Utah’s Power Center, Capitol Hill

A great place to feel empowered

Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City is Utah’s power center. The atmospheric energy in and around the historic Capitol building is simply electric.

Powerful people come to the Capitol to invoke change, ensure safety, address pressing issues, write (and re-write) the state’s budget and learn. Yes, learning is what people do here most. Step inside the magnificent rotunda, close your eyes, and just breathe. You will be smarter for just having stood there because this famous Utah landmark’s marble halls are witness to decades of democracy in action. The scene will thrill you, send a chill down your spine, and finally, it will humble you. 

Did I say powerful people frequent the halls, steps, and lush green grounds here? They do, but they’re not lawmakers and administrators. The most powerful people who enter these hallowed halls are citizens fighting (peacefully for the most part) for the changes they wish to see in their state, their cities, and their communities. Not everyone agrees, but people speak and it is often here those people finally feel heard.

Visit the Utah State Capitol at 350 State St, Salt Lake City, UT 84103 for lessons about the past, present, and future.

The Capitol is home to Utah’s system of government, but it belongs to The People.“Today the Capitol building contains two active legislative chambers, a ceremonial supreme court chamber, and the working offices of top state officials. The Capitol Hill Complex has grown to include Senate, House, and state office buildings. Inside the Capitol and around its grounds, a wide variety of original artwork, treasured artifacts, and historical monuments are on display,” an article published at utahstatecapital.utah.gov said.

Visit the Utah State Capitol Hill Complex
Capitol Hill includes six buildings and manicured green lawns. It features a central plaza that boasts a reflecting pond. A .7 mile circular walkway. The walkway meanders through 433 Yoshino cherry trees. Monuments, plaques, and statuary grace the path too.

A great place to spend the day!
1. Take a tour of Utah’s historic power center
2. Explore the Capitol’s rotating fine art display
3. Meander through the immaculate Capitol grounds
4. Discover outdoor sculptures and art
5. Visit Exhibits (download an exhibit map online, click here). 
6. Visit an open Legislative session
7. View the exquisite art in the marble Capitol rotunda and touch the replica Liberty Bell
8. Schedule your own event in any one of the available meeting rooms
9. Let your voice be heard (peacefully)
10. Attend one of the fun activities hosted by the Capitol throughout the year

For a full list of events and activities, visit the Capitol’s website. Click here. The website also features teaching tools for children and virtual tours for those who can only be here in their hearts.

Capitol Hill is the center gem in Utah’s crown

Capitol Hill towers over Utah’s most populous city, Salt Lake. It’s no accident the elaborate building was raised up high on a hill as an architectural wonder, a visual symbol of strength, and an implied sacred center of unity. That kind of unity can only come through division and a democratic resolution (aka, politics).

Interesting fact: Salt Lake City donated 20 acres of land to the Capitol Commission as its contribution to the massive project. The land had its own history. Capitol Hill was called Arsenal Hill (you know, for the four powder magazines on top of it). The area had become a storage site for explosives. In the spring of 1876, some children were grazing their cattle on Ensign Peak (near Arsenal Hill). They were shooting guns at birds. A shot ignited some powder on the hill. Four people were killed, and hundreds were injured as 500 tons of mountain debris rained down on the city.

Salt Lake Avenues is the heart of the City

Salt Lake’s historic Avenues skirt this local treasure. Many of the homes there pre-date the state’s symbolic structure. Each home has its own story to tell and many are expertly preserved as testaments to architectural styles and eventually cultural finery. Property in the Avenues and throughout the greater Avenues is considered prime real estate. A trip to the Capitol warrants a walk, drive, or bike ride through the exclusive neighborhood featuring the following (and many more) architectural styles:

  • Queen Anne
  • Prairie
  • Craftsman
  • Mediterranean
  • Spanish Colonial Revival
  • Victorian
  • Tudor
  • Art Moderne

Salt Lake is Utah’s most populous city; however, it hasn’t always been the state’s capital city. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the LDS Church) arrived in the valley in 1847. Before that, the geographic area we now call Utah was home to multiple Native American tribes. The Ute’s were among them. Utah is named in honor of the Ute Tribe. Among many tribes, the ancient Pueblos inhabited the land too. They are sometimes referred to as the Anasazis.

Salt Lake Wasn’t Always Utah’s Capital City

Church members sought refuge from the religious persecution they endured in the midwest when scouts set out to find the Church’s forever home. Their President Brigham Young ultimately approved of the Great Salt Lake Valley. Mormon pioneers followed him faithfully. They were on a mission to build their Zion (a biblical reference for a place of spiritual sanctuary). 

The Latter-day Saints (commonly referred to as “the Saints”) were hungry. They were industrious and very well organized. Perhaps most important, they believed they were working for eternal life at the bequest of their Lord and Savior. That was some powerful motivation right there.

At its creation, the Territory of Utah included present-day Nevada (excluding Southern Nevada), much of present-day western Colorado, and the southwest corner of present-day Wyoming. The Organic Act of Congress, in 1950, officially recognized the territory. Young was inaugurated as its first governor on Feb. 3, 1851. The Act was a success for the Saints but it brought unwanted some uninvited attention to the Church’s religious and administrative practices. The practice of polygamy was widely publicized. The Church got some pretty tough press coverage. U.S. Citizens were flabbergasted. Their Zion became visible to the world. It was a double-edged sword.

You’ve got to start somewhere, why not Fillmore?

Due to its central location, present-day Fillmore became the Territory’s capital city. A Utah Territorial Statehouse was built there. Its exterior was faced with local red sandstone bricks. It underwent construction from 1852 to 1855. When it stopped, the building was 25 percent complete. One wing of four (the south wing) was finished. Young had petitioned the United States for statehood. Administrators were anxious to complete what they expected to be their capitol. Young dubbed the intended new state “Deseret.” Among their critics were those who pointed out the U.S. Constitution’s guaranteed separation of church and state. Young’s petition was denied. Enthusiasm for the massive construction project waned (as did federal funding). The Utah Territorial Legislature met there one time in 1856. The building was abandoned and the Great Salt Lake City became the territory’s capital.

The Statehouse is carefully preserved and is now the centerpiece of Territorial Statehouse State Park Museum. Tours are available. Many hands-on activities and events occur there throughout the year.

After many attempts, Utah achieved statehood

Statehood was crucial for the growing territory. Crops were flourishing, and minerals (many minerals) were found in “them thar’ hills.” The distant desert was starting to attract non-Mormons. The Church thought entrance to the Union so important that it denounced polygamy – a principle central to the “building of Zion.”

Utah was admitted to the United States on Jan. 4, 1896. Its first two senators and one representative participated in Congress that year. The frugal administration made do with existing buildings in Salt Lake City until it just wasn’t feasible anymore. The calls for a capitol building began.

In 1912 a commission designated to oversee the construction of the capitol selected an architectural design presented by Richard K.A. Kletting. Kletting traveled to several capital cities in the East. His final plans relied heavily on that of the Kentucky State Capitol.

On Oct. 9, 1916 the completed Capitol was dedicated to the public. It has undergone many restorations and changes since then, but its architectural style has remained very much the same. Some say its design is Classical architecture. Local influencers compared it to Greece’s Parthenon. Still, others clearly see Corinthian design elements.

Kletting’s vision for the building came closer to being realized when the Capitol underwent a full restoration. Today’s architects made changes Kletting’s original design demanded.

Learn more about the Utah State Capitol online, click here.

Posted in: / By: Joel Carson /  Last Updated: October 10, 2022

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