The Utah State Archives holds records of the Capitol Grounds Commission, including minutes and financial records. These records document the virtually forgotten efforts to construct a territorial capitol in the early 1890s. With the 100th anniversary of the State Capitol dedication being celebrated this month, it is interesting to look at this earlier attempt to erect a home for government in Utah.
The Utah Territorial government had been without a permanent home since the Territorial State House in Fillmore had been abandoned in 1856. Over 30 years later, in 1888, Salt Lake City donated property for a capitol at the north end of State Street and the Territorial Legislature appointed a Board of Commissioners to prepare the property and obtain plans for a capitol building. The Board was comprised of the Territorial Governor and six commissioners from Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, Logan, and Sanpete County. The Board worked to fence the grounds, get water to the property, and advertised for plans. They reported to the 1890 Legislature and submitted plans from four architects. The Legislature appropriated funds to landscape the grounds and selected one of the plans, but didn’t approve any funding for construction.
The selected plans were drawn by Michigan architect Elijah E. Meyers. Meyers had earlier designed capitol buildings in Texas, Michigan, and Colorado. A drawing of his design appeared in the Salt Lake Herald (see above) and appears to be a variation on his Colorado State Capitol plan. Over the next few years, the Commission continued to make improvements to the grounds and opened them as a public park. They had a basement excavated for one wing of the new capitol, and urged the Legislature to provide funding to build that one wing to get the project started. Finally, in 1894, the House approved $125,000 for construction of the wing, but the funding bill was rejected by the upper body of the Legislature, the Legislative Council.
In January of 1896 the Board of Commissioners met for the last time to tie up loose ends. There was a new Utah State government and the Commission closed down along with the rest of the Territorial government. It would be fifteen years before Utah would again take on the task of building a capitol, but when a new Capitol Commission was appointed, they were able to build on the work of the Capitol Grounds Commission. By then Utah had matured some as a state and was better prepared for the task. When the new Capitol was finally completed it was even grander than what the Grounds Commission could have envisioned, but they had helped paved the way for Utah to eventually get its own capitol.