The Capitols of Wisconsin

Wisconsin State Capitol Buildings
by Sara Hemp

Page 1 -- Page 2

First Wisconsin State Capitol building
First Capitol in Belmont
   This frame building was used as the first Wisconsin Territorial Capitol when the Legislature met at Belmont for 46 days in 1836. The public interest generated by the construction of the current Capitol led to the purchase and restoration of the Belmont structure, then being used as a barn, in 1917.

Wisconsin State Capitol
The second State Capitol, the first in Madison. Illustration from the American Encyclopedia, Columbus, 1859.


Territorial Capitol &

Construction of Second Capitol
  Wisconsin Territorial Capitol (first in Madison) viewed from State Steet. The back wall of the east wing of the replacement capitol (second on the site) can be seen behind the Territorial Capitol. A smaller building, possibly a construction shack, is to the left.

A watercolor view of Madison by Johann B. Wengler, an Austrian who traveled in America, 1850-1851.
Wengler's watercolor is the earliest known realistic representation of the second Capitol and its Madison environs. King Street was then the heart of Madison's commercial district and the thoroughfare to the front entrance. Prominent on the left side of King Street is the Madison Hotel built in 1838 and razed in 1863. During its early years it was the location for many political meetings. The original watercolor is owned by the Oberoesterreichisches Landesmuseum, Linz, Austria.


The third Wisconsin State Capitol before the completion of the dome.
After all four wings of the third Capitol were completed, the second Capitol was demolished and the central portion of the third constructed over its foundations to connect the wings. A disagreement over the plan for dome designed by August Kutzboch and Samuel H. Donnel halted construction and left the new building topless. The dome was finally constructed in 1869 with a new classical design by Stephen V. Shipman. Local tradition has it that the rejection of his design may have contributed to Kutzbock's suicide in 1868.

The Capitol dome under construction

Shows the workmen and the equipment they used to hoist construction materials into place. After the construction was finished the cast iron dome was painted white.


The Wisconsin Capitol after the completion of the dome in 1869.
At that time only the dome and the upper stories could be seen above the trees in the Capitol Park.

The ruins of the unfinished South Wing of the third Wisconsin Capitol after its collapse while still under construction.


View of the third Wisconsin Capitol showing the ruins of the South Wing addition after it collapsed during construction.

Third Capital
 The expanded third Wisconsin Capitol photographed at a time of the year when the trees in the park did not obstruct the view. As a result, the curvilinear walkways are also clearly visible. The Capitol Park was designed by noted landscape architect Horace W.S. Cleveland, but his design was only partially developed. This photograph is oriented with the North Wing addition at the left.


 3rd Capitol after wing extension
3rd Capitol after wing extension


The Capitol fire of February 26-27, 1904 from East Main Street at about 4:00 a.m.
The East and West wings were destroyed, as was much of the central rotunda and the South Wing. The undamaged North Wing continued to be used during the construction of the Fourth Capitol.

The burning of the third Wisconsin Capitol, showing the South Wing, spectators gathered on the path, and some of the salvaged contents of the building scattered on the snow.

3rd Wisconsin State Capitol ablaze on February 27, 1904.

Most pictures are from the Wisconsin State Historial Society


©Sara Hemp