On a road trip through Nebraska and Iowa in May of 2010 we made sure to stop and check out the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln and the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines. Not sure what number capitol these were that we visited, but we were very to be able to see it and explore a little bit of Iowa while we were at it. One of the first things we learned about the Iowa State Capitol was that it was constructed between 1871 and 1886, and is the only five-domed capitol in the country. I found that quite interesting.
Located at East 9th Street and Grand Avenue, the Iowa State Capitol is set atop a hill which offers a panoramic view of the city’s downtown and the West Capitol Terrace. Truly beautiful. There are various monuments and memorials on its sides and front, including the Soldiers and Sailors’ Monument and the Lincoln and Tad statue.
All in all, there are more than 40 monuments on the state capitol grounds, including the soldiers on horseback, a miniature Liberty Bell to ring, and a gravesite. The grounds are just as amazing as the capitol itself.
The Iowa State Capitol, the seat of the Iowa General Assembly, houses the Iowa Senate, Iowa House of Representatives, the Office of the Governor, and the Offices of the Attorney General, Auditor, Treasurer, and Secretary of State. The building also includes a chamber for the Iowa Supreme Court, although court activities usually take place in the neighboring Iowa Supreme Court building.
Inside, the building features an array of majesty including many different types and colors of marble, works of art, fixtures, and carvings in both wood and stone. One of the most commanding features of the building is the towering dome. The dome, constructed of steel and brick, is externally gilded with 23-karat gold leaf. A belvedere on top of the large dome features a golden lantern at the top.
In addition, four smaller golden lanterns are each attached to copper-covered domes at every corner of the building. These four domes are decorated with vertical lines of intermittent gold, giving each a braided look. The capitol’s golden dome can be seen for miles, symbolizing representative government for the citizens of the state.
There are 109 rooms in the Iowa State Capitol. Each one has its own stencil design. None of the stencil designs are repeated. The woodwork in the building is all Iowa wood. There are 12 kinds of wood in the capitol with two exceptions. The beautiful hand-carved bench in the old Supreme Court Chamber is mahogany and the benches in the Senate Chamber where the senators sit are also mahogany. Quite impressive.
Both the Senate and House of Representatives are located across from each other on the 2nd floor. I also found out while doing research that the 2nd floor was dedicated in 1984. Thought that I’d share that tidbit of information, lol. Anyway, there are 50 members of the Senate and 100 members in the House of Representatives.
Their sessions begin on the second Monday in January, extending approximately 100 days in even-numbered years, and 110 days in odd-numbered years. The months between the sessions are referred to as the “interim” period. Since we were there in May, there wasn’t much going on. However, I always enjoy seeing the chambers.
Also on the 2nd floor is the State Law Library. It is quite interesting. Another interesting fact is that they have a collection of approximately 100,000 volumes and it’s one of the largest combined law libraries in the United States. Wow, that’s a lot of material, lol. Also impressive, is the four ornamental balconies with spiraled cast-iron railings and circular staircases at each end.
Upstairs on the third floor, there are wonderful mosaics that were put together in Italy. The young man in the panel, which is the defense panel, is symbolic of a young Iowa farmer. He is about to leave the plow behind and pick up the sword and go off and defend his country. However, he is an optical illusion in that he will march in any direction you go. So when you walk past him, if you keep your eyes on his feet, they’ll march this way, this way, or this way.
It is a great capitol which you should take the time to tour when in the area. Tours are provided at no cost and are conducted Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. They are also held on Saturday from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. However, self-guided tours of the Capitol and Capitol grounds are available anytime during normal business hours. Click here for a link to their website and more information than what I have added below.
Iowa State Capitol Visitor Information
1007 E Grand Ave.
Des Moines, IA 50319
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Monday – Friday
9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Saturday
The Capitol is closed Sundays, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving (and day after), and Christmas Day.
Tours are provided at no cost. Schedule a tour by calling 515-281-5591. Tour guides strive to accommodate every tour request, even those without a scheduled tour.
- Tours are conducted Monday through Saturday. Please call for tour times: 515-281-5591.
- The tour guides and gift shop are located on the ground floor of the rotunda in the Iowa State Capitol.
- Groups of 10 or more should schedule a tour of the Capitol online at www.legis.iowa.gov.
- Self-guided tours of the Capitol and Capitol grounds are available anytime during business hours.
Free. Notice of entrance – Public entrances are located on the ground floor of the Iowa State Capitol on the south and west sides of the building. Upon entrance into the building, the public will walk through a security scan.
Parking and public transportation to the Iowa State Capitol
The complex is easily accessible from Interstate Highway 235. Take the East Sixth Street/Pennsylvania Avenue exit and head south to the grounds. Free parking for visitors is available in lots on the east side of the complex. There’s also street parking nearby. The local transit routes that serve the state fairgrounds and East 14th Street both stop at several locations near the capitol complex.
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