Capitols and Capitals:
The State’s Odyssey from Detroit to Lansing
by Valerie R. Marvin, Michigan Capitol Historian
Thursday, November 29, 2018 – 7:00 p.m.
Library of Michigan
702 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing
Join Valerie Marvin, Michigan Capitol Historian, as she discusses how Michigan’s three state capitals came to be.
Michigan’s current capitol, the state’s third, opened to great acclaim on January 1, 1879. Students of Michigan history, however, know that the road to that day was a long and winding one.
When Michigan declared herself a state in 1835, Detroit served as the seat of government. The city’s hold on the capital was tenuous at best as the 1835 constitution stated that a permanent seat of government had to be established by 1847. The battle to choose the permanent site took place in the state’s first capitol building, a two-story brick Federal style structure with a thin, steeple-like central tower built 1823-1828. Here legislators from across Michigan voted on dozens of proposed sites before finally compromising on rural Lansing Township—then-home to only eight voters.
Moving the seat of government meant that the state would need to construct a new capitol building. Hastily erected in the last months of 1847, the wooden structure was always intended to be temporary. Poor economic conditions and the Civil War ultimately extended its use 30 years, during which time everyone in government complained about its cramped quarters, poor ventilation, and the ever-present threat of fire. Finally, in 1871, Governor Henry P. Baldwin called for the construction of a third capitol and challenged the legislature to appropriate money for the project, which was soon underway.
From 1872 to 1878, Lansing residents watched eagerly as the new state capitol began to rise up. Crafted of brick, sandstone, and cast and wrought iron, Michigan’s new building clearly echoed the appearance of the newly enlarged national capitol in Washington D.C., a sign of the state’s loyalty to the Union. When it opened on January 1, 1879, eager citizens poured in from across the state to visit the state’s new treasure, confident that Michigan finally had a dignified capitol that would stand for the ages.