America’s Bicentennial – Restoring Old Capitol.

(L-0099) In 1970, the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce produced this 72-page promotional booklet picturing all the reasons for people to come live in Iowa City. A beautiful piece to kickoff the 1970’s.

As America entered into the 1970’s, the nation prepared to celebrate our 200 years of Independence – Our Bicentennial – 1776 – 1976.

Old Capitol as she appeared in 1970.

In 1970, Old Capitol in Iowa City turned one-hundred and twenty-nine years old. And while the old lady still looked fairly presentable on the outside – on the inside, conditions were far from pristine. Sadly, for most of those 129 years, Old Capitol was one of the hardest-working, over-used, and under-cared-for buildings on the SUI campus.

In the 1920’s, the University did an extensive rehabilitation – remaking the interior not for historical accuracy but for functional use. Much of the original wooden framework was replaced with steel beams, the deteriorating reverse staircase was completely rebuilt, and the west side portico was finally added. Read more details here.

Now, 50 years later, as the nation was preparing for our Bicentennial celebration, the University felt it was finally the right time to totally remove all University administrative offices – including the President’s office – and restore Old Capitol – making her into a historically-accurate living museum.

Old Capitol opened as the Territory of Iowa’s new statehouse in 1841 – serving as the home of all Iowa governmental activities – with statehood in 1846 – until the time when the capital was moved westward to Des Moines (1857). Since that time, Old Capitol has played an integral part of the University of Iowa campus – serving in a variety of ways – a library, a chapel, an armory, and providing much-needed space for classrooms and offices. In the 1920’s, the State of Iowa authorized a major rehabilitation of the building, continuing to function as a classroom and office building until 1970.

In 1976 – Old Capitol was “officially” designated as a National Historic Landmark. The plaque is mounted on the east side of the building – to the right of the stairs.

On July 3rd, a grand re-opening of Old Capitol was held on the front steps. Iowa graduate, Simon Estes, sang, and restoration supervisor Margaret Keyes poses with Susan Hancher. For a complete tour of Old Capitol as it appears today, click here.

Iowa Governor Robert Ray and UI President Willard Boyd opened the door using a replica of the massive door key from the 1840’s.

(M-0086) July 4, 1976 – Old Capitol Re-Dedication Commemorative Key. A special full-size commemorative key – just like the original that was used on the front doors of Old Capitol – was produced to celebrate the re-opening. We enjoy placing this key on our Christmas tree each year! Take a look at those early years when Old Capitol was the New Capitol.


(C-0156) Christmas Greeting & Ceramic Ornament from the Old Capitol Restoration Committee – circa 1970’s. Old Capitol was declared a National Historic Landmark on January 7, 1976 and reopened to the public on July 3, 1976. (M-0141)


(M-0081) 1971 – Old Capitol Whiskey Decanter by Ezra Brooks Distilling Company & Promotional Post Card.

(P-0169) Circa 1970’s – Postcard Celebrating our Two State Capitols: Iowa City: 1840 –  1857, Des Moines: 1857 – present.

(M-0107) This might be a good place to give a big tip of the hat to the Boy Scouts of America and the Old Capitol Trail that’s been set up for a number of years in Johnson County. Here’s the “official” brochure, two patches, and, of course, the prized old Capitol Trail medal that is given to scouts who complete the entire scenic & historic walk.

Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

West side of Old Capitol, The University of Iowa, 1960s, University of Iowa Digital Library

Restoring the Old Capitol (1977), YouTube

Old Stone Capitol Marker #1,

Facts, Names & Faces -Old Capitol Restoration 1974-1976, IAGenWeb

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