Michigan State Capitol Fire 1882

Photo courtesy of The State of Michigan

In the early nineteenth century, Michigan’s State Capitol could be found in Detroit. However, due to concerns about its proximity to Canada – the war of 1812 had just ended – it was decided that the capitol would be moved to Lansing. There were other contenders, as lawmakers wanted to encourage settlement of the interior of our awesome state, including Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Jackson. In fact, the city of Marshall even built a governor’s residence in anticipation. Lansing was ultimately chosen for its central location, somewhat equidistant from the cities previously mentioned.

Ground was broken in 1847, and by 1848, both the new (and temporary) capitol, and the Town of Michigan (it would not be incorporated as Lansing until 1859) were ready. This second capitol building was a small wooden structure, painted white with green shutters and the total cost was less than twenty three thousand dollars! Accounting for inflation, the second capitol would barely crest half of a million dollars in modern cash. The building was sold after the construction of the new, and still standing, capitol in 1879.

The building in Lansing became a factory for wooden handles before it burned to the ground on this day in 1882. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there – and there are very few pictures available. The crazy part? The original capitol building, in Detroit, also burned down 11 years later in 1893. That building had become the Union Public School and library, which was Detroit’s only public school for a time.

The current capitol, dedicated in 1879, inspired a trend of fireproof public buildings. This was possibly brought about by the Chicago fires of 1871 – and unfortunately could not be made retroactive to the state’s previous capitols.


Nathan Smathers, Feature Writer

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