North Dakota State Capitol

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North Dakota State Capitol

The North Dakota State Capitol is the house of government of the U.S. state of North Dakota. The Capitol, a 21 story tower, is in Bismarck at 600 East Boulevard Avenue, on a 160-acre (0.6 km2) campus that is the site of many other government buildings. The capitol building and the surrounding office buildings house the state's legislative and judicial branches, as well as many government agencies.

The State Capitol is largely surrounded by state government buildings. The parks, walking trails, and monuments on the grounds give visitors information about the state's history, making it one of the city's tourist attractions. Six buildings exist on the grounds; all built during various time periods as the government grew. Not all state agencies are housed on the grounds, however: a large number are spread throughout the city in various facilities. Plans for a massive expansion and improvement of the grounds were developed in 2000, but very little of the plan has been implemented as of 2012. [1]


The First State Capitol building - 1903 wing

The original North Dakota State Capitol building, built between 1883 and 1884, and expanded in 1894 (Senate wing) and 1903 (House wing), burned to the ground the morning of December 28, 1930. The fire was said to have been started by oily rags in a janitor's closet on the top floor of the main part of the building. The rags had been used to clean and varnish the legislators' desks in preparation for the upcoming legislative session. North Dakota Secretary of State Robert Byrne saved the original copy of the state's constitution, but he suffered cuts and burns on his hands while breaking a window to reach the document. Another state employee, Jennie Ulsrud, burned her hands when she attempted to save records in the North Dakota State Treasurer's office. Governor George F. Shafer came back from his visit to St. Paul, Minnesota while the fire was still burning. Upon arrival, he immediately assembled a team of state legislators and officials to discuss plans for coping with the loss of records and work space. The day after the fire, to save as many records as possible, 40 state prison inmates went to work trying to salvage materials from the ruins. The Legislature met temporarily in Bismarck's War Memorial Building and the City Auditorium.

The disaster required the construction of a new building during the Great Depression. The tower and wing were built between 1931 and 1934, at a cost of $2 million. Ground was broken for the building by Governor George F. Shafer on August 13, 1932. [2] Workers on the building were paid only 30 cents an hour and, after multiple worker strikes, the capitol grounds were administered by martial law in June 1933. The state sold half of the original capitol campus to defray the cost of construction. [3]Artist Edgar Miller was brought in to do much of the interior design and decoration as well as the bas-relief sculptures on the facade which depict the rich human history of North Dakota.

While the new 19-story Capitol building was expected to have plenty of space for years to come, it quickly filled as the Government of the state expanded. The Liberty Memorial Building, which was completed in 1924, was able to contain some of the additional workers, but more space was needed by 1955 when construction was begun for the State Office Building. The building originally housed the Bismarck Junior College, but the Legislature purchased it in 1959. The 1960s was a period of rapid development of the grounds. In 1960, the new North Dakota Governor's Residence was built on the grounds to replace the old residence which was beginning to deteriorate. In 1980, the North Dakota Heritage Center was built to accommodate the expanding State Historical Society of North Dakota, and in 1968, the North Dakota Department of Transportation building was built to provide more office space for that agency. It is the last new building built as of 2007, although a Judicial Wing was added onto the base of the Capitol tower in 1977 (completed in 1981). While the space needed by state government has increased since the original construction of the Capitol in the 1930s, the state's population has decreased since that time. [4]


The North Dakota State Capitol grounds has six buildings: the main Capitol building, the North Dakota Department of Transportation building, the North Dakota Heritage Center, the Liberty Memorial Building, the North Dakota Governor's Residence, and the North Dakota State Office Building. Additionally, two parks, Myron Atkinson Park and the Capitol Park, are also on the campus. Through the center of the grounds is the Capitol Mall, a large open field of grass with walking paths and American Elm trees lines both sides. The Mall was the site of the state's snow angel world record breaking in 2007, with 8,962 people sprawled out on the snow-covered mall; a picture was taken from the top of the Capitol tower. [5]


State Capitol

The main State Capitol building is a 241.67 feet (73.7 m) tall, 21 story, Art Deco skyscraper designed by North Dakota architects Joseph Bell DeRemer of Grand Forks and W. F. Kurke of Fargo in conjunction with the noted Chicago firm of Holabird and Root, [3] [6] It is the tallest building in North Dakota and is known as the Skyscraper on the Prairie. [7] [8] This tower houses the office of the Governor of North Dakota and the offices of multiple state agencies and departments. At the tower's base, in the west wing, the two chambers of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly meet when in session while the North Dakota Supreme Court meets in the east wing. The 18th floor of the Capitol is an observation deck with the highest vantage point in the state. [9]

The south side of the Capitol building features a drive-through tunnel which leads to an entrance to the building. This was accessible by public vehicles until 2001 when it was closed due to security measures after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Today, only pedestrians are able to enter the tunnel. [10] In 1988, U.S. President George H. W. Bush presented and dedicated an American Elm tree near the Capitol steps in commemoration of the state's Centennial of 1989.

The many windows on the capitol building's tower are used for several ongoing traditions. During the Christmas season, red and green shades are drawn over the windows and lights are turned on in certain offices to make a pattern that resembles a Christmas tree. During the New Year's Eve, office lights are turned on to spell out the new year; the first two numbers of the new year are given on the top half, and the last two numbers on the bottom. This tradition began during the 1970s, and is now done on all four sides of the building; the Christmas tree tradition began as early as the 1940s. [11]

Tours of the capitol building are available on weekdays. Weekend tours are available Memorial Day through Labor Day. Tours include stops throughout both the building's legislative and judicial wings as well as an elevator ride to the top of the tower. [12]

Judicial Wing

The judicial Wing of the State Capitol building serves as a hub for the North Dakota Supreme Court and its support staff, as well as office space for state agencies like the North Dakota Department of Health and the Department of Human Resources. The design for the building began in May 1977, construction began in April 1979 and it was finished completely and occupied by 1981. The size of the Judicial Wing is 168,400 square feet (15,640 m2) and was built at a cost of $10,500,000. The dedication for the addition was held on November 15, 1981 with both Governor Allen Olson and former Governor Arthur A. Link present at the ceremony. Included in the wing is the Capitol lunchroom, which serves food to state employees and even the general public on weekdays. [13]

Liberty Memorial Building

The Liberty Memorial Building is home to the North Dakota State Library, as well as offices for the Special Education Unit of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. The building's construction was authorized by the state's legislature in 1919 in response to an increase of governmental departments and the project was finished by 1924 with a cost of $350,000. The building originally housed the State Historical Society Museum, the Adjutant General, the State Library Commission, and the North Dakota Supreme Court until the State Library occupied it. The building is the oldest facility still on the Capitol grounds and it was renovated totally in 1982 to conform with modern building code. [14]

Department of Transportation building

The Department of Transportation building

The North Dakota Department of Transportation building is home to the central office of the state's transportation department, as well as small divisions of other agencies. The building was completed in 1968 and was built with materials that harmonize visually with the pre-existing structures on the grounds. Before the building was completed, the Department of Transportation, known then as the State Highway Department, was in various buildings around the campus including the State Office Building and the Capitol building itself. The building contains 125,000 square feet (11,600 m2) of gross building area and is just to the east of the Capitol tower. While above ground the building is separated from the tower, it is still connected to the Judicial Wing of the tower by an underground tunnel accessible only to state employees. [15]

North Dakota Heritage Center

The North Dakota Heritage Center building is home to the Heritage Center museum which stores and displays artifacts from around the state. The building also is home to office space for the North Dakota State Historical Society which operates the museum. Planning for the building began as early as 1963 and upon completion of the structure in 1981, the State Historical Society moved from the Liberty Memorial Building into its new Heritage Center quarters. The facility consists of 130,000 square feet (12,000 m2) and provides exhibit areas as well as storage, meeting room, and office area for the Society.

In 2006, a massive expansion plan for the center was revealed. The construction cost approximately $50 million and nearly doubled the size of the complex. The design added three large galleries to the east of the existing structure, as well as a new main entry that faces State Street. The present building consists of 140,000 square feet (13,000 m2) and the expansion added 125,000 square feet (11,600 m2) of space. Funding for the project is estimated to consist of 20 percent private, 20 percent federal, and 60 percent state. [16] In addition to the new gallery area, the expansion includes a 50-seat digital auditorium, climate-controlled storage areas, a cafe, a children's gallery, expanded visitors service and store, and the "Corridor of History," a 25-foot (7.6 m)-wide walkway spanning the length of the expansion with a glassed southern exposure on one side and digital murals on the other. [17]

State Office Building

The State Office Building, on the complex's southeast corner, contains the Water Commission, in addition to several divisions from the office of the North Dakota Attorney General: the Civil Litigation Division and the Natural Resources and Indian Affairs attorneys. Built in 1955, the building was meant to house the Bismarck Junior College and it did so until 1961. After that date, the building was used for various departments and divisions of state government. During the 1991-1993 biennium, the building underwent massive renovation and was re-faced with an exterior that blended more harmoniously with the complex's other buildings. At 28,838 square feet (2,679 m2), the building is the smallest among those used for offices on the campus.

North Dakota Governor's Residence

The North Dakota Governor's Residence

The North Dakota Governor's Residence is home to the Governor of North Dakota and is off of 4th street on the west side of the campus. Built in 1960 to replace an outdated residence further south on the same street, it offers the state's First Family a convenient location at the center of the state's government. After extensive remodeling in 2000, an effort managed by then first lady Nancy Schafer, the residence now has more than 10,000 square feet (1,000 m2) of floor space and eighteen rooms.

Outdoor facilities


There are two parks, the Myron Atkinson Park and the Capitol Park, on the capitol grounds. The Myron Atkinson Park, named after the Bismarck attorney Myron Atkinson, is on the east side of State Street. [18] Pedestrians can access the park by a tunnel under the road. The Capitol Park is on the northwest corner of the grounds at the intersection of 4th Street and Divide Avenue and includes a playground with trees and shrubs planted by the Farwest Rotary Club. [3]

Arboretum Trail

The Arboretum Trail is a walking trail winding through a wooded area on the west side of the grounds. The trail takes walkers past 60-million-year-old petrified tree stumps from the Amidon, North Dakota area, as well as 75 different species of trees and shrubs which are all labeled with ground plaques. [19] Various statues and memorials are also on the trail. The trail was created in 1985 in anticipation of the state's centennial and also as an opportunity for state employees and the general public to exercise while learning about various trees and the history of the buildings on the grounds. Many area schools take their students to the trail for nature walks and students in the past have used the various trees for leaf collections. This damaged some of the trees, so signs that forbid leaf picking were posted.

Prairie Trail

The Prairie Trail runs north of the Capitol's Judicial Wing, taking pedestrians into an area filled with examples of grasses and wild flowers which are typical of native prairie. In 2006, the trail was expanded to take walkers from the corner of State Street and Divide Avenue south into the main grounds area. The original trail was dedicated with a plaque in 1987 and the wild grassland surrounding the trail was registered as a state Natural Area by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. [20]

Statues and monuments

Sakakawea statue on North Dakota State Capital grounds

Pioneer Family

The Pioneer Family statue is one of the most prominent on the grounds, as it is on the southern end of the mall in the foreground of the capitol tower. The statue was sculpted in 1946 by Avard Fairbanks and dedicated to honor the memory of the great northwest.

All Veterans Memorial

The All Veterans Memorial is a large monument south of the Heritage Center, along a walking path. The memorial is to all North Dakotans who served in the armed forces during the first 100 years of statehood was finished and dedicated on June 10, 1989. The names of 4,050 men and women who died in the nation's wars are inscribed on the bronze tablets displayed under a large block of stone supported by columns. The monument is lit during the night hours. Stone benches are available for seating.

Other statues

Other statues on the capitol grounds include Sakakawea, John Burke, Cortés, Buffalo, Pioneers of the Future, Purple Heart Memorial, Peace Officers Memorial, French Gratitude, and USS North Dakota bowplate. [21]


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