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2 E. Main St. Madison, WI.

Website: Wisconsin State Capitol History

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Directions: From I-90, take Hwy 30 (Badger Interchange) into Madison. Take the East Washington Ave. exit (on the right-hand side of Hwy 30). Stay on East Washington Ave., the capitol will be ahead of you.

It was on October 25th, 1836, that the legislature for the Wisconsin Territory, first met in a two-story 42ft. X 25ft. building in Belmont, Wisconsin.

Less than a year later, and after a good amount of debate, Madison (barely a speck on the map, at that time) was chosen as the site for the new Capitol. Construction began later that same year.

In 1857, work on the third capitol building was started. Lasting nearly 12 years, construction was completed in 1869, when the dome was finally finished.

In 1882, The State Legislature appropiated money to add a north and south wing to the exisiting capitol building. On November 8th, 1883, with the north wing nearly completed, work on the south wing was in full swing, when tragedy struck.

Columns inside the south wing (around the 2nd floor area), gave way, causing the walls to cave in on themselves. Workers on the roof of the south wing, heard the rumble underneath their feet, but had no time to react. The roof they were working on, dropped from under their feet, and 30+ men fell four stories into the basement of the south wing.

When the dust cleared, five men layed dead (another worker would die later from his injuries), and several men were seriously hurt.

What made the tragedy even more horrible (if that was possible), was the fact that there were no hospitals in the immediate area of the capitol. The dead and injured had to be put in the offices of the Governor, Secretary Of State, Insurance Commissioner and Quartermaster General.

Later in the month of November, the Coroner's Report on the collapse, gave out a laundry list of reasons why the south wing collapsed, and even though blame was put on the Contractor, and the Architect, no real punishment was given out. The south wing was rebuilt (by the same Contractor the Report said was responsible for the collapse), and a year later (1884) construction on both north and south wings were completed.

It was nearly 20 years later, on the night of February 26th, 1904 (around 2am), that a night watchman was making his rounds, when he began to smell smoke, coming from the west wing of the capitol. He entered the room of the Assembly Post Office, only to find the recently varnished celing (just above one of the few gas lights that were left on at night in the capitol), ablaze.

Despite efforts to control the fire, it raged out of control for nearly 20 hours. By the time the fire was finally put out, only the north wing was spared any serious damage from the fire. The rest of the capitol was damaged beyond repair.

Due to financial constraints, and the urgency to house the state Legislature, construction of a new capitol, would have to be done in sections, over the course of several years.

Construction on the west wing (the most heavily damaged in the fire), started in 1906 and ended in 1909. Construction on the east wing went from 1908-1910. Construction on the south wing went from 1910-1913. Construction on the rotunda and dome went from 1911-1915. Finally, construction on the north wing went from 1914-1917.

With the completion of the north wing, work on the new capitol was finished, and to this day, the capitol in Madison, remains the center of goverment for the Wisconsin people.

On the 4th floor of the South wing:

  • Doors open and close on their own.

  • The sound of disembodied footsteps have been heard moving through the halls.

  • Cold spots.

  • I believe that the collapse of the south wing in 1883, has to play a factor
    in the hautings at the State Capitol.

    Even though, it's not the original building, the 4th floor of the south wing, would be about the spot
    where the 6 workers would have fallen to their deaths that November day in 1883.

    ....The south wing.

    ....Inside the south wing (4th floor).

    ....The collapse of the south wing (1883).

    Two victims of the 1883 Capitol Collapse (buried in Resurection Cemetery-Madison):

    Bernard Higgins....James Kelly....