Nevada State Capitol Building

Photograph courtesy of Nevada State Museum.

The Nevada state capitol shortly after its 1870 construction exhibited the vertical profile of an Italianate revival structure. Landscaping remains minimal.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-113141 (b&w film copy neg.).

Side view of portico of Nevada state Capitol building in Carson City, circa 1920.

Photograph by Ronald M. James

Ornate stonework and decorative glass embellishes the main entrance to the capitol.

Photograph by Ronald M. James

After the 1913 retrofit, the capitol's interior halls featured marble. Five of the six constitutional officers, the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer, and controller, still maintain offices in the capitol. The attorney general and the judicial and legislative branches of government operate in buildings removed from the original capitol. This door leads to the office of the governor.

Photograph by Ronald M. James

The Nevada State Capitol has a cornerstone with two sets of numbers, reflecting the Masonic ceremony that set the block in place.

Construction on the Nevada State Capitol in Carson City began on April 21, 1870. Joseph Gosling, formerly a carpenter working in Virginia City, submitted the plans from his new home in San Francisco. Irish-born Peter Cavanaugh served as general contractor, supervising the work of prisoners who quarried the sandstone and Scottish masons who worked on site. The building cost was nearly double the original bid of $84,000. Furnishings added $20,000.

The three-story Italianate stone structure had modest proportions, making it one of the smallest in the nation. City-founder Abraham Curry set aside the lot for a capitol even before the creation of the Nevada Territory, but by the time of construction, the grounds were little more than a muddy mess surrounded by crude wooden fences. The state building stood between Carson City's commercial corridor and its Chinese community.

In 1875, Hannah Clapp contracted to provide an iron fence around the Capitol. Later folklore would maintain that state officials were surprised to learn that "H. Clapp," author of the winning bid for the fence, was a woman, but the Carson City resident was well-known in the community. At the same time, the state planted the perimeter with American elm, which still stand as rare survivors since Dutch elm disease ravaged the species in most states.

The turn-of-the century introduction of indoor plumbing made the gender-segregated, "multi-hole" privy in the rear obsolete. It had been affectionately known as the "little capitol out back," perhaps in recognition of its ornate dome. In 1905, prominent Nevada architect Morrill J. Curtis designed an addition to serve as the state library to take the place of the privy. A breezeway attached the Capitol to the domed, Romanesque revival addition.

Beginning in 1913, noted Nevada architect Frederick DeLongchamps began a series of modifications to the capitol. He repeated the style of details, but changed the building's outline. Ultimately its vertical Italianate lines transformed into a horizontal, Neoclassical profile. DeLongchamps's addition provided larger chambers for the Nevada legislature as well as office space for state officials. Nevertheless, it remained a small facility, and the supreme court, in particular, saw its space truncated. It was, consequently, the first branch of government to vacate the Capitol, moving across the street into a new courthouse in 1937.

In 1969, the legislature left the undersized capitol, moving into a separate building on the south side of a central plaza. Only a few states have separate capitol and legislative buildings. The Nevada State Capitol continues to house most of the constitutional officers, and its assembly room provides a distinguished space for official ceremonies and meetings. The senate chambers house an exhibit on the history of the capitol.

Nevada's capitol endured a major rehabilitation in the 1970s. Workers gutted the building, stored many of its internal components, strengthened the walls, then restored or replaced details. The new dome and windows, for example, were replicated, but synthetic materials took the place of wood.

Further Reading

Ronald M. James. Temples of Justice: County Courthouses of Nevada. Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1994.

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