History of the Wyoming Capitol

Mary Houser, president of the Goshen County Historical Society, standing with Linda Fabian, president of the Wyoming Historical Society and author. Cynthia Sheeley/Torrington Telegram

TORRINGTON – Around twenty people gathered in the Community Room at the Platte Valley Bank on Tuesday, Nov. 22, to listen to Linda Fabian’s presentation on the history of the Wyoming Capitol. 

Mary Houser, the Goshen County Historical Society (GCHS) president started the night by welcoming everyone, offering a word of prayer, and then led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Pat Ellis then gave information about becoming a member of the GCHS.

“Our membership is $40 for a state and $5 for a Goshen County,” Ellis explained. “(With a state membership,) you get an annal four times a year, which is absolutely marvelous. They have many historical stories in them. Then you also get a newsletter that tells you what each one of the groups in Wyoming is doing, which is very interesting. You get a lot for your money.”

The mic was then passed to Fabian.

“I am Linda Fabian with the Wyoming Historical Society Headquarters in Wheatland,” Fabian began. “It’s so nice to be here with all of you.” 

During Fabian’s presentation, she discussed the construction of the Wyoming Capitol building, its renovation, and various Wyoming governors. The historical facts she shared came from the research for the book A History of the Wyoming Capitol, which she wrote with Starley Talbott.

The construction of the capitol building

“Before construction began on Wyoming’s new capitol building the territorial legislature met in rented rooms on Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets in Cheyenne,” according to Fabian and Talbott’s book A History of the Wyoming Capitol.

David Gibbs, an architect from Toledo, Ohio, was selected as the design architect for the first phase and the first edition of the Wyoming Capitol. Gibbs was known for designing the Masonic Temple and the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building in Toledo. 

The Adam Feick & Bro firm of Sandusky, Ohio was awarded the construction contract for the building. John Adams Feick, a member of the company, was sent to Cheyenne to oversee the project. 

“After the Capitol Building Commission selected an architect and a building contractor, ground was broken for a new house of state on Sept. 9, 1886,” according to Fabian and Talbott’s book.

“John was 25-years-old when he arrived in Cheyenne to supervise the construction,” Fabian said. “All of the cherry wood in the capital, which was saved and restored during the renovation, came from Sandusky, Ohio. John wrote many wonderful letters to his wife, Lizzie who remained in Ohio to take care of extended family. His letters demonstrate his sense of humor and his tenacity.”

Fabian read the correspondence between John and Lizzie narrating the events at this time, “In a letter to Lizzie on Feb. 5, 1887,” he said, “I just arrived at Cheyenne right side up and handled with care. It is snowing and blowing bad enough to scare a man to death.” He added, “In this country, you have to wear a belly band to keep your hat on your head.” He went on to tell her that “everybody in Cheyenne looked like cowboys.” He also said, “Don’t worry about me. I will try and do the best I can. But I feel very lonely and tired.” He assured Lizzie that his eye would not be turned by any other woman.”

On May 2, 1887, Fabian said, “John wrote to Lizzie, “$1,800 has been collected to lay the cornerstone, they are going to have a BarberCue. That is something that you nor I saw in the east.” He added, “If you come out here and stay until fall, you can vote, all women have the right to vote when in the territory for three months.”

According to Fabian and Talbott’s book, the cornerstone was laid for the Wyoming Capitol building on May 18, 1887. In March 1888, the first phase of the building was completed, however, at this time construction had already been approved for additional wings and other public buildings. It was not until April 1890 that the second phase was completed. Shortly after the building’s completion, on July 10, 1890, Wyoming became the forty-fourth state of the Union.

“Over the years, many additions and upgrades have been made to the building since statehood,” Fabian said.

Wyoming governors

During her presentation, Fabian spoke of seven Wyoming governors, Thomas Moonlight, Francis E. Warren, John Osborne, Nellie Tayloe Ross, Leslie Miller, Lester Hunt and Mike Sullivan.

Gov. Moonlight was one of Wyoming’s most controversial territorial governors. 

“He didn’t get along with anybody, not the UW board of trustees, not the legislators, and in fact, he even opposed statehood, saying “Wyoming isn’t ready,” Fabian said.

Moonlight served from Jan. 5, 1887, until April 9, 1889.

Gov. Warren served as both the territorial and the elected governor of Wyoming. However, his term as the elected governor did not last long, because he chose to accept a seat in the U.S. Senate in November of that year.

“He’s buried at Lakeview Cemetery, (in Cheyenne), along with his daughter and three grandchildren, who were killed in a fire at the Presidio in San Diego, California,” Fabian said.

Warren served as the territorial governor from 1885 to 1886 and 1889 to 1890. In 1890, he became the first elected governor of the state of Wyoming.

Gov. Osborne is known for creating some of Wyoming’s most gruesome history.

Osborne was a doctor who graduated from the University of Vermont. After being a surgeon with the Union Pacific Railroad, he moved to Rawlins. At this time, southeast Wyoming was plagued by a dangerous gang of outlaws.

“One such outlaw was Big Nose George, who died by hanging in 1881,” Fabian explained. “Doctor Osbourne claimed the corpse for medical purposes and subsequently made a death mask and a pair of shoes from the outlaw’s skin. They are on display at the Carbon County Museum.”

Osborne was elected as the governor of Wyoming on Nov. 8, 1892.

Gov. Ross took office on Jan. 5, 1925 and served for one year. She was not only the first woman to be elected as governor of Wyoming but also the first woman to be elected as a governor of any state. 

“Former governor and U.S. Sen. John Kendrick spoke on her behalf, saying “how fitting it was that the Equality State be the first to elect a woman governor,” according to Fabian and Talbott’s book. “Following the 1932 presidential election, Nellie Ross was appointed by President Roosevelt as director of the U.S. Mint in 1933, where she served for twenty years.” 

Gov. Miller served from 1932 to 1939. He was known as an avid gardener with a passion for dahlias, which he planted all over the capitol grounds. 

Fabian said, “The Wyoming State Tribune wrote about him saying, “He does not maintain a closed mind, may be convinced to reason, facts, and circumstances, but he is as difficult to drive as a Brahma bull.”

Gov. Hunt served as Wyoming’s secretary of state from 1934 to 1938, governor from 1943 to 1949, and senator from 1948 to 1954.

“Lester’s story is very sad. He was a legislator, the Wyoming secretary of state, and eventually governor, and then he became a senator in Washington, DC in 1948,” Fabian said. “He described himself “as the liberal and progressive but not a radical.”

During his reign as governor, political problems plagued Congress because Sen. Joseph McCarthy conducted an anti-communist campaign against citizens. Hunt stood up to him and opposed him as both a governor and senator.

“As the 1954 election neared, Hunt was blackmailed and asked not to run again by McCarthy and others,” Fabian explained. “The threat was solely based on the arrest and prosecution of Gov. Hunt’s son for soliciting homosexual prostitution in Washington. Gov. Hunt withdrew from the election. And in June of 1934, he committed suicide in his senate office at the Washington State Capitol.”

Gov. Sullivan served two terms as the governor of Wyoming, from 1987 to 1995. During this time, he presided over the festivities honoring the centennial celebration for the state of Wyoming in 1990.

“He was instrumental in a fundraising event for the Wyoming Historical Society, in which the five living governors signed a print titled “Autumn Magic” by artist Conrad Schwiering,” Fabian said. “It was an amazing day for everyone involved, including me.”

For this project, 1,000 prints of “Autumn Magic,” a painting of the Grand Tetons, were signed by each governor and then sold for the fundraiser.

Renovation of the capitol building

“Beginning in 1974, the capitol was modernized with the addition of modern lighting, fire-rated surfaces, technical requirements, and heating plumbing and air-conditioning systems,” according to Fabian and Talbott’s book. “Exterior work included restoration of masonry, rebuilding the dome, and repainting of surfaces. The renovation was completed in 1980 at a cost of $7 million.”

In 2014, the Wyoming Legislature agreed to a total renovation of the building, construction began in 2017. During these renovations, the building was closed completely for two years, and all employees were placed elsewhere. Other government buildings on Capitol Square were also renovated at this time.

“The Wyoming Legislature approved the major Capitol Building Project for a complete renovation of the capitol and adjacent office building in 2015 at a cost of approximately $219 million,” according to Fabian and Talbott’s book.

Fabian described the many wonderful things that were found and restored during the renovation. Around 4,000 craftspeople were working to recreate and/or restore the building. During the project, they uncovered old doors, archways, and other decors. 

They also renovated the concrete tunnel that connected the Capitol Building to the Herschler building. The tunnel is now called the Capitol Extension and is used for public exhibits and receptions.

In 1886, Gibbs planned for four sculptures to be created for the niches he designed on the third-floor level of the rotunda, however that never happened.  The decision was made during the renovation to fulfill the original plan. The artist Delissalde was commissioned to create four bronze sculptures to be placed in each of these niches.

“He created a group of four feminine allegories titled The Four Sisters,” Fabian explained. “The oldest sister Truth “leads the way illuminating the path for Wyoming pioneers.” The next one, Justice, “sets the course for Wyomingites to live freely and peacefully.” Then Courage, which “allows us to carry on, encouraging and supporting us through hard times.” Then the youngest sister Hope “inspires us to continue striving for the future, and the building of the Wyoming that we aspire for.” 

During the renovation, the statues of Esther Hobart Morris and Chief Washakie were relocated inside the extension area. Their relocation from outside the capitol building has been heavily debated. 

“There are some people who want them back outside, but I’ve also heard that you are now eye level with them, and you can see their detail and get a real feel for the kind of person that they were,” Fabian said. “I’ve also heard that the school children that visit, love seeing them in the extension.”

About Linda Fabian

Fabian was born and raised in Douglas. After high school, she moved out east and worked for the federal government until she moved to Cheyenne in 1973. In 1980, she began working for the Wyoming State Parks and Cultural Resources Department, which houses the Wyoming State Museum, the Wyoming State Archives, and state parks. At this time, she joined the Wyoming Historical Society and later became its president.

After 20 years of working in Cheyenne, Fabian moved to Wheatland and became the director of the Economic Development Organization. 

“Then in 2007, I became the first paid employee of the Wyoming Historical Society, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” Fabian said. “It’s a lot of fun and a lot of hard work.”

Fabian and Talbott, of Cheyenne, published their second book, A History of the Wyoming Capitol, together in 2019. 


Visitors can tour the capital building, either on their own or on a guided tour, at any time Monday through Friday. 

Fabian and Talbott’s book, A History of the Wyoming Capitol, can be ordered online at www.historypress.com.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. the Fort Laramie National Historic Site is hosting Christmas on the Frontier. Refreshments will be served at the event, and the bookstore in the gift shop will be 20% off.

In June, the annual trek of the Wyoming State Historical Society is going to be sponsored by Star Valley, which is south of Jackson. In September, the annual meeting will be held in Cody. More information on these events can be found in the newsletter.

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