Living History- The Idaho State Capitol Building

You just moved to Boise, and you’re out exploring the beautiful downtown. It’s charming and pleasant, full of nice people and nice shops. It’s that perfect blend of urban and small town. And it’s great because it’s full of green. In fact, you just came from a nearby park and it was gorgeous. Now, as you walk down Capitol Boulevard, you look up. It towers in front of you, giant stone pillars reaching up, and then you see the dome. It stretches into the sky, adorned with a golden eagle perched on top. You’ve found the Idaho State Capitol Building.

Where the Government Resides

Since it’s completion in 1912, the Idaho State Capitol Building has served as the home of Idaho’s government. For over 100 years, laws and legislation have been debated and passed or defeated. It is easy to imagine the marble and sandstone walls ringing with the passionate debates of politicians past. But you don’t have to imagine it. Those debates still happen today, as the Capitol Building still stands and serves as the seat of our great state’s government. It’s taken a lot of work though, to keep the Idaho State Capitol Building as the functioning seat of Idaho’s government.

Trials of Restoration

As I mentioned previously, the Capitol Building was finished in 1912. At least, the first phase of its construction was. Originally, there was a different Capitol Building in 1885. However, by 1905, they had outgrown the original Capitol, and it lacked in space and amenities. The state legislature approved construction of the current Capitol Building, and phase one of construction began. This first phase consisted of the central section of the building, as well as the terra cotta dome. The second phase began in 1919, and by 1921 the east and west wings were added and completed. The Capitol was remodeled in the 1950s, and again in the 1970s, as the building aged and the growing government needed more space.

The years of use, coupled with failing mechanics and electrical systems, almost lead to Idaho’s government abandoning the aging Capitol Building. However, they understood the importance and the historical value of the building. So they began to work on restoring the Capitol to its former glory, while also modernizing and expanding.

The state legislature approved a plan to restore and expand the Capitol Building in 1998 and 2000, but funding and a struggling economy delayed the restorations until 2005. Finally, they were able to proceed and save the Idaho State Capitol Building. Restoration consisted of preserving and repairing historic material, restoring the building to its original glory, rehabilitating the building by reusing what they could, and updating the building, while staying true to its historical significance, and expanding to provide the space and room necessary to keep the Capitol Building the functioning seat of Idaho’s government.

The Capitol of Light

Today, the Capitol is still full of light through skylights. The newly completed atrium wings use skylights to provide a majority of the light for the wings, and this extends from the original architect’s vision of light in the Capitol.

When John E. Tourtellotte designed the original Capitol, light played a large and vital role in his plans. He brought in as much natural light through skylights, light shafts, and the surfaces of marble to reflect light throughout the building. For Tourtellotte, light was a symbol of enlightenment and morality within the government, so he designed a building that would exemplify those ideals of government.

The Capitol Today

As you walk through the grandeur that is the Idaho State Capitol Building, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the building. It’s filled with towering pillars, intricate carvings and architecture, and it’s been standing for over 100 years. If you look up at the dome, you will see 43 stars, representative of Idaho becoming the 43rd state. You are walking inside of a piece of living history. This building has housed our government for a long time, and with the care and attention taken in restoring it, it will continue to be the seat of our government for many more years to come.

As you leave the Capitol, it’s easy to see why you chose to live in Idaho. We are a proud state, willing to preserve the past as we continue to move forward into the future. We surround ourselves with nature, be it the garden at the Capitol, or the many parks throughout Boise. And every day is an adventure, with the green of nature right in your own backyard.

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