ONLINE TOUR:

A Bit of History

Territorial Capitol

Idaho Territorial Capitol

Idaho Territorial Capitol

Boise was not Idaho’s first capital city. In March 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the law that created Idaho Territory, he left the task of choosing a temporary capital to William Wallace, a personal friend he appointed to serve as first Territorial Governor. Wallace chose Lewiston, then a booming supply point for the mines of north Idaho. The new legislature would select the capital’s permanent location. By 1864, gold discoveries in the Boise Basin had shifted the population south, and following a heated debate, the second Territorial Legislature chose Boise as the permanent capital. For the next twenty years, government proceedings took place at various locations throughout the city.

In 1885, the thirteenth Territorial Legislature approved construction of a centralized government building. Erected between Jefferson and State and Sixth and Seventh streets, the building was designed by noted architect Elijah E. Myers, a prolific designer of American capitol buildings.

Idaho’s Second Capitol Building

Capitol dome construction

Capitol dome construction

By 1905, the Capitol building’s lack of amenities and limited space prompted the state legislature to fund construction of a new Capitol. Construction began in 1905 and was completed in two phases. Phase one, which included construction of the central section and dome, was completed in 1912. The new Capitol and its surrounding grounds occupied two blocks and were originally located between two early Boise landmarks – the Territorial Capitol and Central School. Both buildings were demolished during phase two (1919 – 1921) to make way for the addition of the east and west wings.

Construction workers atop the Capitol dome

Construction workers atop the
Capitol dome

Remodeling projects during the 1950s and 1970s accommodated a growing state government, but crowding, failing mechanical systems, and decades of hard use eventually left their mark on the aging building. Fortunately, the state of Idaho recognized the need to save the historic Capitol by restoring it and maintaining the building as a working seat of government.

Creating a Vision for the People – The Architects

John E. Tourtellotte

John E. Tourtellotte

For the 1905 Capitol building design, the Capitol Commission held an open competition and selected Tourtellotte & Company, a well-known Boise firm. John E. Tourtellotte, a Connecticut native, began his career in Massachusetts before heading west in 1889. Less than a year later he arrived in Boise and began working as a contract architect.

Charles Hummel

Charles Hummel

Tourtellotte’s partner, Charles Hummel, was originally from Germany, where he received his architectural training. He worked in Switzerland before immigrating to the United States in 1885, eventually arriving in Idaho in 1895, and becoming Tourtellotte’s partner in 1903. The successful partnership continued for many years, even after Tourtellotte relocated to Portland, Oregon. Following the deaths of both Tourtellotte and Hummel in 1939, the firm continued as Hummel Architects.

Tourtellotte was inspired to create a building that emphasized natural light and used it as a decorative element. He used light shafts, skylights, and reflective marble surfaces to capture natural sunlight and direct it to the interior space. For Tourtellotte, light was a metaphor for an enlightened and moral state government. The original design created an architecturally pleasing building that incorporated the materials and technologies of the day into a working Capitol.

Building and Architectural Details

Corinthian column

Corinthian column

As you walk through the Capitol, note the large, beautiful “marble” columns supporting the rotunda. They are not solid marble but have a finished surface composed of scagliola – a mixture of gypsum, glue, marble dust, and granite dyed to look like marble. Scagliola originated in Italy during the sixteenth century and grew in popularity because polished marble, though popular, was expensive and heavy.

Ionic column

Ionic column

In addition to scagliola, true marble is also used extensively throughout the building. White marble with green veining, called American Pavonazzo, can be seen on the columns of the central portion of the building. Brocadillo marble, a greenish-white marble with green veining, was used for the wainscoting and upper wall panels of the staircases. The floors throughout the building are comprised of four different marbles from four different quarries and locations. The gray patterned marble is from Alaska, the red stone from Georgia, the green stone from Vermont, and the black stone from Italy.

Classical architectural elements include Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic columns. Corinthian columns have decorative acanthus leaves at the top. Doric and Ionic columns are less ornate.

Capitol Facts

  • Native sandstone from the nearby Table Rock quarry was used to face the outside walls.
  • The eagle atop the dome stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, including its sandstone pedestal.
  • Including the eagle, the building is 208 feet tall.
  • Many of the original light fixtures remain – they have been converted from gas to electricity.