10 Forgotten U.S. State Capitol Buildings

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You probably remember being in fourth grade and agonizing over test questions like this: “What is the capitol of Vermont?” If you think answering these questions is hard now, imagine living in the 19th century, when some states switched their capitol site every year or so, moving to towns that today seem rather obscure. Surprisingly, many of those old state capitol buildings are still standing, in some cases more than 200 years after the seat of power moved to another location. We’ve rounded up photos of 10 old state capitol buildings across the United States, most of them in towns you never would have thought had capitol potential.

 

10. Milledgeville, Georgia

Milledgeville served as the Georgia capitol through the Civil War.
Georgia seemed to change capitol locations every few years in colonial times, from cities you’ve heard of (Augusta and Savannah) to towns you could not find on a map today (Ebenezer, Heard’s Fort). Milledgeville served as the state capitol from 1806 through the Civil War. The Gothic-style old state capitol building is now part of the Georgia Military College, a local prep school. (Photo: Jimmy Emerson)

 

9. Benicia, California

Benicia served as California capitol before it moved to Sacramento.
California joined the Union in 1850, and had three capitols in its first four years: San Jose, Vallejo and Benicia. Benicia filled that role in 1853 and early 1854, before state lawmakers moved to Sacramento. The above building, the only remaining capitol from those early years, has been painstakingly reconstructed with 1850s furnishings and is the centerpiece of Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. (Photo: Leonard G.)

 

8. St. Charles, Missouri

The first capitol of Missouri was located on the second floor of a hardware store.
Many old capitol buildings look like state capitols, with grand columns, spires, etc. Not the first Missouri capitol, in St. Charles. This unassuming brick building originally served as a hardware store. When Missouri achieved statehood in 1821, the storeowner offered free meeting space upstairs for state lawmakers. The building served five years as the capitol while a permanent structure was built in Jefferson City. The old hardware store/capitol has been preserved as a Missouri state historic site. (Photo: Michael Pittman)

 

7. Vandalia, Illinois

A young Abraham Lincoln served in the state house in Vandalia, Illinois.
The town of Vandalia served as the Illinois state capitol from 1819 to 1839, until a young state lawmaker named Abraham Lincoln led a controversial effort to get the capitol moved to Springfield, closer to the center of the state. This state capitol building in Vandalia was completed in 1836, near the end of the town’s run as the head of state government. It’s used as a museum today. And directly across the street from the main entrance you’ll find a small plaza with a statue of young Mr. Lincoln, demonstrating the folks in Vandalia have totally gotten over Abe’s efforts to move the capitol. (Photo: Kirk Kittell)

 

6. Old Louisiana State Capitol, Baton Rouge

Louisiana's first state capitol building in Baton Rouge resembles a castle.
Most of the states that built capitols in the early 19th century copied the rough design of the U.S. capitol building in Washington. Architect James Dakin purposely avoided doing that in Louisiana, but many people bashed his Gothic design that resembled a medieval castle; author Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), who frequently passed the building as a Mississippi riverboat captain, called it a “little sham castle” and suggested it should be dynamited. Begun in 1847, the so-called “Castle of Baton Rouge” served as the Louisiana seat of government until 1929. Today the building houses the Museum of Political History. (Photo: Anthony Turducken via Flickr)

 

5. Corydon, Indiana

Corydon served as capitol of Indiana before the seat of government moved to Indianapolis.
This small town in southern Indiana enjoyed a decade-long stint (1816-1825) as the state capitol, but the building itself is still going strong after 200 years. It served as the Harrison County Courthouse until 1929, and has since been restored with period furnishings as a national historic site.

 

4. Windsor, Vermont

The Old Constitution House in Windsor, Vermont, began life as a bar.
This picturesque old building in the small town of Windsor (pop. 3,553) has a dignified name: the Old Constitution House. But in 1777, a man named Elijah West operated a simple tavern (or bar) in the building when a group of local leaders met there to hammer out the constitution for the new Vermont Republic. In 1791, Vermont joined the union as the 14th state, and Windsor would serve as the capitol until 1805.

 

3. Iowa City, Iowa

The old Iowa state capitol is on the campus of the University of Iowa.
Finished in 1842, this building housed the Iowa state government until 1857, when lawmakers moved to Des Moines. This much-beloved old building is located on the University of Iowa campus. After several renovations, including one following a fire in 2001, the building is now used as a museum on state and University of Iowa history. (Photo: Bill Whittaker)

 

2. Tallahassee, Florida

The Old Florida Capitol served as the seat of state government for more than 130 years.
It would be a stretch to call this a “forgotten” state capitol; Florida lawmakers can look out of the current capitol (at rear of photo) and look down on this historic building, which served as the seat of state government from 1845 until 1977, when the new state tower opened. The building has been completely restored to its 1902 appearance, and today draws thousands of tourists each year as the Florida Historic Capitol Museum. (Photo: Urban Tallahassee)

 

1. New Castle, Delaware

The old state capitol building in New Castle, Delaware was built on the ruins of an old building from the 1660s.
Opened in 1732, the historic building here served as the seat of Delaware’s colonial government and later state government until 1777, when Dover became the capitol. The building underwent further expansions over the next century, and served as the county courthouse until 1882. The Old New Castle Court House is now a National Historic Landmark and museum. Local officials hold an occasional court session there to maintain the claim that it is the oldest continuously used judicial building in the U.S. (Photo: Atarxy 22)

 

One More: Tuscaloosa, Alabama

The Alabama state capitol in Tuscaloosa burned to the ground in 1923.
Sports fans know Tuscaloosa as the home of the University of Alabama, which has dominated college football in recent years. But Tuscaloosa as Alabama capitol? Believe it. Tuscaloosa was the preeminent town in early Alabama history, serving as the state capitol from 1826 to 1846. After the state government moved to Montgomery, the old capitol building housed a women’s college before burning down in 1923. Today, the ruins are part of an historic park that also features an old tavern and a wood-frame house dating to the 1820s. (Photo: Jimmy Emerson)

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