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Capitol Today

Capitol Interior - A beyond the ropes tour of the Capitol.
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Stairway Statues | Grand Staircase
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The marble and granite Grand Staircase connects the first and second floors. The two lighted statues at the foot of the Grand Staircase were originally gaslit. These statues were commissioned for the Illinois Capitol but subsequently given to the Iowa Capitol Commissioners for use in the Iowa Capitol. The newel posts of the staircase are constructed of several types of marble. Each newel post also has an alabaster wreath decorated with various carvings.
Railroad Commissioner’s Original Office
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The two-room suite was originally the Railroad Commissioner’s Office. The Railroad Commissioner was never an executive officer of the state, but the original location of the Railroad Commissioner’s Office on the first floor of the Capitol reflected the importance of the railroads in the growth of the state. Water from the 1904 fire damaged the decorative designs on the walls and ceilings. After the fire, T. I. Stoner, a local decorator, was hired to repaint this two-room suite. His unique designs, compared to all other rooms in the Capitol, can still be seen today. This suite is currently used as legislative offices.
168th Infantry Photo | Inaugural Gown Doll Display Case
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Hanging on the east side of the south corridor is one of the world’s largest reproduction photographs of the time. The photograph was taken by W. T. Showers of the 168th Infantry. It measures 26 feet long and 6 feet high and pictures Iowa soldiers of the 42nd Rainbow Division, 168th Infantry, after the division’s return from France in 1919. A collection of dolls depicting Iowa’s first ladies in their inaugural gowns is displayed near the Governor’s Office. The idea for the dolls was suggested by Governor Robert Ray’s wife, First Lady Billie Ray, as a project to celebrate America’s bicentennial in 1976. The dolls are porcelain and the faces are created from a profile of Mrs. Ray.
Lunettes | Statues
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Eight lunettes, or half-moon-shaped paintings, surrounding the rotunda are the work of Kenyon Cox, a famous 19th century American artist. The lunettes represent Hunting, Herding, Agriculture, the Forge, Commerce, Education, Science, and the Arts. They represent the progress of civilization. Twelve statues, high within the rotunda, beginning north of the library door, represent History, Science, Law, Fame, Literature, Industry, Peace, Commerce, Agriculture, Victory, Truth, and Progress. Seraphin Cottin created these statues in 1885.
House of Representatives
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The Iowa House of Representatives Chamber, located on the second floor of the Capitol, was dedicated in 1884. There are 100 members in the House. The legislators use this chamber during each session of the Iowa General Assembly. Each General Assembly consists of two consecutive sessions -- one session each year -- for two years. Every session begins on the second Monday in January, extending approximately 100 days in even-number years, and 110 days in odd-numbered years. The months between the sessions are referred to as the “interim” period. Each representative holds a two-year term, and must run for reelection at the end of the term if desiring to continue to serve in the House. Extensive damage was done to the House Chamber during the 1904 fire. (See Historical Look) After the fire, the entire ceiling, stained glass, and chandeliers had to be replaced. During the session, visitors’ galleries are open to the public. During the interim, visitors are welcome to visit the chamber.
Tour Guides | Gift Shop
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The Capitol Tour Guides and the Capitol Gift Shop are located in the rotunda of the ground floor of the Capitol. The Capitol Tour Guides provide tours of the Capitol year round and provide educational information on the legislative process, the Capitol grounds, and other specific topics associated with the Capitol as requested by legislators and the public. The Capitol Gift Shop offers items for sale relating to the Iowa Capitol and the State of Iowa. The Capitol Gift Shop proceeds are used to fund educational outreach programs offered by the Capitol Tour Guides.
Inner Dome | Glass Floor | Flag Display Case
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The banner, stretched high under the vault of the inner dome, includes a Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) emblem. The banner is a reminder of Iowa’s efforts to preserve the Union during the Civil War and was retained as a permanent decoration by order of Governor Nathan E. Kendall in 1922. The glass tile floor of the rotunda was removed from the Capitol in 1915 and a replica was installed in the summer of 2011 as part of the Capitol restoration project. The replica glass tile floor, weighing 19,000 pounds, was created by Circle Redmont Company in Florida at a cost of $311,000. In the rotunda, a rotating flag display is contained in the northwest glassed-in case. The kiosk near the case includes information on the particular flag currently on display.
Capitol History Case
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The history display case contains historical photographs of Iowa’s Territorial and State Capitols, as well as historical photographs of the Capitol construction and the Capitol interior, including photographs of the 1904 Capitol fire. Tools used in the Capitol construction are displayed. A display of different kinds of wood used in the Capitol is in the lower portion of the case. A timeline of Iowa Governors’ portraits is also included.
USS Iowa Model
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A model of the battleship USS Iowa is on display in the west wing. The model is 18 feet 7 inches long and weighs approximately 1,350 pounds. It is on loan from the U.S. Navy Department. One of the battleship's two bells is located near the model.
Secretary of State’s Office
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The Iowa Constitution is on display in the office of the Secretary of State. The Iowa Constitution, signed in 1857, was restored in 1988 and is protected in a specially designed case. The Preamble to the Iowa Constitution, in part, states: "WE, THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF IOWA, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of those blessings, do ordain and establish a free and independent government, by the name of the State of Iowa . . ."
Capitol Supreme Court Chamber | Judicial Display Case
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For nearly 120 years, until the new Judicial Branch Building was completed in 2003, Iowa’s justices heard cases in the Old Supreme Court Chamber. The large, elaborately carved mahogany bench, specially built for the Chamber, remains in place. This room now serves as a committee room for the House of Representatives. Outside the Chamber, a judicial display case along the west wall contains both historical and current items provided by the Judicial Branch. Included is a current photograph of Iowa’s seven Supreme Court Justices and nine Court of Appeals Judges.
Governor’s Office | Governor’s Reception Room
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The Governor's office is located on the first floor of the Capitol. This office is a ceremonial office as well as a working office for the Governor. This is where the Governor greets dignitaries and holds formal bill signings. The office features the many varieties of marble and wood used throughout the Capitol. The Governor's office at the Capitol was first occupied by Governor Buren Sherman in 1885. The first Governor to occupy the office for a full term was Governor William Larrabee in 1886.
Senate
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The Iowa Senate Chamber, located on the second floor of the Capitol, was dedicated in 1884. There are 50 members in the Senate. The legislators use this chamber during each session of the Iowa General Assembly. Each General Assembly consists of two consecutive sessions -- one session each year -- for two years. Every session begins 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. Each senator holds a four-year term, and must run for reelection, if desiring to continue to serve in the Senate, alternating reelection years between those representing even-numbered or odd-numbered districts. The two legislative chambers and the State Law Library were the first rooms to be completed in the Capitol. It was important to prioritize the completion of these second-floor rooms so legislative business could commence at the Capitol. The Senate Chamber has undergone few changes since first constructed. The ceilings in the Senate Chamber are beautifully painted. The chandeliers, imported from France, are original and were equipped with gas lines. They are made of hand-crafted brass and each weighs 500 pounds. The desks used by senators during the session are original.
Treasurer of State’s Office
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The walnut "cage" in the Treasurer's Office once served as the cashier area of the office. This beautifully hand-carved piece had once been removed from the Capitol. In the mid 1970s, the cage was located in a horse barn at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and returned to its original location in the Treasurer's Office. The Seal of Iowa and the federal shield are painted on the ceiling of the cashier's room. The Treasurer's area is a three-room suite. The Treasurer's private office, to the south, is connected to the cashier's area through two doors. The vault no longer holds the state treasury but contains records and unclaimed property information. The State Treasurer also has staff in other areas on the Capitol Complex.
Auditor of State’s Office
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The State Auditor's Office is located in the south corridor on the first floor of the Capitol. Upon entering the Auditor's Office, one's eye is immediately drawn to the vault door. The vault is one of many in the building and retains its original decoration of a small circular painting and stencil design. The Auditor's business office has a beautifully painted faux wood ceiling and the Auditor's private office was one of the first rooms restored in the Capitol.
Westward Mural
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The great mural painting Westward, by Edwin H. Blashfield, a New York artist, is located between the first and second floors at the east side of the Capitol. The mural painting, depicting the migration of early pioneers traveling through Iowa, extends the full width of the wall over the Grand Staircase. This work of art measures 14 feet high and 40 feet wide. The mural, painted in 1905 at a total cost of $10,000, was painted on six pieces of canvass and placed into the frame. In describing his mural painting, Blashfield wrote: "The main idea of the picture is symbolical presentation of the Pioneers led by the spirits of Civilization and Enlightenment to the conquest by cultivation of the Great West. Considered pictorially, the canvass shows a 'Prairie Schooner' drawn by oxen across the prairie. The family ride upon the wagon or walk at its side. Behind them, and seen through the growth of stalks at the right, come crowding the other pioneers and 'later men.' In the air and before the wagon, are floating four female figures; one holds the shield with the arms of the state of Iowa upon it; one holds a book symbolizing Enlightenment; two others carry a basket and scatter the seeds which are symbolical of the change from wilderness to ploughed fields and gardens that shall come over the prairie. Behind the wagon, and also floating in the air, two female figures hold, respectively, a model of a stationary steam engine and of an electric dynamo to suggest the forces which come with the 'later men.'"
State Law Library
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The Iowa State Law Library is located on the Capitol's second floor. The law library features four ornamental balconies with spiraled cast-iron railings and circular staircases at each end. The library houses a collection of approximately 100,000 volumes, and is one of the largest combined law libraries in the United States. The public is welcome to visit the library and may also use the books. Original gaslights or reproduction gaslights, now wired for electricity, have been retained throughout the room. The tile floor and stained glass ceiling in the law library date back to 1884. As part of the Capitol renovation project, restoration painters completed work on the ceiling in the law library in 1997.
West Capitol Terrace
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The West Capitol Terrace can be viewed from the west doors on the first floor of the Capitol near the model of the USS Iowa or from the west balcony doors in the Law Library on the second floor of the Capitol. The West Capitol Terrace includes walkways and ramps, beautiful flowers, and native grasses. Each bench is dedicated to an Iowa Governor. Although an ongoing development, the project was in its completion stage by 2007. The 10 acres of terraces replaced a 500-space parking lot.
Mosaics
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Six mosaics in arched panels are located directly above the mural painting Westward, located on the east side ofthe Capitol's third floor. The mosaics were made in Venice, Italy, out of tiles of glass. Frederick Dielman of New York created the mosaics installing them at the Capitol in 1908. The mosaics depict Defense, Charities, Education, and the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches of government. Dielman was paid $10,000 to create this work of art, the last artwork to be installed in the Capitol. The following, taken from the book The Iowa Capitol: A Harvest of Design, was written regarding the mosaics: “The reason for using mosaics instead of paint, was to get as much of an architectural feeling in these panels as possible, and to avoid conflict or rivalry between them and the mural, Westward, directly below. Another reason was to give the Dielman mosaics carrying power enough to overcome the extra distance from the spectator. It will be observed that the mosaics have been made to take up the color and feeling of the architecture about them. . .”