Located in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, the historic Nebraska State Capitol building serves as the home for the state’s executive, legislative, and judicial government branches and is open to the public for guided tour opportunities. Following the opening of the Nebraska Territory in 1854, the village of Omaha City was chosen by Governor Thomas B. Cuming as the seat of government.
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Throughout the city’s tenure as the territory’s capital, two buildings housed territorial government, a two-story brick structure used between 1855 and 1857 and a building used until 1867 located at the current site of Omaha Central High School. After the territory’s selection of Lincoln as its new capital in 1867, a new building was constructed by Chicago architect John Morris, but its use of limestone facilitated early structural decline. In 1881, a Renaissance Revival structure was commissioned by architect William H. Willcox as its replacement, but foundational structural issues led to its closing seven years later.
The construction of a third statehouse for the state of Nebraska was authorized with the 1919 passing of House Roll 3, which organized a commission overseeing the project’s development and instated a property tax to fund its completion. The commission hired American Institute of Architects president Thomas Rogers Kimball to organize a competition to select an architect for the building’s design, which eventually chose Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue as its winner. Goodhue, the designer of New York buildings such as St. Bartholomew’s Church and the Church of the Intercession, designed the Capitol building according to Classical principles of form mixed with elements of Byzantine and Assyrian architecture, evoking a Greek Cross plan with a central domed rotunda. Ground was broken for the project in 1922 and primarily overseen by associates of Goodhue’s after his death in 1924. Following the building’s completion in 1932, landscape architect Ernst Herminghaus was hired to complete the building’s grounds. In 1976, the building was designated as a National Historic Landmark, a listing that was extended in 1997 to include its grounds.
Permanent Attractions and Tours
Today, the Nebraska State Capitol building still serves as the state’s seat of government, housing all primary executive, legislative, and judicial offices, including all offices for the Nebraska Legislature, which serves as the country’s only unicameral legislative body. Nicknamed the “Tower on the Plains,” the building is distinctive for its 400-foot central tower, which can be seen from a distance of up to 20 miles and ranks the building as the second-tallest statehouse in the country behind the Louisiana State Capitol building. Until the 1969 construction of the Woodmen Tower, the building also held the distinction as the tallest building in Nebraska.
A three-story square base anchors the building around the central tower and contains most of the building’s public offices, including the offices of the state’s governor, the Nebraska Legislature, and the Nebraska Supreme Court. Though Goodhue’s original designs called for the tower to be used to house the Nebraska State Library’s collections, decisions by the Capitol Commission in 1925 dictated that the structure be used for additional office space. The building’s four-quartered construction is meant to evoke the drama of the human experience, with the tower representing human ideals of agriculture and societal nobility. The building’s main portal area features balustrades with relief panels honoring the indigenous nations of the Great Plains area, along with inscriptions honoring 19th-century European American pioneers and the virtues of governance principles.
Visitors may tour a number of interior areas of the building, including its historic Vestibule, Great Hall, Foyer, and Rotunda areas. On the tower’s 14th floor, a Memorial Chamber features murals by Nebraska artist Stephen Rogers, commissioned in 1996, honoring military, medical, and civic heroism in Nebraska’s history. Inscriptions from Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address are showcased above the murals, with a dome and chandelier suspended in the center of the chamber representing the night sky. Four observation decks are accessible from the chamber, offering 360-degree views of the Lincoln area at a height of 245 feet.
Tours embark on the hour seven days a week, with the exception of major federal holidays. Group tours for elementary and secondary students may be scheduled directly through Capitol offices, lasting approximately one hour and allowing students to observe the Nebraska Legislature in session. Though the building is entirely accessible by elevator, several stairs lead down to the 14th floor’s observation decks, though special accommodation needs may be made directly with Capitol offices for handicapped visitors. Catered sack lunches for tour groups are offered through the Capitol Grille restaurant, and History to Go bags may be rented for school groups with limited tour time needs.
1445 K St, Lincoln, NE 68508, Phone: 402-471–0448