Not the Usual State Capital Trivia

It was time to clear my list of unwritten articles again and I noticed several of them involved state capitals, or their capitol buildings. I’m not sure what the "usual" State Capital trivia might be much less the unusual, so let’s consider this an article on topics that the average layperson may not know. The always astute 12MC audience probably knows many of these peculiarities already although I’m hoping everyone will walk away with at least one new bit of information.

Highest Altitude State Capital

New Mexico State Capitol
New Mexico State Capitol by Mr.TinDC, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license

I would imagine that the preponderance of the general public might think of Denver as the highest state capital as a matter of reflex. After all, Denver has long touted itself as The Mile High City and parts of it do measure up to a mile (1.6 kilometres) above sea level, and in some instances a little higher. Santa Fe, New Mexico blew that figure out of the water with an elevation of 7,199 ft (2,134 m) above sea level. I consulted an altitude calculator and measured the New Mexico capitol building (map) at 7,005 ft (2,135 m) at the actual seat of government. That still bested Denver by a remarkable amount.

If I were to hand out an award for the capitol that looked least like a stereotypical capitol I’d probably have to give it to Santa Fe, understanding that it would be a subjective determination. The capitol didn’t have a dome or many of the traditional architectural flourishes observed elsewhere. It was also the only ROUND capitol building in the United States, "designed to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from above." That was bonus trivia.

A State Capital with Odd Governance

Michigan State Capitol
Michigan State Capitol by Graham Davis, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

It would seem to make sense that the seat of any state government would not be beholden to a local government. At the national level in the US, the District of Columbia was created as an independent entity removed from any state for that very reason. In 49 states, the state capital city also served as the local county seat of government. Michigan was the only exception.

Lansing (map), the capital of Michigan fell primarily into Ingham County, with a tiny sliver in Eaton County. Lansing was not the county seat of either county; Mason was the county seat of Ingham and Charlotte of Eaton. It came about as fallout from an unsuccessful attempt to locate the state capital in Mason:

In 1836 Charles Noble knew that Michigan would be seeking a central location for a new capital when it became a state. He purchased an area of forest, cleared 20 acres (81,000 m2), and founded Mason Center. The "Center" was soon dropped. In 1847, however, the state chose Lansing Township 12 miles (19 km) northward to be its capital due its potential for water power. Noble managed to make Mason the county seat instead.

The odd arrangement was a consolation prize for a pioneering settler.

Where the State Capitol is the Tallest Building in the State

West Virginia State Capitol
West Virginia State Capitol by Jonathan Rieke, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

There was one, maybe two with an asterisk, state capitol buildings that were the tallest buildings in the state. The West Virginia Capitol (map) at 293 ft (89 m) in Charleston was definitely one.

That might also be true for North Dakota:

The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. Locally, we like to think of it as a "mini skyscraper" because of its sleek form and the fact that it happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the area.

However, depending on what one considers a building, the tallest might actually be the Antelope Valley Station power plant rising to 361 feet (110 m) in Beulah, ND. Additionally a real estate developer was hoping to construct the 252 ft (77 m) Dakotah Place tower in Fargo that "…would include a parking ramp, retail and office space, a hotel and high-end condos.."

State Capital on an International Border

State Capitol
State Capitol by cubby_t_bear, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license

This was a trick question revealed in a comment on State Capitals Meet Time Zones from August 2009. Juneau, Alaska (map) is the only state capital that borders another nation. The city and borough of Juneau unified in 1970. Naturally the unified entity filled the same physical space including a border with Canada ("The newly created boundaries of the City and Borough of Juneau consolidated the City of Douglas, the City of Juneau. and the Greater Juneau Borough."). Good luck trying to climb the mountains and cross into Canada, though.

The Alaska State Capitol building might also be a contender for least like a stereotypical Capitol, now that I think about it.

5 Replies to “Not the Usual State Capital Trivia”

  1. I remember leaving the comment about Juneau, but I was blown away when I realized that was nearly five years ago. Kudos to 12MC for consistently posting informative, entertaining material over such a long period. Time flies when you’re having fun!

  2. Just some thoughts:

    I just was traveling in New Mexico and wanted to visit the state capital. I was shocked to see this building as the state capital, not only is it round, but it is incredibly small for a State Capital building. You can walk through the center of it to the other side in about 30 seconds.

    Cheyenne is also higher than Denver, although not as high as Santa Fe.

    I have also been to the North Dakota State Capital. At first, I didn’t think that that was it. It looks like an old office building and (to me at least) looks nothing like a state capital. As I have stated before on 12MC, Bismarck was the last state capital that I traveled to in one after starting in Denver, then going through Cheyenne, then through Pierre and finishing in Bismarck and it was a let down for sure. The other three were magnificent and fitting a building to represent a state.

    1. I’m just going by Google Maps (although I’m being careful to use the same zoom level), but New Mexico’s capitol doesn’t seem all that small to me compared to several other states. In particular, it is noticeably larger than the North Carolina state capitol (although in fairness the General Assembly no longer meets in the Capitol, and the Legislative Building is a bit bigger than New Mexico’s Capitol).

  3. Carson City, Nevada, is generally between 4,500 and 5,000 feet elevation. However, the city and surrounding county (old Ormsby County) merged in 1969, forming a new county-like entity known simply as Carson City.

    I mention this because the boundaries of “Carson City” extend to Lake Tahoe and include Snow Valley Peak, elevation 9,214 feet. The capitol building would be much lower, of course… but one could argue that it is the highest state capital, by dint of including a few mountaintops about 20 miles west of the main city.

  4. Arizona’s capitol building is rather unimpressive. It has a dome, of sorts, though one that looks more appropriate on a church or synagogue. Most of the government functions normally associated with a capitol building are in some nearby annexes.

    One other thing rather surprising thing about the Arizona capitol is that the residential neighborhood just a couple blocks to its west does not look like the sort of area where it would be wise to linger after dark. Connecticut is a similar case, with the ‘hood starting two blocks south of the capitol.

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