Other Names State Capitol
Property Type State Capitol
Historic Use GOVERNMENT/capitol
Current Use GOVERNMENT/capitol
Architect/Builder Elijah E. Myers
The 1872-1879 Michigan State Capitol, one of the first statehouses to be modelled after the national capitol in Washington, D.C., is a Renaissance Revival building built on a cruciform plan, with a tall, graceful dome surmounting the intersection of its major north-south and shorter east-west axes. The building is symmetrical, with a ceremonial main entryway in the eastern projecting central pavilion and balanced wings to the north and south housing the House and Senate chambers. The wings are three storied, while the central pavilion rises to four, with a ground floor basement story underlying all. The capitol was built to a careful budget: materials were chosen for quality and economy, rather than for their Michigan pedigree. Walls are constructed of solid brick masonry, with the exterior walls faced with South Amherst, Ohio, sandstone. The slender, ribbed dome, although constructed of cast and sheet iron, is painted to resemble the sandstone facade, presenting a harmonious and unified whole. Although restrained in overall effect, exterior detailing is rich, complex, and skillfully executed. In the interest of economy, interiors were finished with plaster and Michigan pine, intricately handpainted in a wide variety of decorative finishes and techniques, and so varied that each room was rendered unique. Skylights and a brilliant palette produced a lively interior, full of color and light. The architect, Elijah E. Myers (1832-1909), designed many appointments and furnishings to complement the building. Although built too small to accommodate Michigan's rapidly growing population and evolving economy after the Civil War, the capitol escaped major alterations until the late 1960s and early 1970s, when offices were overfloored and "modernized." A major restoration, begun in 1988 and completed in 1992, has returned the capitol, including exterior, interior and grounds, to its original appearance.
Statement of Significance
The Michigan State Capitol, under construction from 1872 to 1878, was dedicated on January 1, 1879 and has served as Michigan's seat of state government ever since. The Michigan capitol was the first of three state capitols designed by architect Elijah E. Myers in the 1870s and 80s. Its successful completion established Myers' reputation as the premiere capitol-builder of the post-Civil War period, and secured his career as one of the country's most successful architects of public buildings. No architect was responsible for more state capitols than Myers, and no single architect had more influence on their design in the latter years of the nineteenth century. Myers was among the first to use the national capitol in Washington, D.C., as a model, and his design for Michigan would help establish the standard for state capitols for decades to come. The Michigan State Capitol reflected--and inspired--the national trend after the Civil War for monumental fireproof buildings, constructed to house state governments growing in size and complexity, as well as to serve as suitable repositories for mementoes of the war itself. The interior embellishment of the Michigan State Capitol, undertaken over a period of several years after the dedication and occupation of the building, involved the extensive use of decorative, or architectural painting. So skillful and elaborate were the techniques and patterns employed, and so effective their color palette, that the building, as now restored, ranks today as one of the best surviving displays in the United States of the Victorian painted decorative arts.
Marker Name State Capitol
STATE CAPITOL This edifice, the center of government since 1879, is Michigan's third capitol. It replaced the frame building that was erected nearby in 1847 when the capital was removed to Lansing from Detroit. Construction began in 1872 on the new building designed by Elijah Myers. It cost $1,510,130 to build, and was dedicated January 1, 1879, at a meeting addressed by six of Michigan's governors. Original marker replaced by a revised marker:
STATE CAPITOL The state capitol of Michigan, rededicated in its centennial, 1979, is the third structure to serve as the symbolic and functional center of state government. In 1837, when statehood was attained, the old Michigan Territorial Courthouse in Detroit became the first capitol. Twelve years later, the legislature voted to move Michigan's seat of government to Lansing where a new capitol was erected. That frame building was soon found inadequate. Then in 1871, Governor Henry P. Baldwin recommended the construction of a new capitol and the legislature concurred. It was completed at a cost of nearly $1.5 million.
SIDE TWO Michigan's present state capitol building was first dedicated in 1879 at the inaugural ceremony of Governor Charles M. Croswell. This classically styled structure, designed by Elijah E. Myers, has a 267-foot spired dome. It represents over six years of planning and construction. Michigan's resources are exhibited in the copper, slate and white pine used throughout the structure. Built to house the governor's office, the legislature, supreme court and other state functions, the building has been substantially renovated over the years to meet changing needs.
Period of Significance 1872-1878
Significant Date(s) 1871, 1879
Registry Type(s) 03/10/1980 Marker erected
10/07/1992 National Historic Landmark listed
01/25/1971 National Register listed
02/18/1956 State Register listed
Site ID# P108
I posted a full set of photos of Michigan's beautiful historic (and still functioning) State Capitol, including both exterior and interior views.
I tried to take most of the interior views without flash. As such, there may be some noise in the photos, but I hope it conveys the dark lighting that also acts to make the colors inside very deep and rich.
Visitors can walk in and tour the capitol for free during normal weekday hours.