When the State House was given over to SUI in 1857, the University began remodeling Old Capitol, using it for classrooms and office space. By 1861, South Hall had been built adjacent to Old Capitol, being used as both a dorm for students and for classroom space. In 1862, a new bell was purchased ($360) and hung, for the first time, in the Bell Tower of Old Capitol. But, as it is with some bells (i.e. the 1776 Liberty Bell in Philadelphia), the first bell in Old Capitol developed a serious crack and needed to be replaced.
In order to replace the cracked bell, SUI ordered a brand new bell in 1864 from Meneely’s Foundry of West Troy, New York. This bell weighed 1,100 pounds, was 38 inches in diameter, cost $504.90, and hung in the tower for 137 years.
The history of this bell is amazing. It tolled for three straight days and nights after President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865; chimed for several days to mark the end of World War II, rang in celebration of America’s Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, and solemnly marked the loss of so many lives immediately following 9/11 in 2001.
But this historic bell met with a sad ending on November 20, 2001, when contractors, using open flame torches and heat guns on the cupola that supports the building’s golden dome, accidentally set the cupola on fire. The 1864 bell at the top of Old Capitol was irreparably damaged, the dome was destroyed, and the tens of thousands of gallons of water used to douse the blaze caused major damage inside.
Did you know? is an Our Iowa Heritage blog series that offers you a little bit of Iowa trivia from a large selection of stories on our website. Subscribe to this FREE blog and you’ll get a new email from us every Monday – Wednesday – Friday.
Join us for Our Iowa Heritage blog posts.
Learn some historical facts about Iowa City, Johnson County, or Eastern Iowa.
Amaze your friends.