North Carolina State Capitol
Backstory and Context
The period in North Carolina’s history when the legislature operated without a fixed capital, 1776-1792, was an inefficient and confusing time concerning public affairs. Not only did the assembly travel, but legislative documents had to travel as well. In 1788 it was decided to create a permanent state capital in Wake County. One thousand acres of land were purchased from Joel Lane, an early settler of the area. State Senator William Christmas was named official surveyor. The State House was centrally located in Raleigh’s early city plan. The original city plan consisted of only one square mile. Eight streets were named for the eight districts of the state and nine streets were named for the commissioners themselves. The capitol building is located in the center of that plan in Union Square and is surrounded by four smaller park squares.
The first State House was a simple structure built of brick and was completed in 1784. Between 1820 and 1824 the building was enlarged, gaining a third floor, a domed rotunda and eastern and western wings. The original State House was destroyed by fire in 1831. The current North Carolina Capitol building was completed in 1840 and cost over $533,000 which was more than three times the yearly general income of the state at that time. The new State Capitol was built to be fireproof. Several influential architects worked on the project, including Ithiel Town, Alexander Jackson Davis, William Nicholas, Jr., William Strickland, and David Patton. Slave labor was used to construct the building.
The State Capitol housed all state government until 1888 when the Supreme Court moved to a different building. In 1963 the General Assembly moved to the Legislative Building, just a block away, where it still operates today. In 1976 Halifax Street was closed to traffic and plans for Bicentennial Plaza began. Bicentennial Plaza is a processional space that was created to connect the North Carolina State Capitol and the North Carolina State Legislative Building. Richard Bell, who designed the landscape and interior gardens of the Legislative Building, was hired to design Bicentennial Plaza. Today, the State Capitol holds the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and their staff. The State Capitol Building acts much like a museum and is open to the public for tours six days a week. The outside grounds of the State Capitol contain green lawns, concrete walkways, and historical statues and monuments. Civil War monuments can be found on the capitol grounds, as well as famous statues like Presidents North Carolina Gave the Nation.
Capitol Square Historic District, Raleigh Historic Development Commission. Accessed April 25th 2020. https://rhdc.org/raleigh-historic-resources/raleigh-historic-districts/capitol-square.
Connor, R.D.W.. The Problem of the State Capital, Joel Lane Museum House. Accessed April 26th 2020. https://www.joellane.org/joellane/history/category/raleigh/city_of_raleigh_from_founding_to_1800.
Cross, Jerry L.. Union Square, NCPedia. 2006. Accessed April 24th 2020. https://www.ncpedia.org/union-square.
North Carolina Historic Sites. Accessed April 22nd 2020. https://historicsites.nc.gov/all-sites/n-c-state-capitol/history.
Raleigh: A Capital City, National Park Service. Accessed April 24th 2020. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/raleigh/earlyhistory.htm.
Williams, Wiley J.. State Capitol, NCPedia. 2006. Accessed April 22nd 2020. https://www.ncpedia.org/state-capitol.