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History of the Texas State Capitol in 60 Seconds

Picture of Hannah Phillips
Updated: 7 June 2017
When the city of Austin replaced Houston as the capital of Texas in 1839, it was renamed for the new republic’s first secretary of state, Stephen F. Austin. With the establishment of the University of Texas in 1881 and the construction of the Texas State Capitol in 1888, Austin grew into the center of government and education that it is today.

Brief history

The current capitol building is actually the third iteration of the Texas State Capitol. The original structure, built in 1853, burned down in the Great Capitol Fire of 1881. Plans for restoration followed quickly, with a new design by architect Elijah E. Myers. Under the guidance of civil engineer Reuben Lindsay Walker, the building’s construction began in 1882; however, an electrical fire delayed the process, and the site was not complete until 1888. The main builders, John V. Farwell and Charles B. Farwell, were paid with three million acres of land, which later became one of the largest cattle ranches in Texas.

Modeled after the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (in turn, modeled after St. Paul’s Cathedral, London), the building’s cornerstone was laid on March 2, 1885, Texas Independence Day, and opened to the public on April 21, 1888, San Jacinto Day. Many of the materials were sourced locally, including the sunset red granite that gives it a pinkish hue at twilight. And as proof that “everything is bigger in Texas,” the dome’s Goddess of Liberty statue stands seven feet (2.13 meters) taller than its national counterpart.

Fun facts

Until around 2000, the Texas State Capitol and the University of Texas main tower dominated Austin’s historically modest skyline. As the city’s population continues to boom, so do its buildings, and 10 of its tallest came to be after 2004. The city’s beautiful legislative center is still visible from several protected views around town, especially looking north up Congress Avenue.

Visit

Free tours take place every day, with hours varying from day to day, and you can read more fun facts about the building here.