Iowa City

When the Iowa Territory was created in 1838 an early priority for the Governor Robert Lucas was to move the territorial capital from Burlington to a location nearer to the centre of the new territory. On January 21, 1839 the Legislative Assembly of the territory voted to relocate the capital ‘as soon as the place shall be selected’. The name of the new capital was to be Iowa City. In May 1839 commissioners selected a  site on bluffs overlooking the Iowa River and by the end of the following month the town had been surveyed and laid out. Iowa City became the capital of Iowa Territory in 1841 with the Capitol building completed in 1842. When  Iowa gained statehood in December 1846 Iowa City was declared the capital. One of the first things that the new state decided that it needed was a university so the First Iowa General Assembly approved the charter of the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa)  just 59 days after statehood was achieved. The University welcomed its first students in March 1855 and it was the first public university in the US to admit men and women on an equal basis. In 1857 the capital moved on to Des Moines, an even more central location within the state. Iowa City became primarily a university town, which it remains to this day.




Supreme Court, Old Capitol

The Supreme Court follows the classic design of a courtroom. The three judges sat on the raised bench and in front of them were two tables, one for prosecution lawyers, the other for defence lawyers. When the Supreme Court moved to Des Moines, two Iowa judges set up the first law school west of the Mississippi. In 1868 the law school became the law department of the University of Iowa and it moved into the Old Capitol.

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Calvin Hall, University of Iowa

The University of Iowa has long since expanded beyond the Old Capitol Building. It now comprises 11 colleges and offers a wide range of courses. In the centre of the Campus is Pentacrest, a collection of four buildings clustered around the Old Capitol, namely Jessup Hall, Macbride Hall, MacLean Hall, and Schaeffer Hall. Calvin Hall, shown here, is the oldest University building in continuous use apart from the Old Capitol. Originally called the Science Hall it was built in 1885. It used to be one of the Pentacrest buildings but in 1905 it was replaced by Macbride Hall, the new Hall of Natural Science. Instead of demolishing Calvin Hall, the University moved it 32 metres (105 feet) to the other side of Jefferson Street. What is most unusual about this move is that classes continued to be taught in the building while it was being moved. The building was later renamed Calvin Hall  after geologist and curator of the Museum of Natural History Samuel Calvin who taught in the building.


- An interesting University City with plenty of historic buildings.
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Old Capitol

The old capitol may have had a short career as a seat of government, but it was at a time of great change. Built as the capitol of the Iowa Territory, it was the place where the constitution of  the State of Iowa was drafted and it continued as capitol for 10 years after Iowa achieved statehood. The task of designing the Territorial Capitol was given to architect John F Rague who had designed the 1837 Capitol of Illinois in Springfield. Rague resigned after five months claiming that his design was not being followed and work continued without him. The cornerstone of the capitol was laid on July 4, 1840 and the building opened in 1842. When the capital moved to Des Moines, the redundant capitol in Iowa City was given to the State University of Iowa, its first permanent building. The University still owns the Old Capitol which is now a museum of Iowa History with many rooms restored to how they would have looked in the days when it was the state capitol. Tours of the Old Capitol are free. Click Tab 2 to see the recreation of the House Chamber in the Old Capitol.




Coralville Schoolhouse

Four kilometres (2.5 miles) from the centre of Iowa City stands an educational gem. This two-room red brick schoolhouse was built in 1876 and it served the children of the Coralville area from then until 1951. It is now a museum with the school's two classrooms interpreting what the school in Iowa was like in the 1870s and the 1940s. Coralville Schoolhouse is open by appointment only.

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Iowa MinimapIllinoisMissouriKansasNebraskaSouth DakotaMinnesotaWisconsin
Old Capitol, Iowa City, IA, USA
Supreme Court, Old Capitol, Iowa City, IA, USA
Calvin Hall, University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, USA
Coralville Schoolhouse, Iowa City, IA, USA
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© Mike  Elsden 1981 - 2023

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