Michigan's First Capitol, 1828-1847
Michigan became a territory of the U.S. in 1805, and Detroit was named its territorial capital. A brick Greek Revival building was constructed in 1828 to serve as the territorial courthouse. When Michigan gained statehood in 1837, it would become Michigan's first state capitol. The building was where Michigan's first constitution was drafted and where its first elected governor took his oath of office. The legislature voted to move the state capital to Lansing in 1846. The building was used as a high school from 1847 to 1893, when it was destroyed by fire. Rather than rebuild another school or public building, the space became Capitol Park for public enjoyment.
Backstory and Context
In 1846, the Michigan Legislature voted to move the capital to Lansing, which was at the time a very small and insignificant settlement. However, it was more centrally located within the state and farther away from the threat of an attack from British Canada (see Clio entry “Lansing’s First Capitol” for more information). The last day the Detroit building served as Michigan’s capitol was March 17, 1847. After that, the building became Union High School, the only high school in Detroit at the time. It also housed the first Detroit Public Library from 1865 to 1877. In 1870 and 1875, front and back additions were made to the building and two floors were added as well, faced in stone. The high school was destroyed by a fire on January 27, 1893.3
The half-acre triangular space was converted into the Capitol Park the next year. The park served as a transportation hub for streetcars and later buses for many years. In 1905, the remains of Michigan’s first governor, Stevens Thomson Mason, were moved from New York and interred in a place of honor in Capitol Park. A statue of Governor Mason was placed over the grave. (The grave and statue were relocated within the park in 1955 and again in 2010 to adjust for reconstruction.)2 A scale model of the original capitol is located in the park, along with several historic markers. Capitol Park is the center of a one block radius of historic buildings that is known as Capitol Park Heritage District.