Located in nations/best-things-to-do-in-iowa-city.html">Iowa City, Iowa, the Iowa Old Capitol Building preserves the state’s historic government building, a United States National Landmark, as a living history museum facility featuring a variety of exhibits and galleries. Iowa City was chosen as the new capital city for the Territory of Iowa in May of 1839, with architect John F. Rague selected to create a design for a new capitol building the following November.


Though Rague resigned from the project in 1840, citing irreconcilable differences with regard to the construction team’s following of his blueprints, his design continued to greatly influence the project through its completion. Construction of the project began in July of 1940, continuing for the next decade and a half, though the Iowa Legislative Assembly began to meet at the building as early as late 1842. In 1846, Iowa was declared the 29th state of the United States, with Iowa City being declared the state’s official capital. The capitol building served as the site for the crafting of the state’s constitution, the inauguration of the state’s first governor, and the site of legislation signing to authorize the creation of the state’s first public university, known today as the University of Iowa.

In December of 1857, the state’s capital was moved to Des Moines, and ownership of the Old Capitol Building was transferred to the University of Iowa. The building became the university’s central building, housing a chapel, library, armory, and classroom and office space. Major renovations were performed on the building in the 1920s, which continued to house classroom and university president office space until the 1970s. When more renovations were proposed in the 1970s, the university decided against modernization of the building and instead embarked on a six-year restoration campaign to restore the building to its original historic condition. In January of 1976, the building was declared a National Historic Landmark, with the facility opening to the public as a living history museum the following July as part of the United States Bicentennial celebration. The building was temporarily closed to the public in the late 1990s for extensive restoration, with repairs taking until 2006 to complete due to a 2001 contractor fire caused damage to the building’s cupola.

Permanent Exhibits and Collections

Today, the Iowa Old Capitol Building forms the center of the University of Iowa’s campus, as the central part of a five-building section known as the Pentacrest, which also contains the campus’ Jessup, MacBride, MacLean, and Schaeffer Halls. Together with the university’s Museum of Natural History, the Capitol Building is part of the university’s Pentacrest Museums system, which presents a variety of integrated public special event programming throughout the year connected to the state’s natural, cultural, and civic history. As a prominent campus landmark, an artistic rendering of the Capitol Building is depicted in the University’s official logo. The building has also become a prominent cultural landmark within the greater Iowa region and has been depicted in government and popular culture representing the state, including a rendering of its likeness on the half dollar commemorating the state’s centennial.

Several areas of the historic building are open as living history exhibits and event facilities, including its original Supreme Court Chamber on the first floor and Senate Chamber on the second floor. The Rotunda spaces of both floors have also been restored to their original historic condition and are open to the public for exploration. In addition to historic spaces, a number of public museum gallery facilities are showcased throughout the building, featuring exhibits related to the state’s history and culture. The Keyes Gallery for Arts, Humanities, and Sciences, located on the museum’s first floor, showcases a variety of natural history and culture exhibits, while the Hanson Humanities Gallery features rotating temporary exhibitions. The museum’s Discovery Center also showcases the collections of the Iowa Youth Diaries Project.

Ongoing Programs and Education

Curriculum-incorporated field trips for elementary and secondary school groups are offered on a first-come, first-served basis, with early advance reservation recommended to secure desired tour time slots. A Discovery Trunks program brings museum materials directly into classrooms throughout Iowa, while a Mobile Museum offers traveling exhibits for local school and public special events. Classroom talks with University of Iowa instructors may also be scheduled as part of school group field trips and outreach programs. A variety of regular public event series are offered in conjunction with the University’s Pentacrest Museums, including a monthly history club for middle school students, a free Movies Under the Dome film series, and a Piano Sundays music performance series. Read on the Rug toddler storytime events are also held periodically, and an annual Pentacrest Museums Summer Camp uses the facilities of the Capitol for history-themed lessons and activities. Other annual special events include an Iowa City Archives Crawl and a Creepy Campus Crawl Halloween event.

21 N Clinton St, Iowa City, IA 52242, Phone: 319-335-0548

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