Educational Resources

Background Information

Location and Appearance:
Raleigh was created by an act of the General Assembly in 1788-1789. The proposed site provided a central location in the state agreeable to the eastern and western citizens. Sited "within 10 miles of Isaac Hunter's plantation," near the Wake Court House, on land bought from Col. Joel Lane, the city street layout was designed by Franklin County senator and surveyor William Christmas. The city's 1792 plan was based on that of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with a large central square surrounded by four smaller squares. The central square, named Union, was to be the site of the State House (constructed 1792-1796; burned 1831).

The Capitol (constructed 1833-1840) is located on Union (Capitol) Square. Originally surrounded by a large cast iron fence with gates, the square now is a park with grass, trees, flowers, and monuments that honor people and events important in North Carolina's history. The Capitol is a three-story, cross-shaped building made from a stone similar to granite, called gneiss (pronounced "nice"), with a roof and dome covered with copper.

Uses of the Capitol:
In 1840 all three branches of North Carolina's government were located in the Capitol. The executive branch held offices on the first floor, the legislative branch met on the second floor, and the judicial branch had offices for a brief time on the third floor. Eventually the state agencies occupying the building grew too large to remain in one building, and began moving out in 1888. The legislature moved into a new building in 1963. Today the governor and the lieutenant governor are the only government officials with their working offices remaining in the Capitol. They occupy offices on the first floor of the building.

Definition of a Capitol:
Webster's dictionary says that a capitol is a building in which a state legislature meets. Our legislature has not met in the Capitol since 1961. Question: Realizing this, is the building really the Capitol? Answer: Yes, because the governor and lieutenant governor have offices in the building and many official state government functions are held there--including an occasional ceremonial session of the legislature.

Architecture of the Capitol:
The Capitol is one of America's finest examples of Greek Revival style architecture and an important example of American hand-craftsmanship. Most architectural details of the Capitol are patterned after ancient temples in Athens, Greece.

Construction of the Capitol:
The Capitol is the second building on its site. The first building, called the State House, was built between 1792 and 1796. It accidentally was burned in 1831. The present Capitol was begun in 1833 and was completed in 1840, using stone from a nearby quarry. The architects for the building were William Nichols Jr., the New York firm of Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, and Scottish architect David Paton. The entire building was constructed by hand.

Artwork in and around the Capitol:
Monuments on the grounds honor people and events important in the state's history. The earliest bronze statue on the grounds is of George Washington and was placed there in 1857. The newest monument honors the men and women from North Carolina who served in the armed forces during the First and Second World Wars and the Korean War; it was placed there in 1990. Inside the Capitol are busts, plaques, statues, and paintings that detail some of our history. Particularly noteworthy are a statue of Washington portrayed as a Roman general and a portrait of Washington painted by American artist Thomas Sully in 1818, the first work of art purchased by the state.


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