivan of the old Board. He also spoke very well of John Routt. The Rocky Mountain News in an editorial on June 5th blamed Myers for what is called the "Richardson fiasco" and stated that his threat to bring suit was a "big bluff." Myers was an architect who had designed buildings in many parts of the nation including the capitols of Texas and Michigan.
Cornerstone Dedication Ceremonies
Great was the excitement that prevailed in Denver as the Fourth day of July, 1890 approached. This was the day set aside for the laying of the corner-stone of the long awaited Capitol building. H.A.W. Tabor directed the committee on the arrangements. Every building in town was either draped with red, white, and blue bunting and flags or other colorful decorations. The mansions along Sherman and Grant streets were so festooned with bunting that in some instances "not a red brick was to be seen." People began arriving in Denver from outlying areas and from outside the state several days beforehand. Twenty trains were reported to have reached Denver between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. on the morning of the Fourth, bringing ten thousand late arrivals to the scene of the festivities.
That Sunday morning dawned bright and warm and when the sun came out it bore down upon the crowd with an intense heat. A huge parade, in five divisions, started the days celebration at 10 a.m. It was led by Governor Cooper and Grand Marshall A.W. Hogle.The portion of the parade that parade which attracted most attention from the spectators was the four hundred soldiers of the U.S. Fourth Infantry under the personal command of Colonal H.C. Merriam. These men were newly stationed at Ft.Logan, just recently established southwest of the city on a location picked by General Phil Sheridan. Spectators also applauded warmly whenever a pioneer of 1859 or 1860 was recognized as he passed by in the procession.
At 11:30 a.m., nearly an hour behind schedule, John Blood directed the Masonic choir of almost one thousand voices in the singing of "America." Thus the program dedicating the new building began. Chaplain Eugene Guisson offered the invocation. Grand Master William Bridewell then conducted the ritual of the laying of the corner-stone. Among the articles placed in the copper box and sealed in the corner-stone at the northeast corner of the building were copies of the Colorado and Federal constitutions, a Holy Bible, an American Flag, an 1890 Denver City Directory, a map of Colorado, as series of gold coins, an 1811 edition of Pikes Journal, numerous state government reports, and copies of local newspapers. A picture showing an artists concept of the finished building was enclosed together with a copy of the Geddis-Seerie contract. The laying of the corner-stone was followed by four orations interspersed with musical renditions.
"A sea of upturned faces surrounded by innumerable parasols and umbrellas surrounded the platform" to hear the speeches. Only the few persons standing close to the platform could hear the words spoken. First to speak was the former Governor Alva Adams who represented the Masons. Next came Governor Cooper who briefly sketched the history of the State. Judge Belford then delivered the oration of the day and he was followed by Judge Wilbur Stone who called the Capitol "the crowning glory of the Queen City of the Centennial State, it will ever stand a monument to the bravery and endurance of the pioneers of 1859 - 1860."
|Construction - 1892|
Finally at 2:30 p.m. the meeting adjourned and the crowd moved to Lincoln Park where three hundred waiters stood by to serve barbecued roast beef which had been prepared all through the night by some twenty-one cooks and helpers.
Everywhere that day happy holiday people played and laughed, drank and sang, chatted and danced. Ladies were decked out in their fineries and the old folks exchanged pleasant memories while here and there in the crowd could be seen the "bright looking costumes of the military and the flashing badges and sashes of the civic societies." Denver had never seen such a day!
The Finishing Touches
Following the laying of the corner-stone, the construction work progressed rapidly and at the end of 1892 the exterior stone work was completed as well as the interior walls and the slate roof. A temporary flight of stairs to the third floor had been installed and floors would soon be laid. The skeleton work of the dome was up to a height of one hundred and ninety-three feet above grade line. Work continued in 1893 and 1894. By November of that year the building was deemed sufficiently complete to allow the governor and other offices to move in. Nevertheless, much work remained to be done and for several years thereafter office people complained of the noise, dirt and confusion created by laborers busy within the building.
|Putting Support Girders In Place|
Davis H. Waite became the first governor to occupy the executive offices. In his Biennial Message to the Tenth General Assembly, the first to assemble in the new halls, Governor Waite said: "The building is a marvel of good honest work, and will be a lasting tribute to its builder and managers."
During the latter years of the construction of the capitol building a number of events of interest occurred. In 1895 Peter Gumry, the long time superintendent of the building, was killed in an explosion at the Gumry Hotel. His place was taken by James Murdoch who resigned in 1898. The Managers then appointed F.E. Edbrooke, a prominent Denver man who had designed many local building including the Brown Palace Hotel, to be Advisory Architect. It was Edbrooke who, three years later, suggested that the dome of the Capitol be gilded with real Colorado gold.
|Advertisement in the Denver City Directory|
The completion of the Capitol may be said to have been achieved in 1908 when the dome was leafed with gold and the electric bulb installed on top of it. This bulb occasioned much criticism toward the Board but the astute Managers shrugged it all off with the official statement: "The fact exists that a thing of beauty is a joy forever." Now at last the State House was finished and Governor James Grants dream of a Capitol "which will be commensurate in magnitude and beauty with the prosperity and wealth of future Colorado" had come true.
E.E. Myers Sketch of the Colorado Capitol
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last modified March 29, 2010