On This Date In Twin Cities History - March 1, 1881

Minnesota's First State Capitol circa 1873 (MHS)

On this date in 1881, Minnesota’s first state capitol building burns down destroying thousands of rare books, documents, art and other collections. 

Originally completed in late 1853, the Minnesota Territorial Legislature met in the building for the first time on January 4, 1854.  The land on which the capitol was built, bounded by Tenth, Wabasha, Exchange, and Cedar Streets in St. Paul, was deeded in 1851 to the Minnesota territorial government by Charles and Annie J. Bazille for one dollar.

Originally lit by candles, gas lighting was added in 1867.  In 1873, a new roof and wing fronting Exchange Street were added.  In 1878, a second wing was added on the Wabasha Street side.

The fire that destroyed the capitol in 1881 began in the dome above the Senate chamber and quickly spread to the rest of the building.  The three hundred people that were in the capitol at the time escaped safely, but the building itself was a total loss.

Fortunately, a large collection of historic newspapers, as well as many irreplaceable historical artifacts stored in the Minnesota Historical Society’s basement vault survived. Minnesota’s second state capitol was built on the same site and was completed in 1883.

Image: Minnesota’s First State Capitol circa 1873 (MHS)