This Date In History: Iowa’s Big Move Completed
The big move in Iowa was completed on this date 164 years ago.
It was an era when roads across the young state were dirt trails. There were no railroads in Iowa at that time and bridges across rivers and streams weren't yet built.
For people who had to travel a great distance, horses or covered wagons were the mode of transportation. Oxen and steamboats were also used to get produce, materials and other necessities from one place to another.
In the mid-19th century, a 115-mile trip across the Iowa landscape would typically take six or seven days to complete because the daily distance averaged around 15 miles.
Iowa was admitted to the union as the 29th state on Dec. 28, 1846. Like the United States, it's population growth started in the east near the Mississippi River and expanded west to the Missouri River. Over the next decade, as more people settled the region, a movement began to more centrally-locate the seat of government within the state's borders.
According to IAGenWebProject.org, an Iowa history website, state lawmakers voted to move Iowa's Capitol to Des Moines when the General Assembly gathered in Iowa City in October of 1854. The new location, however, didn't become official until three years later.
Iowa lawmakers drafted the state's current constitution in early 1857. Residents voted to accept the document during a summer election. A provision in the adopted constitution named Des Moines as the city where the new Capitol would be located.
The task of moving the state's government seat from Iowa City to Des Moines was difficult and took several months to complete. The 115-mile journey faced several of the challenges described in the preceding paragraphs, but the transportation issues didn't stop the relocation from happening.
A publication on Iowa's official government website describes one of the many problems officials faced while moving furniture, books and other materials to Des Moines from Iowa City. During the trip, a snow storm turned the Iowa landscape into a frozen tundra. Officials were forced to leave a treasurer's safe on the prairie for several days, and used a bobsled to finish the haul after the blizzard passed.
The move was officially completed on Dec. 1, 1857, when Gov. James W. Grimes proclaimed Des Moines as Iowa's capital city.
A temporary building was used as the Capitol for 26 years until fire destroyed it in 1892. Meanwhile, work was being done on a new permanent structure. Construction on the only five-domed Capitol in the country -- the current Iowa State House -- began in 1871 and was completed in 1886 at a cost totaling more than $2.873 million (See video above, courtesy of Iowa PBS via YouTube).
Today, the Old Capitol in Iowa City is a museum. It's a prominent structure on the University of Iowa campus. According to the museum's website, the university was founded in Old Capitol on Feb. 25, 1847 and the State Historical Society was founded there on Jan. 25, 1857.