The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capitol Building

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capitol Building

Built in the 1870’s, the Michigan Capital Building brought pride to the Mitten State.  The villagers named our third Michigan Capital Building, “The Lion of Lansing.”  Below, find additional facts and figures to learn about and brush up on.

Two Wrongs to Eventually Make a Right

Lansing was not the original capital city of Michigan and our current capital building wasn’t always there. The Territory of Michigan was created in 1805. Detroit was named as the capital on July 1st.  In 1837, the Union admitted Michigan. Detroit was officially selected as its first capital city. Interestingly enough, our original constitution wrote that Detroit would remain our capital for ten years. Then it needed to be relocated. A fire in 1983 destroyed the original building (pictured below).

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of the Archives of Michigan

On March 16, 1847, the governor designated Lansing Township as the new capital. This land was vastly undeveloped at the time. They hastily built up a temporary wooden structure in late 1847. This also ended up burning down on December 16, 1882. This occurred eleven years after our governor, Henry Baldwin, called for a safer building.

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of the Archives of Michigan

The final capital building started to become a reality in 1872. Elijah E. Myers, a famous architect of many state capital buildings, designed it. The builders utilized the best materials from around the country. The final cost reached more than $1.4 million. The dedication of the building took place on January 1, 1879.

Due to a more than hundred-year-old deterioration, the building underwent a restoration from 1989 to 1992. During this period, various lighting fixtures were replicated from archived photographs. The dome received a fresh paint job. Additionally, the entrance was repaired with the same Ohio quarry material that was originally used.

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Stefani Chudnow

A Dome to Remember

One of the things that has always stuck out to me about the building is its iconic dome feature. Consequently, it always appealed to me because it looks very similar to our nation’s capital. Incidentally, Myers used the Washington D.C. capital as his muse for Lansing’s design.

From the ground to the very tip of the dome’s spire is a height of 270 feet. Its interior rises to 160 feet. It begins with a collection of flags and culminates with a starry sky. The artistry of the dome is intended to inspire visitors with thoughts of endless possibilities. In addition, Greek and Roman paintings by Italian artist, Tommaso Juglaris, surround the starry sky.

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Stefani Chudnow

 

A Life-Size Checkerboard

If you’ve ever been to the capital building, you’ll recognize the iconic black-and-white checkerboard floor. The material of the floor comes from marble, a Vermont limestone. Rumor has it, if you look close enough at the black tiles, you can see fossilized ancient marine animals.

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Stefani Chudnow

 

Fifty States in One

In my opinion, the House Chamber and the Senate are crucial to see on a visit to the capital. One of my favorite aspects is the ceilings in the House Chamber and the Senate. Restored panes of etched glass compose the ceilings. These beautifully display the coat of arms of all fifty states, in addition to various Victorian designs.

The Lion of Lansing: A Brief History Of Michigan’s Capital Building - The Awesome Mitten
Photo courtesy of Stefani Chudnow

Due to the clear quality of the ceilings, a beautiful natural light pours in. Therefore, the filtered sunlight casts a soothing glow on the antique furniture and large rooms. Personally, I find this to be a very beautiful and inclusive touch. I have to wonder if other states have something similar.

If you want to learn more, check out the official Walking Tour booklet, or Kerry Chartkoff’s National Historic Landmarks Nomination. Furthermore, both free self and tour-guided tours are available nearly every day of the week except for Sunday.

Is there anything you love about the capitol not mentioned above? Let us know in the comments.