Situated at 5,280 feet - exactly one mile above sea level- the Colorado State Capitol building is the only United States capitol building with that distinction. Two hundred ounces of gold mined from Colorado cover the dome of the capitol, located in downtown Denver. It is the current seat of the Colorado legislature.
In 1867 Denver was chosen as the capital of the Colorado Territory, replacing Golden (which had replaced Colorado City.) At the same time Denver was chosen, the decision to build a statehouse was also made even though the territory was cash-poor, having approximately $25,000 in assets. Territorial governor Alexander C. Hunt appointed a Capitol Committee to get the ball rolling on construction, which they started by trying to get someone to donate ten acres of land for the capitol's placement. That someone was Henry C. Brown, who thought his property nearby would benefit from being near the capitol; by January 11, 1868 the title was transferred. For the next several years, nothing further was done with the statehouse which made Brown angry. In 1875 he demanded $50,000 worth of improvements to be made to the land over the next year or Brown would take his land back.
Colorado became a state on August 1, 1876 with the provision in the state constitution for the capital of Colorado to be chosen by general election on November 8, 1881. Since there was no guarantee Denver would be picked as the capital, no improvements were made to the site Brown donated and he attempted to take the property back on May 11, 1879 by erecting a fence around the land. Lawsuits were filed, and the state of Colorado prevailed on January 4, 1886 with a ruling from the United States Supreme Court. In the meantime, Colorado voters picked Denver as the capital in 1881.
A law passed by the legislature in 1885 earmarked construction funds ($200,000 per year for the next five years), set a completion date of January 1, 1890 for the building, and decreed the construction materials had to be native to the state and not available cheaper elsewhere. Elijah E. Myers' architectural design was picked on August 31, 1885 and final plans for construction were submitted on January 2, 1886. Contractor W.D. Richardson was hired in 1886 to build the capitol and fired by 1888 for financial malfeasance; the firm of Geddis and Seerie was hired to finish the job.
Eight years after construction began enough of the capitol was completed to allow the governor to move his offices into the building. The idea to use gold leaf to cover the dome was proposed in 1903 by Denver architect F.E. Edbrooke. By 1908, over twenty years from the start of construction, the dome was covered in leaf, an electric light was placed on the top of the dome, and the capitol was finally complete at a cost of $2.8 million.
Built in the Corinthian architectural style and covered in white granite from Gunnison on a base of sandstone from Fort Collins, the capitol stands 272 feet high. Memorials surround the capitol, including the Closing Era statue of a Native American and bison with a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. On the west entrance steps, the inscription one mile above sea level was carved into the stone in 1947; a geodetic survey plug was placed three steps above the inscription in 1969 when precise measurements were made.
Large pillars are featured at the entrances, and the pillars above the west (main) entrance have statues representing the interests, wealth, and progress of Colorado. Light posts from the early 19th century are located around the entrance landings. The doors are made of bronze and glass with a motif of cornucopias and dogwood.
Copper instead of gold originally covered the dome. Twenty-four karat gold leaf was first applied in 1908, and the dome has been regilded in 1949, 1980, and 1991. The gold represents the importance of gold mining to Colorado's heritage. Instead of a statue of a beautiful woman, as was first proposed, a four-foot diameter glass globe surrounding a large light bulb sits at the top of the dome.
Inside of the entrance lies the rotunda, and from the first floor the dome stands 150 feet overhead. Originally the rotunda was supposed to have sixteen stained glass windows encircling the room representing the environmental, human, and mineral resources of Colorado; a Hall of Fame featuring pioneers of the state was chosen instead. The sixteen Coloradans chosen to adorn the rotunda walls are James 'Jim' Baker, Casimiro Barela, William N. Byers, Dr. Richard G. Buckingham, Christopher 'Kit' Carson, James William Denver, John Dyer, Benjamin Eaton, John Evans, William Gilpin, Nathaniel P. Hill, General Bela M. Hughes, Frances Wisebart Jacobs, Alexander Majors, Chief Ouray, and General William Palmer.
Eight murals, painted by Alan True about Colorado's water use, are located on the walls of the first floor of the rotunda. A poem by Colorado poet laureate Thomas Hornsby Ferril, also about water, is featured alongside the murals. The Gallery of Presidents is located on the third floor of the rotunda, and has portraits of each president from George Washington through the current administration. Bronze elevator doors are decorated with bison, tepees, a covered wagon, a train, a pick and shovel, a cog, and finally agriculture and livestock industries of the 19th century.
- The House Chamber
Located in the largest meeting room, the House of Representatives has been remodeled from the original plans. Floodlights for better illumination replaced an arched skylight, and soundproof tiles now cover the walls. A stained glass picture of Barney Ford is hung on one wall to remind the representatives about the importance of the right to vote. Behind the Speaker of the House's podium are windows which lead to a private balcony.
- The Old Supreme Court Chamber
Now used as a hearing room, until 1977 this was the location of the Colorado Supreme Court. A marble bust of William Thatcher, Colorado's first Chief Justice is located here, along with stained glass Heritage Windows. These windows honor seven Colorado leaders: Clara Brown, Naoichi 'Harry' Hokazono, Chief Jack House, Chin Sin Lou, Chief Ouray, Captain Don Bernardo Pacheco, and just outside the chamber, Emily Griffith.
- The Senate Chamber
Originally referred to as the 'Cave of the Winds' because of bad acoustics, the problem was fixed in 1906 by remodelling the ceiling. Colorado's Second Hall of Fame is found here, with stained glass portraits of Virginia Neal Blue, Charles J. Hughes, Edwin Johnson, John Love, Otto Mears, David H. Moffat, Samuel Nicholson, John Routt, Ruth S. Stockton, and Edward Wolcott.
Beulah Red Marble, also known as Colorado Rose Onyx, is featured throughout the interior of the capitol. Found in Gunnison County, Colorado the entire known supply of the marble was used for the interior. Since the supply was exhausted before construction was complete, white marble (the same marble used for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier), also quarried from Gunnison County, was used to complete the capitol basement.