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A New State Capitol

A New State Capitol

During the 1890s, calls were raised for a new capitol, but sentiment and financial considerations, coupled with the lack of a suitable site, effectively blocked the project. By 1899, the state’s financial condition had improved while conditions within the State House worsened. In early January, after heavy rains, large pieces of ceiling plaster fell in the Senate chamber. On January 12, 1899, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3 was introduced, calling for the construction of a new seat of government. 

Governor Daniel Webster Jones lent his support to the bill. He suggested that the new capitol be built on the site of the state penitentiary on 5th Street, describing the property as “too valuable” to be used as a prison. After a month of deliberation, the House adopted the resolution, and Jones signed it into law on February 13, 1899. In March, the assembly enacted Act 128, which allocated $50,000 to hire an architect and begin the project. It also stipulated a total cost for the envisioned capitol not to exceed one million dollars. 

The capitol would be built, as Governor Jones had suggested, on the penitentiary site, and the act made 200 state convicts available to work on the capitol project as a means of saving money. The law also created an appointive commission to oversee the construction. In May 1899, the Capitol Commissioners hired St. Louis architect George Mann, who produced plans for a building that could be built, he estimated, under the million-dollar limit. Mann’s design would accommodate the state’s legislature, its statewide elected officials, and the Arkansas Supreme Court, plus assorted executive-branch offices, departments and commissions. 

Convict crews supervised by experienced builder and Capitol Commissioner George Donaghey began work in July 1899. Despite some delays, the foundation was essentially complete by late October 1900. By January 1, 1915, the capitol building was deemed essentially complete. Donaghey estimated the final cost of the project at slightly more than $2.2 million.Read the Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry for more. 

[Pictured: Arkansas State Capitol under construction, October 1, 1910; Arkansas State Capitol, near completion in 1914.]