We’re all familiar with the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C.: A white, domed icon of 19th-century neoclassical architecture with porticos and columns derived from ancient Greece and Rome.
And though it has been “built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored,” the U.S. Capitol building’s influence on government architecture can’t be overstated. Take a tour through the photos of state buildings or city halls throughout the country and you’ll see similar motifs.
But some of the most interesting—and, dare we say, the most beautiful—state capitol buildings in the U.S. aren’t exact replicas of the iconic one in Washington. Classical influences abound, of course, but capitol buildings from New York to Hawaii come in many different shapes and sizes. Ten state capitol buildings lack a dome, for example; a handful are built in the Art Deco style or with open-air courtyards; and many buildings aren’t white at all.
We’ve rounded up some of the most interesting and unique buildings, highlighting 13 in total. This list isn’t meant to be exhaustive; we’ve no doubt excluded beautiful, worthy entries. Want to make a case for your own beloved state capitol? Let us know in the comments and we’ll consider adding it for next time.
Reminiscent of a European fortress, the castle-like capitol of Connecticut blends two architectural styles popular when it was built in the 1870s: the High Victorian Gothic and the Second Empire styles. The flashy gold leaf dome and cupola tower over the building’s distinctive pointed arches and pointed roofs, all of which was designed by the England-born architect Richard Upjohn Jr.
The historic building—which sits in the picturesque Bushnell Park—underwent a $9 million restoration from 1979 to 1989, and it is open to the public for self-guided and guided tours on weekdays.
In a sea of white-domed buildings, Hawaii’s State Capitol stands out. Opened in 1969, the building was designed by a partnership between the firms of Belt, Lemon and Lo (Architects Hawaii Ltd.) and John Carl Warnecke and Associates to pay homage to Hawaii’s natural resources.
A reflecting pool—built to symbolize the Pacific Ocean—surrounds the exterior’s palm tree-like columns, the design of the legislative chambers are reminiscent of volcanos, and the building boasts an open-air central atrium. The Hawaii Capitol’s design was the first in America to use modern architecture, and the open-air rotunda allows the public a view into the legislative life of the state.
The Hawaii State Capitol building is also the only one in the United States where the legislators have to go by the public in order to get from their offices to the meeting rooms. It was designed, according to the chairman of Architects Hawaii Frank Haines, “to create a more open political system than any other state.”
When the former too-small Texas State Capitol burned to the ground in 1881, government officials decided to seize the opportunity to build a bigger, grander structure. Opened in 1888, the neo-Renaissance style features the domes, columns, plasterwork, and pediments often associated with classical architecture.
But the State Capitol’s most unique element—and why it made the list—is the striking sunset-red granite sourced from Granite Mountain near the site of present-day Marble Falls in Burnet County. It creates a distinctive hue that’s unique among capitol buildings in the U.S.
One of the few capitol buildings lacking a dome, the New York State Capitol in Albany doesn’t fall short on grandiose style. British architect Thomas Fuller initiated the design of the Capitol in 1867, but prominent American architects Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson took over years later.
In total, it took 32 years to build the Romanesque revival and neo-Renaissance structure, which wasn’t complete until 1899. Some criticize the building for being a hodgepodge of various styles—in no small part thanks to the multiple architects who worked on the project—and the New York State Capitol cost $25 million at the time to build. That translates to more than half a billion dollars today, making it one of the most expensive government buildings in the United States. Tours are available here.
Maybe because the building uses locally sourced copper and granite, the Arizona State Capitol manages to blend both federal and classical architecture elements with an aesthetic and coloring that makes it fit into the American Southwest. Built in 1901, the structure was the main hub for territorial government before statehood in 1912.
Plans originally called for a replica of the U.S. Capitol, but the cost of constructing a massive dome was impossible for the territory, so the government commissioned a small copper dome in its place. This is also the only state capitol that lacks a cornerstone.
Functioning as both a museum open to the public and the state’s working seat of government, the California State Capitol is a stunning example of the Neoclassical style completed in 1874. A huge dome rises into the Sacramento skyline, while inside, a smaller dome—a technique developed by the Italian architect Filippo Brunelleschi—allows visitors a closer vantage point to see the Victorian detailing.
Outside, a classical portico was meant to function as California’s “doorway to democracy” (a staircase was never built thanks to construction costs) and a statuary-filled pediment round out the Greek influences. The architecture wasn’t enough to persuade critics of the capitol, however. Even though Sacramento became the seat of California’s government in 1854, there were unsuccessful attempts to relocate the capitol to Oakland, San Jose, Berkeley, and even Monterey in the late 1930s.
Nebraska boasted two territorial and two state capitols before the current version, but there’s no doubt that the grandest structure—or at least the tallest—is the current building. A nationwide design competition chose New York architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue in part because his statehouse departed from the prototypical form and used a tower instead.
Opened in 1932 and clad with Indiana limestone, the building’s low, wide base creates four interior courtyards centered around a 400-foot domed tower. Sitting atop the tower is a sculpture called the Sower, a statue symbolizing the importance of agriculture created by New York sculptor Lee Lawrie.
The first design by George R. Mann commissioned for the Montana Capitol building looked similar to the U.S. Capitol, but in 1897 a corruption scandal resulted in a second Capitol Commission competition. In a weird twist of architecture drama, Mann’s original design was eventually selected for the Arkansas State Capitol, but the Montana building was ultimately designed by the architectural firm of Charles E. Bell & John H. Kent.
Completed in 1902 and expanded in 1912, the Montana State Capitol follows a Greek neoclassical style and uses a dome like so many others. But the design is a bit sleeker than others, preferring a copper-clad dome instead of white and a combination of locally sourced sandstone and premium granite that gives it a distinctive hue. The building also contains the famous 25-foot-by-12-foot painting Lewis and Clark Meeting Indians in Ross Hole, by Montana artist C.M. Russell. The paintings covers an entire wall of the chamber of the House of Representatives.
Completed in 1859, the Tennessee State Capitol is one of the oldest working statehouses still in use and was designed by the noted architect William Strickland. When Strickland died suddenly during the construction in 1854, he was buried in the north facade of the Capitol.
Strickland’s son completed the project, which sits on a hill overlooking the city. Made of limestone, the building looks slightly different from other capitol buildings thanks to Strickland’s decision to use a rusticated square base for a circular lantern instead of a dome. But in other ways the structure is all Greek revival, with porticos, columns, and undecorated pediments.
Designed by American architect George Browne Post, the Wisconsin State Capitol building is one of Post’s most important buildings. Post participated in Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, and the Wisconsin Capitol—which was built between 1906 and 1917—shows his propensity for American beaux-arts-style architecture. Using four proportional wings and a central dome, the Capitol building is made of granite and is the only state capitol ever built on an isthmus.
The dome itself is also distinctive; reaching to a height of over 200 feet, it’s the only granite dome in the U.S. Inside, visitors can see hand-carved furniture and glass mosaics. Head over here for info on tours.
As one of the only state capitols built with bricks, this Georgian Revival structure was designed by architect E. William Martin and dedicated in 1933. It replaced the Old State House—a historic building constructed in 1791—and new wings were added in the late 1960s and the 1990s.
In style and function the building aims to fit in with the historic buildings of Dover. Martin designed the building with symmetrical windows, accented doorways, and a simple white tower instead of the domes favored in other state capitols.
Dedicated in 1884, the Iowa State Capitol building follows a refined Renaissance style with great windows, high ceilings, and even a few extra domes thrown in for good measure. The largest dome is constructed of steel and stone and covered with 23-carat gold, while four smaller domes form the rectangular corners of the building.
The stone and granite came from quarries throughout Iowa, while the building’s interior uses 29 types of imported and domestic marble. Like other capitols, columns and a decorative pediment show classical influences, and a grand staircase allows access to the House of Representatives in the north and the Senate on the south.
Oregon had some bad luck over the years with its State capitol buildings; the first two burned down in devastating fires in 1855 and 1935. In 1936, a national competition received over 120 submissions and a wide variety of designs, but the contract went to New York architects Trowbridge and Livingston for their Art Deco-inspired building.
Most of the interior and exterior of the building is made of Vermont marble, and the building was partially financed by the Public Works Administration thanks to the difficulties caused by the Great Depression. Completed in 1938, it pays homage to classical capitol design with its dome-like cupola, but it remains one of the newest—and most modern—capitol designs in the country.