Showing her age—and you would be too if you were 130 years old—the grand old dame that is the Wyoming State Capitol building in Cheyenne is getting more than a facelift. After an extensive three-year, $3.2 million renovation, this other kind of “painted lady” will reveal her face to the world again this summer, in all her glorious, historic, gold-leafed grandeur.
In 1886, Wyoming Territory hit a growth spurt. Gold rush boomtowns and the Union Pacific Railroad brought fortune-seekers from the east. To show the rest of the country Wyoming was worthy of statehood, Territorial Governor Frances E. Warren signed a bill to have a grand Capitol building built near the Union Pacific depot in downtown Cheyenne.
Shops closed early on May 18, 1887 for the capitol’s cornerstone ceremony. A block of sandstone quarried from nearby Rawlins was placed over a time capsule filled with newspaper clippings and photographs. Folks gathered to watch as a parade with troops from Fort D.A. Russell, bands and territorial dignitaries marched through town. Celebrants dined on pork, mutton and Cornerstone pickles.
The capitol featured the finest materials—marble, cherry wood, ornate glasswork and a 146-foot spire and dome. Artwork depicting life in Wyoming was also featured throughout, from mounted golden eagles to murals showcasing the culture and history of Wyoming. Factoid: When the building was completed in 1888, the dome was not gilded with gold leaf. That was added in 1990 and touched up several times since.
Wyoming’s Capitol immediately began making history. In 1889, while still a territory, legislators granted women the right to vote—a full half century before the rest of the country. Other laws passed in the capitol building allowed women to hold public office and gave female teachers equal pay. It was also home to the first female governor, Nellie Taylor Ross, elected in 1924.
After 130 years of weather, the wear on the old girl started to show, from the top of her gold dome to her grey sandstone base. In December 2015, the capitol was closed to begin a massive three-year renovation—the first in her lifetime. While addressing heating and cooling issues, wiring and fire detectors, workers also took care to restore the Capitol's historic character.
Arches, ceilings and windows were brought back to their original, grand heights. During the renovation, workers discovered several historical gems, including a playbill from 1887 at the Cheyenne Opera House, brass panels from an antique elevator, several covered vault doors, Corinthian-style columns, an original 1888 trompe l’oeil painting and more than 20 original skylights.
A beautiful example of Renaissance Revival architecture, the Wyoming Capitol building was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 1973, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
On July 10, the newly renovated Capitol building will be unveiled as part of a daylong Statehood Day celebration featuring historical presentations, a cornerstone re-dedication, a speech from Governor Mark Gordon from the Roosevelt Balcony and a fireworks display.
Later, on December 10—the 150th anniversary of the passing of legislation giving Wyoming women the right to vote—visitors will get to tour the Capitol and see the historic Supreme Court Chamber, where in 1889, history was made, earning Wyoming its motto the “Equality State.”Make plans to visit Cheyenne this year to see this gleaming, historic symbol of Wyoming’s heritage for yourself.