The Gem States Center of Government

There are two little known and unseen by the public oddities concerning Idaho’s state capitol building in Boise. The structure is the only state capitol building heated by a geothermal well and there are underground tunnels used by employees connecting to other government buildings. The capitol building is located at 700 W. Jefferson Street between 6th and 7th Streets.

After Idaho achieved statehood in 1890, another building served as capitol but a larger structure was required so Boise architects John E. Tourtellotte and Charles F. Hummel were commissioned to design a new building patterned after the United States Capitol. Building commenced in 1905 and the dome main building was completed in 1912. The complete sandstone and marble building was finished in 1921 at a $2 million cost. Ten-ton sandstone blocks were cut by convict labor from Boise’s Table Rock Quarry. A replica of the Liberty Bell stands in front of the capitol steps. Gazing 208 feet up in the air visitors will see the copper eagle perched atop the dome.

Capitol visitors enter the Garden Level central rotunda formerly the basement. There is a gift shop and an exhibit on the capitol and Idaho history. Senate and house offices are down the wings. The best view of the dome is obtained by ascending up the Grand Staircase to the 1st floor and main lobby and looking straight up. Eight steel columns are covered by scagliola which is plaster masquerading as marble. The interior does feature a variety of genuine marble like George Red, Alaska Gray, Vermont Green, Italian Black and greenish white marbles Brocadillo and American Pavonazzo. The column styles throughout the building are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Administration offices occupy this floor.

The offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and Secretary of State can be found on the 2nd floor. In 1911, artist Herbert A. Collins was engaged to paint 20 portraits of Idaho’s territorial and early state governors and the paintings are displayed in the halls. Chandeliers hang in the senate and house chambers on the 3rd floor. Again, the United States Capitol has been imitated as the senate and house schemes are red and blue. Furniture are replicas of the originals.

During a recent renovation, the barrel ceiling in Statuary Hall was restored on the 4th floor. Visitors pass by statues of George Washington and Winged Victory of Samothrace replica. There is a lot of natural lighting due to the dome and light shafts in the hallways. In the Garden Level exhibit, there are a number of art objects fashioned from wood. That wood came from four trees planted by Theodore Roosevelt and three other presidents that once stood proud on the capitol grounds. The trees were removed for the poor reason of not fitting into renovation plans.