Capitals & Capitols
CHAPTER III - The Life of the First Capitol
For the remainder of its existence, Madison's first capitol saw occasional improvements and remodeling and repair efforts. It was a finished structure, no longer in desperate need of repeated appropriations in order to keep it from collapsing. This was a factor which undoubtedly suppressed and deterred the continual efforts to move the seat of government. John Y. Smith's successor for the years 1846 and 1847, J. G. Knapp, occupied himself with tidying up the heretofore ignored Capitol Park and converting the dirt-floored basement into useable office space, often doing the work first and asking for reimbursement and authorization from the Legislature later.
In 1842, Smith had managed to get Baxter to enclose the park with a rail fence using cedar posts cut from the banks of the Third and Fourth Lakes and the Wisconsin River, but no other thought was given to the park until Knapp assumed office. At that point the park was still covered with prairie grasses, hazel bushes and the stumps of oak trees which had been felled to provide lumber for the Capitol and other early buildings in Madison. Knapp had the hazel bushes mowed down, the stumps dug up and the grass cut and reseeded. He then hired Alexander McBride to augment what few trees were then in the park with a row of maples and elms along the fence at 50 cents apiece. At about the same time, Knapp noticed the unused space in the basement story and contracted to have an additional three feet of dirt excavated and converted the basement to storage space for dry firewood. It was not long, however, before the space was again converted to offices, which were in use until "the lights were darkened by the construction of the new building" in the late 1850s.
During its existence, "Doty's Washbowl" was also the setting for the routine, the religious, and the dramatic, as well as legislative debate and decision-making. The Capitol, as already mentioned, provided office space for Dane County. It also served a great many more functions aside from the more obvious. Until the early 1850s, Sundays often saw no less than three denominations holding religious services under the tin dome, worshipping in shifts throughout the day. As each congregation was able to build its own church, the crowded Sunday schedule in the Capitol abated.
Often the lawmakers themselves leave us with some interesting insights about early legislative decorum. When the circus first came to Madison in 1848, for example, the temptation obviously was too great to bear and both houses, then in the midst of floor sessions, promptly adjourned without bothering with the formality of a vote. On another occasion, a late-arriving representative reached the House chamber one winter s morning after walking several miles through the wet snow to find the day's proceedings already well underway. He sat down near the stove and, after considerable effort, managed to get his wet boots and woolen socks off so that they might be arrayed with rows of others drying in the heat. He then took his seat. After his socks had been exposed to the warmth of the stove for a short time they began to emit a rather unmistakable, pungent aroma, inciting a fellow lawmaker to remark strongly to their owner. Rather than take offense, the tardy legislator congenially replied, "Lord, you ought to smell 'em in the summer!"
Murder in Session
In spite of the distances and the relatively poor roads crisscrossing the territory, it was not uncommon to hold social gatherings in Madison to which people from all over Wisconsin were invited, particularly during the period when the Legislature was in session. There was one such gathering in early 1842 at which James R. Vineyard, a Grant County Council member, Charles C. P. Arndt, another member of the Council from Brown County, and Arndt's elderly father were in attendance. According to all accounts, the Arndts and Vineyard were more than just cordial friends. Vineyard had boarded with the Arndt family in Green Bay during the winter of 1835-36 and came to be generally regarded as one of the family. While serving in the Legislature together, the younger Arndt and Vineyard were often seen together in amiable conversation, both on the floor and at the American House, where they both boarded while in Madison. To see the three of them together at a social function in the Capital was nothing out of the ordinary. This made the events of the following day wholly unexpected.
It was February 11, 1842, and the issue which would trigger the disastrous events of the day concerned Governor Doty s nomination of Enos S. Baker for sheriff of Grant County. Doty had submitted the nomination earlier in the session, and, when it finally came up for floor debate in the Council on January 24, discussion was postponed until February 5, at which time the nomination was rejected. Two days later, in anticipation of a move in the House condemning the Council's action and requesting Doty to renominate Baker, a motion to reconsider the vote was introduced in the Council and laid on the table. When Governor Doty sent the House's petition for Baker's renomination, signed by a bipartisan group of 19 representatives, to the Council on the 11th, the issue was joined once again. Arndt, a staunch supporter of Doty, moved to take up the motion to reconsider, which had been tabled days before. The exact details of what followed are lost in conflicting accounts, but there is sufficient agreement on some points to sketch out the rest of the story. Vineyard moved to postpone reconsideration once again and was opposed by Arndt. Either, or both, in debate, called the other a liar in reference to an earlier remark about the nominee. According to one story, both were speaking from the floor at the same time, addressing their heated remarks as much to each other as to the Council. At one point, Arndt reportedly said in response to some retort of Vineyard's, "That difference will be accommodated at some other time." Arndt and others converged on Vineyard's desk, continuing in animated debate, which grew louder and more shrill until order was finally restored and the two separated. Almost immediately, an adjournment was voted and Arndt quickly returned to Vineyard's desk, resuming the argument. Tempers flared and Arndt struck Vineyard full in the face one or more times; this was followed quickly by a loud crack which resounded off the walls of the chamber. Arndt fell backwards into the arms of a fellow lawmaker, shot through the heart. Vineyard stood amidst the gathering with a smoking pistol in his hand. The elder Arndt, in the House chamber observing from the gallery, hearing the noise from the Council hall, hurried over and arrived just in time to see his son die in a pool of blood without regaining consciousness.
Funeral services for the slain Arndt were held in the Council chamber the next day, undoubtedly the first such state funeral ever held in a Wisconsin Capitol. The remains were then sent to Arndt's native Green Bay at the expense of the Legislature. On the same day as the shooting, Vineyard had surrendered himself to the Dane County Sheriff and was jailed. The following Monday, the Council received Vineyard's resignation, but - upon a motion by Ebenezer Brigham - returned it without reading it into the record and subsequently expelled Vineyard and declared his seat vacant. The following month, Vineyard was transferred from Madison to Mineral Point under a writ of habeas corpus, and bail - set at $10,000 - was put up by several citizens of Grant County. Later that spring he was indicted for manslaughter and was subsequently tried and acquitted. Vineyard left Wisconsin for California, where he died some years later.
Inadequacies of "Doty's Washbowl"
By the time Madison became a city in 1856, people had tired of the cramped, rickety structure with the odd-looking tin dome. Elisha Keyes recalled that: ". . . it was even for its time, a shoddy structure, and all the patching and repairing that was done, could not make it very substantial or convenient. Its appearance was a good deal ridiculed in its time, though the general impression was that it was a quite imposing structure. The cupola or dome, which was meant as an embellishment, really detracted from the general architectural effect." Madison's first Capitol was, indeed, slowly falling into decay and becoming a relic increasingly unable to serve its original purpose in spite of continual efforts to repair it.
Governor Coles Bashford set events in motion in his annual address to the Legislature in January 1857. Whilesummarizing routine financial reports of various state organizations and funds, Bashford inserted an afterthought when he got to the report of the School Land Commissioners: "The unsafe condition, in case of fire, of the records pertaining to the School Land office, merits your serious consideration. All the records of the various state offices, are in like danger of destruction. Some provision should be made, by which our records should be rendered more secure." Bashford then proceeded to the remainder of his address, unaware that he had unwittingly started a process that would eventually result in the erection of Madison's second capitol. The records that Bashford mentioned were stored in the State Capitol, which, with its oak and plaster interior, was very susceptible to damage by fire.
The prevailing mood was such that only two alternatives were seriously entertained: enlarging the present building by adding a wing with fireproof storage, or starting from scratch and constructing a new capitol, probably in some place other than Madison. The prospect of the latter alternative left the good people of the new city of Madison understandably disturbed, and they immediately responded before Milwaukee and other pretenders could marshall their forces by offering to issue $50,000 in bonds to underwrite the enlargement of "Doty's Washbowl". Such an offer was next to impossible to pass up, and, within six weeks of his address, a bill passed by both houses was on Bashford's desk. The bill enabled the state to receive the $50,000 bond issue from the city and added to it the proceeds of the sale of ten sections of land previously set aside by federal law for the "completion of Public Buildings" and an additional $30,000. The bill also vested authority for completion of the work in the Governor and the Secretary of State; obviously, the bitter taste left by a decade of lawsuits had not yet dissipated. Bashford signed the measure into law February 28, 1857.
CHAPTER IV - A New Capitol - "Remodeled"
Early Remodeling Efforts
Later that spring, Bashford retained the architectural firm of Kutzbock and Donnel to prepare drawings and plans for the capitol "enlargement". Of the two architects, August Kutzbock was to be the chief architect of the building that would eventually arise from this and succeeding "enlargements", as Samuel H. Donnel would die while the first extension was still in the foundation stage. Kutzbock was born in Prussia in 1814 and migrated to the United States around 1852. After living in New York for two years, he moved to Madison where he formed a partnership with Donnel. The firm thrived, never wanting for commissions, and left Madison with several landmark structures. Among the buildings credited to Kutzbock and Donnel were the first City Hall, completed in 1857; former Governor Leonard J. Farwell's octagonal mansion on the city s near east side, which later became the Harvey Hospital during the Civil War; the Gates of Heaven Synagogue and the Grand Army of the Republic building.
Kutzbock and Donnel designed a large semicircular wing with a stone-columned portico to be built on to the eastern face of "Doty's Washbowl". Based upon this plan, the state in May advertised for bids from contractors to construct the addition. Several builders submitted bids, including Augustus A. Bird, who had started construction on the original building. John Ryecraft came in with a low bid of $92,000 and received the contract in June with a completion date of November 1, 1858. Progress was slow, however, and this, combined with a financial crisis which threatened the value of Madison s bonds, led to the most serious and most nearly successful attempt to deprive the city of the capitol.
In early 1858, Governor Alexander Randall asked Kutzbock and Donnel to submit a report to him regarding what he perceived as Ryecraft's exceedingly slow progress. Obviously, the newly elected Governor did not want to allow a situation similar to that of the early 1840s to develop under his administration. In late February, Randall received Kutzbock andDonnel s report and immediately transmitted it to the Legislature with a cover letter beseeching them in urgent tones to take immediate action. While the architects did not discount the possibility
of Ryecraft completing his contract, they estimated that in order for the work to be done on time, it would take 119 men per day working continuously for the time remaining, plus the delivery of 200 cords of stone within the next six months, of 20,000 feet of Prairie du Chien sandstone within the next three-and-a-half months, and of 100,000 feet of lumber within the next three months - all to be done only if "driven with energy from this time". Under these circumstances, Kutzbock and Donnel warned, to proceed with enough speed to reach the deadline "might be highly injurious."
This damaging report, together with Madison's precarious financial situation, due in large part to the financial crisis of 1857, led the lawmakers to quick action. The question was referred to the Senate's Committee on State Affairs, which started an investigation of the whole situation immediately. The resulting reports - majority and minority - revealed more about what was planned than why Ryecraft had been so slow to date and whether he could complete his contract in time. Acknowledging that there was a "decided difference of opinion existing between the architects (Kutzbock and Donnel) and the contractor" (Ryecraft) and that, after Ryecraft's contract had been signed, the building specifications were changed, the committee departed from the central question. A handful of architects and builders were retained by the committee and issued an extremely critical evaluation of the architects' plan, but not without first ridiculing the low $92,000 bid, claiming, instead, that it would cost an estimated $106,370. At the same time, they revealed that the Capitol "extension" was, in fact, the first of several planned enlargements which would eventually replace the present building, costing nearly a half million dollars.
The majority of the committee reported out a bill to move the Capital to Milwaukee "temporarily", while a new capitol was designed and built. Battlelines began to harden. Madisonians, led by Simeon Mills, stood ready to insure Ryecraft's construction in response to reported inadequacies noted in the architects' plan and offered the use of office space in the newly completed City Hall, free of charge, while construction activities continued. Milwaukee promoters, on the other hand, offered free rooms and apartments for legislators and other government officials while in the Cream City. The showdown finally came in the Assembly. After considerable floor debate, the question was called and the measure passed by a three-vote margin. It seemed that one of many efforts to move the capital had ultimately succeeded until, after a closely won vote to reconsider, a second vote failed by a tie. Although further consideration was avoided by skillful parliamentary maneuvering, the closeness of the call apparently convinced Madisonians to retract their offer of free offices in the City Hall. The state ultimately rented space from the city for several years.
Gradual Replacement of "Doty's Washbowl"
The plan to gradually replace the old Capitol continued without a hitch, with construction spanning the following decade. "Doty's Washbowl" was finally demolished in 1863, preparatory to the erection of the center and the north and south wings of the new building. This fact seems to have been lost on many writers since; the resulting structure has often been referred to as an enlarged version of Madison's first Capitol, an obvious error perhaps arising from a too cursory review of the legislative history.
Sometime following the Assembly floor battle, Governor Randall suggested to Kutzbock and Donnel that the stone columns in the east wing "extension's" portico be replaced with cast-iron columns. The idea was approved, implemented and duplicated on the west wing a few years later, giving the Wisconsin Capitol the distinction of having the largest cast-iron columns anywhere in the United States at the time.
The Legislature occupied the east wing in 1859 and, two years later, construction of the west wing began, with the existing building still in place. Once both east and west wings were completed, the state was ready to take the final step.
In late March 1863, a law was passed authorizing the Governor and the Secretary of State to advertise for bids for the construction of the north and south wings, the center portion and the dome. Although Kutzbock had estimated in January 1863 that it would cost close to $80,000 for each of the remaining wings, the law limited the expenditure to $63,000. Bids for the north wing were opened on May 9, and James Livesey came in with a low bid of $50,855. Within a fortnight, demolition of Madison's first Capitol began, unearthing in the process over $300 in lead sash weights in the window frames, an unexpected find, since the cost of lead was much lower when "Doty's Washbowl" was originally built years before.
3rd Capitol Before the dome
In spite of heavy demands placed on revenue and labor by the Civil War, construction continued until all but the rotunda and dome were completed, at which point, work finally came to a halt when state officials and August Kutzbock disagreed about the appearance of the dome. Kutzbock's original plan called for a relatively small dome mounted on a cylindrical barrel ornamented with columns and arches, topped by a cupola. The design was in keeping with the architectural style of the rest of the building, but a majority of state officials preferred to imitate the recently completed United States Capitol dome. In the resulting disagreement, Kutzbock resigned as architect and the state began to look elsewhere for someone to design a new dome.
Wisconsin found a new architect for its Capitol dome in late May 1866 in the person of Stephen Vaughan Shipman. Shipman had moved to Wisconsin from Pennsylvania and Chicago about the same time that Kutzbock had arrived in Madison. Before accepting a commission as a first lieutenant in the 1st Wisconsin Volunteer Cavalry, Shipman had been the architect for the state for the controversial Central State Hospital for the Insane. Later, Shipman would design several other public and private buildings, including the old Madison Post Office, the Dane County Court House and what is now the American Exchange Bank building. Shipman's plan for the Capitol dome very closely resembled that of the National Capitol, right down to the building material - cast iron plates.
Work continued on the rotunda until it was finally completed in 1868, then the contract for the erection of the dome was let to C. S. Rankin of Cincinnati, Ohio, for $90,000, to be completed by the end of the decade. Sometime after Rankin began work, August Kutzbock strolled alone one November evening to the end of Picnic Point and continued walking into the chilly waters of Lake Mendota. His obituary attributed Kutzbock's suicide to concern for his failing health, but the timing of his act begs the question of whether the radical alteration of his most important commission may not have had something to do with his final decision. Kutzbock is buried in Madison's Forest Hill Cemetery with other members of his family.
Before wing additions 3rd Capitol After wing additions
The finished building was an imposing, if somewhat awkward-looking, structure, with octagonal towers cornering the ends of the rectangular north and south wings, semicircular porticoed east and west wings and an overpowering classical dome. The new building dwarfed "Doty's Washbowl", measuring 228 feet from north to south, 226 feet from east to west and towering to 225.5 feet to the gilded eagle on top of the dome's flagpole. The exterior was finished in Prairie du Chiensandstone, a mellow tannish stone, and was the pride of Madison for many years. The interior, although not nearly the spacious maze of today's Capitol, was a roomy four stories accommodating all state offices and various statewide societies. The Grand Army of the Republic kept and cared for "Old Abe", the nationally renowned mascot of the 8th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, in a room in the basement. On the ground level, the floors were laid in blue and white flagstone leading to the offices of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General and many others. Ascending one of two iron spiral staircases on the northwest and southeast sides of the rotunda to the second floor, one could find the floors laid with red, yellow and black tiles and an iron balustrade enclosing an open rotunda. On this floor, one could find the Supreme Court in the north wing, the Senate chamber in the east wing, the Assembly chamber in the west wing and the State Historical Society in the south. The remainder of the floors were devoted to public galleries, committee rooms and storage. During the period that the rotunda was under construction, it was decided to sink an artesian well on the Capitol lawn to provide water for the Capitol and to fight fires. The idea had been first recommended by Superintendent of Territorial Property Knapp 20 years before, at which time he estimated that the project would cost no more than $150. J. H. Underwood signed the contract to begin drilling the well on May 21, 1866, and commenced work within two weeks. The drilling would continue for two years and cost almost $9,000 before he gave it up as a dry well. Underwood's crew drilled to an eventual depth of 1,026 feet, penetrating through several strata of rock, to about 100 feet below sea level before abandoning the project. Five years later, however, the well was revived by Governor Cadwallader C. Washburn. The Legislature had passed an appropriation to make several improvements in the Capitol and on the grounds, which included $5,000 to design and build a pumping house on Lake Monona to supply the Capitol with fresh water. Washburn was convinced that the well was not the dry hole everyone thought it was. Indeed, water had filled the six-inch pipe to within sixty feet of the surface. Washburn had workmen hook up a series of pipes to a pump and soon began pumping very pure water in abundant quantities. The well served this and the succeeding Capitol into the early 1950s and has since had a hand pump attached to it. The well is still capable of providing five gallons per minute.
Improvements of the Next Decade
The Iron Fence
The decade following the completion of Wisconsin's fourth capitol was one which saw a great many improvements andembellishments in the Capitol, the grounds and the square. Among other things, these enhancements served to solidify Madison"s grip on the seat of government. The move was spearheaded by Governor Washburn, who proudly announced the ultimate completion of the new State Capitol in all its details in his address to the Legislature on January 11, 1872. The cost, $550,000, was $125,000 more than the estimate reported to the Senate Committee on State Affairs by their architectural consultants almost 14 years before. But Washburn was not swayed by the extra cost from asking for still more money to undertake an ambitious program to further enhance the Capitol and its grounds. His first initiative was to replace Daniel Baxter s old board fence with a new decorative iron fence with a $40,000 price tag.
Within two months, Washburn had his appropriation. The Legislature agreed with him that the new stone-and-iron Capitol and the dilapidated wooden fence were not harmonious. The Governor, Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Attorney General were constituted as the Building Commission responsible for overseeing the project. In early March, the competition for the design of the fence was announced and, of the two plans submitted, Stephen V. Shipman's won the $200 prize. Certain revisions were made in Shipman's original plan, including the elimination of the Prairie du Chien stone coping and foundation, which was to run virtually the entire length of the fence, saving an estimated $6,000. After the final plan was decided upon, Washburn advertised for bids from stone and iron contractors to construct the fence, and, in late May, a La Crosse firm received the contract for the stonework at $13,000 and a Madison company was awarded a $14,898 ironwork contract. Work began almost at once, with a scheduled completion date less than six months away, on November 15, 1872.
Once again, as with so many previous contracts connected with Wisconsin's capitols, the deadline came and went and the contract was unfulfilled. In this case, however, the reason for the delay was neither an unrealistic date imposed by the state nor one that was too optimistically agreed upon by the contractors. Rather, a key factor in the delay was the great Chicago Fire of 1872. In rebuilding the metropolis after the conflagration, both individual preferences and a city ordinance aimed at preventing a reoccurrence dictated a virtual exclusion of all but stone and brick as building materials. As a result stone masons wages doubled in that year, making the preparatory stone work for the iron fence an expensive project with scarce labor resources available. A shift from Dodge County granite to stone from Joliet, Illinois, further slowed progress.
Moreover, a public outcry developed rising from the decision to place the iron fence at the curb instead of within the sidewalk as it was with the old board fence. In late April, Washburn had decided that the fence would be placed at the outer limits of the park (that is, at the curb) and that another eight-foot wide sidewalk would be added outside the fence. This might not seem such a controversial move on the surface, but until this time, Baxter's board fence and a hitching rail for horses and wagons had straddled the existing walks surrounding the park. With the decision to construct a new fence where the hitching rail had been, taken together with a law just passed outlawing the hitching of horses within 20 feet of the new fence, Madisonians reacted strongly, petitioning Washburn to reconsider his decision. Washburn, nevertheless, forged ahead and the fence was finally completed in June 1873.
The fence was an elegant addition to the Capitol Park. There were 8 large gate posts and 16 smaller gate posts of Prairie du Chien stone flanking 4 carriage and 12 pedestrian gates. Six-foot cast iron statues from Chicago surmounted the larger gate posts while the smaller ones were topped with gas lights. Every 6 feet there was a stone base to which the fence was secured and every 30 feet there was a cast iron post. The fence itself was 4-1/2 feet high topped by finials resembling spear points.
The fence remained in the park until the summer of 1899 when Governor Edward Scofield had it removed. Large sections of the fence were given to two other state institutions for their grounds. During the winter of 1969-70 the Wisconsin Department of Administration recovered and restored a portion of the fence and erected it in front of the current Executive Residence in Maple Bluff. The gate posts remained at the Capitol until the final stages of construction of the current structure, which was completed in 1917, after which most disappeared. Among the survivors are two of the smaller gate posts in front of a private residence on Madison's far south side and two of the larger ones in a field in rural Sun Prairie. Nothing is known of the remaining 20 gate posts. As with most of the gate posts, the eight iron statues and gas lights met an unknown fate. However, rumors have surfaced that they were used as landfill in a Madison park project around the 1920s.
At the same time that the Legislature was considering the "fence bill" in early 1872, another measure struggled through the legislative process to establish a Board of Park Commissioners, who would pursue a coherent approach to developing and improving the general appearance of the park. The bill passed March 23, 1872, and Washburn appointed George Morrow, George Delaplaine, and John Gurnee to the board for six-year terms each. Among the first actions of the new agency was the solicitation of a master plan for the embellishment of the park. They invited the landscape architect, Horace W. S. Cleveland, from Chicago to submit a comprehensive design for the Capitol Park. Cleveland turned in an impressive park design with a maze of meandering serpentine walks throughout, dotted with four fountains, a statue, a music stand, a large vase, and a summer house. There were also fountains placed at each of the four reentrant angles of the building within a wide surrounding sidewalk. The entire landscape of the park was to be augmented with new trees and shrubbery. The board was pleased with Cleveland's ideas, but unfortunately the plan never came to full fruition, partially owing to Washburn s involvement of the architect in the controversy over the placement of the fence. During the summer of 1872, amidst the public outcry rising from Washburn's decision to place the fence at the outer limits of the park, the Governor wrote Cleveland, seeking confirmation of his action. Cleveland responded sympathetically, disparaging the previous practice of allowing wagons to tie up on the square, giving it the appearance of a "stable yard". Washburn used Cleveland's letter to refute his antagonists, having it, together with his original letter, published in the Madison papers as expert confirmation of the correctness of his decision. It is not certain that this publication of correspondence was the cause, but implementation of Cleveland's plan from this point through the end of the decade (when the Board of Park Commissioners was eliminated) was halfhearted, at best.
A Fountain and More Mundane Improvements
The decade saw other improvements and embellishments on the Capitol Square, as well. Stephen V. Shipman designed an underground coal vault and boiler room on the southwest side of the park so that the fuel would not be piled on the ground, detracting from the general appearance of the park. At the same time, a pump house was to be constructed on Lake Monona, but Washburn's revival of J. H. Underwood's abandoned artesian well made this undertaking unnecessary. With the abundance of water suddenly available, the prospect of installing a fountain was no longer such an expensive project. Aduplicate of the award-winning "Centennial Fountain" from the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition was purchased and installed on the southeast side of the park, where it remained until 1912, when it was moved due to construction of the new Capitol. The fountain was transplanted to the backyard of the old Executive Residence at 130 East Gilman Street, a few blocks away. In 1943, Governor Walter Goodland had the fountain sold for scrap.
By the beginning of the following decade, not only did Madisonians find their Capitol and park a source of intense pride, but citizens from the rest of the state were unstinting with their praise, as well. In December 1881, the Lodi Valley News, evincing a short memory, remarked: ". . . there are few states in the Union possessing a neater, more imposing or more convenient capitol building. For a building as large and of a class that offers so many inducements for rascally contractors, it is a better structure than any other in the United States costing double what the one in this city did. When strangers and even citizens of Wisconsin look the building over, and are informed that it cost less than half a million dollars, they are astonished, and say 'should think it must have cost two million at least'. The explanation is that there was not the slightest trace of jobbery in the execution of the contracts. For every dollar that was expended the state received a full dollar s worth of material and labor in return. It is surrounded by the finest capitol park in the United States . . . " This sort of panegyric was not uncommon after memories of controversies and deadlines unmet began to fade.
Extensions to the Capitol
The following spring, owing to increasing pressure on the limited space in the Capitol, the Legislature approved $200,000 to add extensions to the north and south wings. These extensions were to provide room for the State Historical Society, the Supreme Court, the State Library, and other state offices. The bill specified an unusually large building commission composed of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, two persons appointed to represent the Supreme Court and another to represent the State Historical Society. Napoleon B. VanSlyke, a noted Madison architect, and John Winans were selected to represent the Court; and Elisha W. Keyes, a prominent Madison politician, was picked to serve on the commission for the Historical Society. An architectual competition was held and D. R. Jones, a local architect, was awarded the commission. His design called for the extension of the north and south wings maintaining the same width and height, constructed from the same Prairie du Chien stone. The extensions would follow the same general lines as the existing building, incorporating the four octagonal towers and further embellishing them with miniature domes. The terminus of each wing would sport smaller cast iron columns, similar to those on the east and west wing porticoes, but in two rows, one rank on top of the other.
By May, bids to complete the work by January 1, 1884, were sought. They were opened on June 15, 1882, and, much to the chagrin of the commission, all exceeded the total appropriation by at least $20,000. All the bids were rejected and the architect, Jones, was immediately sent for by the commission to revise his design to bring the bids down. A second bid opening was held and, again, the bids came in high, the lowest being $208,000. A second, more severe "pruning" was made on Jones' plans, and contractors were finally selected with a bid of $188,370. John Bentley, Sheriff of Milwaukee County, and his son T. R. Bentley and Oscar F. Nowlan of Janesville, the successful bidders, began work on the North and South extensions soon after the contracts were signed. During one of the revisions, Jones' domes for the octagonal towers were eliminated and the lower ranks of iron columns were replaced by stone piers.
Work on the extensions continued throughout the year, with the construction on the north wing progressing faster than that on the south wing. By late July 1883, the north extension was all but complete and Bentley and Nowlan's work on the south, although well behind, seemed likely to be finished in plenty of time to meet the deadline. By early November, the south extension lacked only some final masonry and tinning on the roof for the exterior to be structurally complete. It seemed certain that Bentley and Nowlan would meet their contract deadline, a historically unusual feat, but a disastrous event would displace all concern for the contract deadline.
The Construction Tragedy, 1883
On Thursday, November 8, 1883, work on the south extension was progressing as usual. After lunch some 40-odd masons, carpenters, plasterers, tinners, and other assorted laborers returned to work. Brothers Edward and Joseph Page, masons from Middleton, returned to their trowels, as did Madisonians Michael Zwanke and his son Matthew. Edward Gleason, foreman of the tinners working on the roof, joined fellow Chicagoan Arthur Lynch, Dave Meinhard of Madison and Nelson Boest of Sun Prairie in finishing the tinning on the roof, still wet from rain two days before. At 1:40 p.m., Gleason and his crew felt a trembling behind their feet. The trembling became a rumble, and the rumble, a roar and the roof fell from beneath their feet, down to the basement of the four-story structure. It was over in less than five seconds, burying about 30 of the workmen. An Arcadia reporter, in Madison at the time, was watching his son play in the Capitol Park and observing the construction activities that afternoon. Hearing a noise, he looked up to see stones and bricks falling from the building. "The noise increased and presently the roof disappeared from view, and in another second the front wall, which was unfinished, was pushed out and came down like an avalanche, pushing the iron columns in front down, breaking them into a thousand pieces. The noise of the fall was terrible, and was loud enough to be heard beyond the University building." Indeed, many on the campus hearing the thunderous collapse had assumed that the boiler in Science Hall had blown up.
Huge clouds of dust filled the square, while pedestrians stared in stunned silence. As the dust began to subside, onlookers were horrified by what they saw. Two workmen were seen, 40 feet off the ground, hanging upside down and frantically waving their arms and crying for help; both men's legs were pinned by huge, twisted beams and jagged planks which crushed their limbs. A red stream staining the wall could be seen trickling down from one of the men. During the collapse, another workman was seen grabbing a rope suspended from a cornice and sliding part way to the ground. When he saw the columns beginning to fall, he paused long enough for them to clear his path and continued his slide to safety. The groans and cries of pain and desperation from a score of trapped and buried men emanated from the pile of debris.
Rescue efforts began immediately, as a crowd began to gather. A Madison hook and ladder company arrived to help in the rescue efforts; bystanders were deputized to help cordon off the ruins; a woman who lived near the square, hearing the noise of the collapse, filled a large pitcher of water and ran to the source of the noise to offer assistance without really knowing what had happened. An injured workman pinned under a mass of twisted iron, brick and stone was recognized by an elderly former employer, who quickly began the arduous labor of moving the heavy debris to free his former employe. The mangled, bleeding laborer warned his former boss, "don t do it or you will get hurt yourself," to which the older gentleman replied, "I will get you out or die in the attempt." Among the crowd was a 16-year-old prodigious Madison High graduate, who was passing by the Capitol Park on his way from Allen Conover's engineering class at the university at the moment the south wing collapsed. He stood clinging to the iron fence for hours as limedust-covered workmen were pulled from the ruins; the experience was to have a lasting effect on young Frank Lloyd Wright.
Emergency "hospitals" were set up in the offices of the Governor, the insurance commissioner, the quartermaster general, and the Secretary of State; and over a half-dozen local doctors were pressed into service and spent the rest of the afternoon and most of that night treating the injured workers who were extricated from the rubble. As rescue efforts continued, the grisly toll mounted. Four men were found dead - all from crushed skulls, a fifth died within a few hours of being freed, and 20 more were seriously injured. Among the dead was the mason, Michael Zwanke; Matthew, his son, was among the injured, as were other men working on the roof. The tinning foreman, Gleason, was severely hurt by a box of falling glass; his fellow Chicagoan, Arthur Lynch, "sustained severe contusions on the skull, rendering him devoid of reason". Perhaps the most gruesome fate befell William Edgar, a mason and longtime resident of Madison, who was found under several feet of stone "completely crushed . . . (his) skull was badly broken, the brain oozing therefrom, and many bones in his body broken."
Governor Jeremiah Rusk was in Bayfield when he received the news of the collapse. He caught a train and was immediately on his way to Madison. The following day, a coroner's inquest was begun on the collapse, and Rusk, after returning to Madison, started his own investigation, calling in outside construction experts and architects. The cause of the collapse came into immediate question owing to several "reports" and rumors circulating days before the disaster of cracks and crumbling walls. As late as the end of October, the contractors had shown a Wisconsin State Journal reporter through the south wing, claiming that the rumor "was unfounded and that there was not a crack in the wall anywhere." The day after the collapse, Nowlan, in an interview with the same newspaper, was quoted as saying that he was "completely dumbfounded" about the event.
The newspapers of the state, however, were anything but dumbfounded. The Lincoln County Advocate reprinted a Chicago Evening Journal editorial expressing the opinion that the collapse was a result of "reckless carelessness on the part of the architect, contractor or building commissioners" and further speculated that the repeated pruning process to bring the contractor's bids within the appropriation limits may have been directly responsible. The Merrill newspaper further implicated the commission and dissension among the members, noting that John Winans and another member had virtually boycotted meetings of the commission. The Manitowoc Tribune, taking perhaps the most extreme position, dubbed the coroner's inquest "a roaring farce" that would bring disgrace which would "hang over the people of the state". The Waupaca Post joined the Tribune in calling the investigations a "first class job of whitewashing", blaming greed on the part of the contractors. It was probably in anticipation of just such criticism that Rusk called in the outside investigators.
The group called together by the Governor included A. C. Nash, a prominent Cincinnati, Ohio, architect who specialized in large buildings using iron supports; Godfrey Ludwig, also of Cincinnati, the superintendent of public buildings for that city; C. F. Struck, an architect from Minneapolis; and J. R. Willett, a Chicago architect. Six days after the disaster, the group submitted an eight-page handwritten report to Governor Rusk in which they placed the blame (in agreement with popular opinion) on substandard materials, specifically the cast iron columns. Many of the columns were of an uneven thickness, ranging from substandard to well above specifications, leading the investigating team to "come to the conclusion that the disaster occurred on account of the weakness of the second story columns, or of the masonry supports beneath them, or both combined . . ." All of this, of course, cast serious doubt on the safety of the already completed north wing extension.
At 9:00 on the morning following the disaster, the coroner's jury was impaneled, composed of the stationer J. E. Moseley; L. S. Hanks, a banker; Allen D. Conover, professor of civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin; F. M. Dorn, a stablekeeper; and two builders, David T. Sorenson and Benjamin Warnes. The young Dane County district attorney, Robert M. La Follette, represented the state in the investigation. Unlike the structural investigating team, the coroner's inquest relied on eyewitness accounts, as well as expert testimony. Several workmen, including some injured in the collapse, related stories on the stand of walls with cracks large enough to insert one's hand in, of using huge floor jacks to raise girders repeatedly to repair cracks, of replacing crumbling bricks, and so on. After ten days of testimony, the jury began deliberating at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, at 4:45 a.m. the next morning they reached a verdict after an all night session. They found Nowlan culpable of "improperly and insufficiently" repairing a fault in the second-story pier near the southeast corner of the extension, which they found to have contributed to the falling of the south wing. They also found D. R. Jones and a consulting Milwaukee architect, H. C. Koch, guilty of negligence "in designing the internal construction of the said south wing of the Capitol Extension without a due and proper regard for the safety during the erection . . ."
In spite of the jury's damning verdict, the principals were not severely punished, although D. R. Jones was said never to have designed another building. Bentley and Nowlan, however, were retained by the state to reconstruct the south wing extension and shore up the north wing extension under the direction of Chicago architect W. W. Boyington. The work continued another year and was completed at an additional cost of over $11,000 by November 1884.
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