The first discussions regarding the erection of a suitable state capitol building in New Hampshire took place in the year 1814. It was indeed a memorable year. The War of 1812 had come to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, although the news had not reached America until after our troops under General Jackson had continued fighting into 1815 and won the famous battle of New Orleans.
Other matters attracted state attention. One was the election of a "Republican" governor, William Plumer, who defeated the "Federalists." Another was the Dartmouth College case in which the Governor favored state domination of the College. The legislature considered the proposed new capitol building, but first had to determine in what locality it would be.
The contest was between Concord, Hopkinton, and Salisbury, the last named town having offered seven thousand dollars for the honor. In the end Concord won, and by 1816 final action had been taken to build there.
Considerable expense was saved the town of Concord by the decision to build the Capitol of granite from what are now the Swenson quarries at the north end of the town, and to have the cutting and shaping and facing of the stones done by the inmates of the prison.
A feature of the new and imposing building thus provided was its huge gold-painted wooden eagle, which was raised to the top of the dome in 1818. Appropriate ceremonies presided over by Governor Plumer were marked by a series of toasts, one of which was, "The American Eagle. May the shadow of his wings protect every acre of our united continent and the lightning of his eye flash terror and defeat through the ranks of our enemies."
The new building's actual cost was only approximately $82,000, but it provided adequate quarters of the legislature and committees, the Governor and Council, the Secretary of State, the Treasurer, and the library. Stuart J. Park, the builder, goes down in history as having done an admirable job, and he has a Concord street to the north of the building, Park Street, named in his honor. The first session of the legislature to be held in the new building was in 1819.
There is no record of discussion of enlargements or expansion of Capitol facilities until 1857. At that time there was pointed out the need for more library space and rooms for new departments. Nothing was done, however, until the problem became acute in one of the Civil War years, 1863, through the offer of the city of Manchester of a sizeable sum to build a new capitol and locate it there. This amount was stated to be no less than half a million dollars.
The legislature having voted to retain the Capitol in Concord, plans were at once made to undertake its enlargement and remodeling.
This was begun in 1864 and completed by 1866. The cost was said to have been approximately $200,000.
In 1881, plans having been proposed to gain new space for needs caused by growth in State operations, by the removal of the library to a building of its own, plans for such a building were made. These plans, as ultimately adopted, not only provided for a "State Library," but for the Supreme Court as well, and the building was finally completed in 1895. The Library was later enlarged in 1903.
Not until 1903 was the problem of increasing needs for more space in the conduct of the State's business to come under discussion. In this discussion the point was conclusively made that "the majority of State offices cannot be provided with accommodations and are located in other buildings..." and that this was uneconomical and ought to be corrected.
Acting under a resolution which instructed the Governor and Council to remedy this situation, Governor Bachelder employed a firm of Boston Architects to prepare a plan for an extensive enlargement of the Capitol.
The arguments included the danger from fire, the inadequacy of the House and Senate to seat the membership, and the lack of meeting rooms for the legislative committees. This called for what amounted to an entirely new state house at an expense of approximately a million dollars, and by 1909 a bill for such an amount was introduced.
Again the city of Manchester entered the scene, offering the million if the state house might be removed and rebuilt there. The legislature voted again to retain the Capitol in Concord, and an act for the issuance of bonds for the construction required was passed.
Governor Quimby and his Council then employed architects under whose plans the entire building was remodeled precisely as it is today, making the entire building fire-proof in all its parts, providing electric elevators, modern lighting, vaults, and an up-to-date heating system. During the years following, the proposal of 1903 regarding the necessity of providing for the various departments under one head was again considered, and plans were drawn in 1937 for the present State House Annex.
The corner-stone for this new undertaking was laid in 1938, and the cost at completion, including a considerable grant from the federal government, amounted to $327,000. The Annex is connected by an underground passageway with the Capitol itself.
Likewise the statues of John Stark, Daniel Webster, President Pierce, John P. Hale, and Commodore Perkins have been properly cleaned and made tarnishproof by a modern professional process. Also the gilded wooden eagle, the Capitol Building's long familiar emblem, having been found to be suffering from the effects of many decades of weathering, has been replaced by an element-proof metal replica which now adorns the dome were its gold will glisten in the sunshine of long years to come. These things are among the accomplishments of the administration of Governor Lane Dwinell.
Revised from State of New Hampshire Manual for the General Court 1977, pp.115-124.
The New Hampshire Almanac is compiled by the New Hampshire State Library from state statutes and other sources as noted.
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