North Carolina State Capitol

Written By Shane Williams


In 1792, Raleigh was established as the official capital city. A two-story brick statehouse was built on Union Square in 1792 and completed in 1796. When this original statehouse burned down in 1831, the state legislature appropriated funding for a new facility located on the same grounds of the initial building. The building that stands today is designed in the Greek Revival style, with a cross shaped architectural design and a central dome rotunda. William Nichols was the architect. Nichols added a third floor, the eastern and western wings, and most notably a domed rotunda in the center to house Antonio Canova’s statue of George Washington, which was destroyed in the 1831 fire.


In 1832, the General Assembly decided that a new capitol would be built–a rendition of the old cross shaped rotunda design but slightly larger than the original. In constructing the new facility, William Nicholas Jr helped to create building plans, but he was replaced by prominent New York architect Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis. The building was greatly modernized and given a distinct neoclassical look, strongly emphasizing Greek Revival architecture in the United States. The interior design manifests facets of ancient Greek temples and its exterior reflects the Doric style columns of the Pantheon in Italy. The House of Representatives reflects the pattern of the circular Greek theatre and the Senate is designed after the Ionic style of the Erectheum. Non-classical areas of the building include two rooms on the third floor, which are designed in the Gothic style.


Hired in 1834, Scottish architect David Paton, supervised the project and presided over many of the building’s features. These include the overhanging gallery on the second floor, groined masonry vaulting on the first floor, and interior of the east and west wings. The interior ornamental work, chandeliers, and marble mantles were shipped from Philadelphia, and the chairs and desks in the House and Senate were made by North Carolina cabinet-maker, William Thompson.


The capitol runs 160 feet north to south and 140 feet east to west.  It is also 97.5 feet tall from the top of the dome to the floor. The walls on the outside of the building were made with gneiss, a type of granite with interior walls of brick and stone. The state capitol cost over $532,000 to build, and the completion of the project was celebrated during a festival in the capital city on June 1840.


In 1888, the Supreme Court and State Library moved to their own buildings and the General Assembly moved to the State Legislature Building in 1963.  Today, only the governor, lieutenant governor and their staff work in the building.


The Capitol houses the impressive Antonio Canova statue of George Washington in the rotunda and plaques honoring various North Carolina politicians. The outside includes three monuments honoring the three North Carolinian presidents: Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James. K. Polk, as well as women of the Confederacy and war veterans. The Capitol was declared a historical landmark in 1973.