Our Iowa Heritage: The Old Capitol Dome.

Now that you’ve toured the first and second floors of Old Capitol, it’s time to go onward and upward, climbing the 40-feet of towering beauty that sits atop the old stone Iowa State House.

A huge thanks to The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums for this montage of pics from the Old Capitol Museum. Be sure to click here to visit their fabulous website.
(BH-111) Many of the photos on this webpage also come from Facing East and Facing West – Iowa’s Old Capitol Museum, Linzie Kull McCray & Thomas Langdon (2007) University of Iowa Press.

Below is the 2002 construction plan for the Dome, replacing the original structure lost in the 2001 fire.


Section One: The Central Attic. The first section of Old Capitol’s dome is simply the large base compartment that is made up of a narrow, steep stairway surrounding the ‘top-side’ of the massive ‘false dome’ that visitors see when looking up from the second floor of Old Cap.


Section Two: The Bell Tower. Now we get to the noisy section of The Dome. This is where the University bell resides. The bell you see (below) is the replacement for the one damaged in the 2001 fire.

A bell has hung in the Old Capitol Bell Tower from 1864 to the present: tolling for three days and nights after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, chiming for several days to mark the end of World War II, ringing in celebration of America’s Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, and solemnly marking the loss of so many lives immediately following 9/11 in 2001.

The current bell in Old Capitol weighs 1,500 pounds and is 42 inches in diameter, slightly larger and heavier than the bell that was damaged in the fire of 2001.
Click here for all the details about the fire and the original bell that hung in Old Capitol (from 1864).

Section Three: The Cupola.

From the cupola, we have an amazing 360-degree bird’s eye view of Iowa City.

Click here for a LIVE VIEW of Old Capitol – via the University of Iowa Pentacrest Camera.

Section Four: The Central Dome.

In the early 2000’s, The University of Iowa began yet another round of renovations (the previous ones were in the 1920’s and 1970’s) to upgrade Old Capitol. Part of the repairs called for asbestos to be removed from the dome/cupola area.

On November 20, 2001, contractors using open flame torches and heat guns on the cupola supporting the building’s golden dome accidentally set it on fire. The fire was limited to the cupola of the building, thanks to a concrete slab firewall that had been installed during the 1920’s rehabilitation. The bell (1864) at the top of Old Capitol was irreparably damaged, the dome was destroyed, and the tens of thousands of gallons of water used to douse the blaze caused major damage inside.

In February 2003, a new, 12,000 pound wooden dome, covered with 23 and 3⁄4 carat gold leaf, was placed on top of Old Capitol.

A new bell was installed in the bell tower as well. On May 6, 2006, the building was reopened to the public, and today, Old Capitol is “new” once more!


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

A huge thanks to The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums for this montage of pics used on this page.

Facing East and Facing West – Iowa’s Old Capitol Museum, Linzie Kull McCray & Thomas Langdon (2007) University of Iowa Press.

Old Capitol, Frederick Kohli, FineArtAmerica

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