When the Territorial Capitol basement was a human litter box, 1859

In 1859 members of the legislature used the capitol basement’s dirt floor as a latrine.

By David L. Bristow, Editor


What was it like inside Nebraska’s second territorial capitol in the 1850s? Let’s put it this way: the photo makes it look a lot better than it really was.

Construction began in 1857 atop the hill where Central High School now stands. The second floor was still unfinished in 1859, and the first floor was only partly finished. The House of Representatives met in a 22’ x 34’ room intended for the Supreme Court, and the “Council” (equivalent to a Senate) met in similar room intended to be the library.

That year Territorial Secretary J. Sterling Morton wrote various letters complaining about conditions. He demanded a fence to prevent “a large drove of cattle” from grazing near the building, a situation he called “anything but pleasant or agreeable.” Another letter warned that the south exterior wall had “broken loose from the inner walls” and was in danger of collapse.

And there was no privy (outhouse) on the grounds, and no indoor plumbing. Members of the all-male legislature were in the habit of going down to the dirt-floored basement to relieve themselves, “which in warm weather renders the upper part of the building unfit for use, and it has already cost as much or more for cleaning the Basement than it would require to build a privy.”


(Posted Feb. 22, 2022)


(Photo: History Nebraska RG1234-2-4)


James C. Olson, J. Sterling Morton. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1942, 82-83.

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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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