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Nebraska’s First Territorial Capitol

engraving of two-story brick buillding with gabled roof and four chimneys



The first legislature of Nebraska Territory was convened January 16, 1855, at Omaha in a brick building erected for the purpose by the Council Bluffs and Nebraska Ferry Company. It was occupied by the legislature for its first two sessions in 1855 and 1857 and afterward used as general offices for the Union Pacific Railway Company. The Nebraska Palladium (Bellevue) of January 17, 1855, described this first building housing organized Nebraska government as “a plain, substantial, two-story brick edifice, which we should judge was about 30 by 45 feet. The entrance to the building is on the east side, into a hall, from which the various state apartments above and below are reached.




“As you enter the hall below, the representatives room will be found on the left, and the governor’s apartment on the right. A winding staircase leads to the hall above, at the head of which, upon the left, you enter the council chamber and the committee rooms on the right. The building is a neat and substantial one, but altogether too small for the purpose intended.



“The speaker’s desk is elevated two or three steps above the level of the floor, and likewise that of the president of the council. The desks are well proportioned and tastefully finished.



“The desks for the representatives and councilmen are designed to accommodate two members, each having a small drawer to himself, and a plain Windsor chair for a seat. The furniture, including the secretaries’ and speaker’s desks and chairs, is of the plainest character, and yet well suited to the purpose for which they were designed. The size of the legislative rooms are so small that but very few spectators can gain admittance at one time.



“We were struck with the singularity of taste displayed in the curtain furniture of the different rooms, which consisted of two folds of plain calico, the one green and the other red, which we took to be symbolic of jealousy and war-which monsters, we fear, will make their appearance before right is enthroned and peace established.”




The second territorial capitol, also in Omaha, was larger, 137 by 93 feet. The supreme court, the library, and government offices were on the first floor, and the legislature and governor on the second. Corinthian columns planned for the building were removed as unsafe after several had collapsed. The building was erected in 1857 and 1858, but was later torn down to make room for Omaha High School, which in turn was later demolished and replace with the present Central High School.



Photos: top: History Nebraska RG1234-2-10; below, second territorial capitol, on present site of Central High School. History Nebraska RG1234-2-4



photo of two story building with columns and cupola


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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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