Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

25. The Nebraska State Capitol, Great Plains Icon

In November 1923 the cornerstone was laid on Nebraska’s new capitol building. Only a year and a half earlier, a groundbreaking ceremony had been held. By 1925, after the first of four construction phases had been completed, the state government moved into its new quarters. The other three phases reached their final stages by 1932, and most of the finishing touches were in place by 1934. New paintings and murals were added over the years. Like any good cathedral, and most Nebraskans view their state capitol reverently, it remains a dynamic work in progress. Designed by architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, Nebraska’s capitol is known as the Tower on the Plains. It was the first state capitol to contain a tower with usable space, and it is still considered one of the finest examples of early modern architecture.

A new capitol was sorely needed. The first state capitol was built in Lincoln in 1868 and was constructed so poorly that a new building was authorized in 1879. Completed in 1888, this second building had deteriorated badly by World War I. The walls were crumbling, the foundation was sinking, and other repairs were needed. Hence in 1919 the state legislature authorized the construction of a new building.

To oversee the project, the legislature established the Capitol Commission, a special committee headed by Governor Samuel R. McKelvie. The commission, in turn, chose Thomas R. Kimball, president of the American Institute of Architects, as its technical advisor. A longtime resident of Omaha, Kimball had designed numerous buildings in the city, including the public library, the Burlington Railroad Station, and St. Cecilia’s Cathedral. Kimball had also served as chief architect for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition of 1898.

To choose an architect for the new capitol, Kimball organized a two-

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