May 8 - Wyoming State Capitol

This morning we made the jaunt a few miles north to downtown Cheyenne and the State Capitol of Wyoming. Cheyenne is not a big town, although relative to most other clusterings of people in Wyoming, it can feel that way. With a population of only 60,000 hearty folks, getting around town is easy and quick. Our camp on the south end of town is less than 3 miles from the heart of town and the Capitol Building. We probably could have walked if we were ambitious.

Parking was easy-to-find right on one of the streets that run alongside the Capitol grounds. Upon entering through the main front doors at the top of the portico steps we were confronted by the lack of a security checkpoint, no x-ray machines, nor any walk-through metal detectors. No sir, the State Police have a desk in the rotunda on the first floor and that’s about it. Clearly the good citizens of Wyoming don’t feel the need to over-do the security thing... and retain the sense of liberty one gets by just going in whenever one feels like it... no questions... no hassles.


We had wondered why Cheyenne is the Capital City of Wyoming... what with it being in the extreme southeast corner of the State. Many other States we’ve visited have taken pains to locate their Capital in a central spot, as close to the middle of the State as possible. So how did Cheyenne become the Capital?

Cheyenne was born in 1867 in the path of the rapidly expanding transcontinental railroad. Union Pacific crews arrived as they laid the tracks westward. Cheyenne soon laid claim to a higher status than older settlements like Fort Laramie, Fort Bridger, and the mining town of South Pass City -- changing Cheyenne from a village to a city in a matter of months. The seat of the new Territorial Government was established in Cheyenne in 1869. Apparently, no one’s felt a need to challenge that decision since.

One can also speculate that there was very little population throughout the rest of the Wyoming Territory and that Cheyenne’s proximity to Denver and it’s relative closeness by train to Omaha and other population centers to the east also played a role.

The building was built between 1886 and 1890, prior to statehood for Wyoming (1890), and expanded again in 1916 when the two large wings for the legislative chambers were added. Between 1974 and 1980 the building was extensively renovated.

What we saw today impressed us as stately and fitting for this big but wild western state. Surprisingly, it’s the original Capitol... so they got it right the first time. Many other states have moved their State Houses multiple times, or they were built too small or in the wrong place, or they burned down. But Wyoming got it right and it’s still in daily use by the Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Auditor, in addition to the legislative chambers. That fact alone puts it in rare company among other states.

The building is in the traditional style... modeled after the US Capitol in Washington DC. A central rotunda sits beneath a large dome and two adjoining wings contain the House and Senate Chambers. The impressive dome is 146 feet hight and is covered in sheets of copper. But in 1900 it was decided to gild the copper with 24k gold to help maintain a bright, fresh, un-tarnished look. It’s been gilded 4 more times since then, the last in 2010. The exterior is various shades of sandstone, much of which came from quarries in Wyoming. The interior floors are a “checkerboard” of both white marble from Italy and black marble from Wyoming. Many of the black tiles contain imperfections which are actually fossils. The impressive staircases, doorways, and doors are cherry.

Popping into the House Chamber for a look, we were impressed with the good-looking desks used by the representatives... oak with marble tops. Surprisingly, these are relatively new having been commissioned and installed in 2001. Before that time the lawmakers used army-issued metal desks. They served their purpose for near a hundred years.

Overall, we liked the place. This being our 30th state capitol, we’ve found a few along the way we really didn’t like (good old Florida tops the list), but most are reasonably impressive and seem to serve both the symbolic and functional reasons they were built. Wyoming fits right in there. Those Territorial leaders who commissioned this building had foresight... they did a good job. The building still works today and appears to be poised to go on doing it’s job for the foreseeable future.

After our visit we sought out and found a brewpub... a near-tradition for us on Capitol visitation days.  We had an enjoyable time at Shadows Brewery and Grill in the old Union Station building... despite their lack of the most important craft beer a brewpub can make... IPA. Life isn't easy all the time.

More photos in our online photo album...[click here]

Took me a while to figure out that "Crook" is the County he represents...
 and not his profession.

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