History of Old Capitol

1976-2006 Fire and Recovery: Introduction


This section of the Old Capitol web site is devoted to the recovery and rebuilding of the building following the November 20, 2001 fire. In this section you will also find information about the fire itself, and the damage it caused to Old Capitol. The pictures below show the stages of the Old Capitol beginning with the building prior to the fire, and ending with the current appearance of Old Capitol. Go to the Current Updates section of this site for the most recent information on the recovery and rebuilding efforts to the building.

Imges of Old Capitol
Photos on this page are by University Relations, University News Services, & Anna M. Buskohl.


Fire and Recovery: What Happened

"This is a sad day for the University of Iowa, Old Capitol embodies the heart and soul of this university, and watching the dome go up in flames was painful for all of us. However, we want all our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university to know that we will begin immediately to plan to rebuild and restore it." -President Mary Sue Coleman

Imges of Old Capitol
At 8:30 am, Tuesday, November 20, 2001 the Old Capitol of Iowa was struck by a fire that destroyed the building's 160 year old cupola, dome and bell. At 8:41 am the fire department was notified of the fire.

Fortunately, the interior of the building escaped being burned because of a fire wall that was installed during the 1920's rehabilitation of the building. Due to the efforts of the fire fighters much of the furniture in the building escaped severe damage. All furniture was quickly moved to the center of each room and covered with tarps.

The interior of the building suffered a great deal of smoke, soot and water damage. Some of the furniture pieces were warped and water damaged. None of the damaged furniture is beyond repair. All pieces in the building will be repaired and returned to the rooms upon completion of the recovery, rebuilding, and restoration.

Although the fire of November 20, 2001 destroyed the cupola and dome of the building, it did not cause the chandelier, which is suspended from the interior dome to fall. The staircase has suffered a great deal of water damage, all of which will be repaired.

The State Fire Marshall has ruled that the fire was started accidentally by a torch or heat gun.

If you wish to find out more in depth information of the interior damage of the building please go the Tour Before & After section of this web site. For information on the dome please visit the Dome & Cupola section.

Tour Before and After the Fire

Coming Soon

The Recovery

The recovery began immediately after the fire. It took 31 days to clear the debris from the dome/roof area. This included removing burned timber framing and scaffold, the bell, the destroyed HVAC system, and debris. A weather tight box or "bunker" was built and secured for winter.

All of the 680 artifacts (furniture, artwork, framed historic maps, paper and books, metals, glass and textiles) had to be dried, assessed for damage, estimated for repair, cleaned, inventoried, and carefully packed to save them. Work began on the items that needed repair immediately. This is an ongoing process.

For two months the staff daily moved every shutter and door in the building to prevent warping. There are 46 windows in Old Capitol with four shutters each for a total of 184 shutters. There are 24 doors on the first floor and 12 on the second.

It was imperative to gain control of the relative humidity, temperature, and ventilation for the interior of the building as soon as possible. Once the debris was removed, temporary equipment had to be installed. Daily monitoring of the humidity and temperature in the building is essential to the drying process which should be done slowly and methodically. This is still an ongoing process. Because the exterior walls are limestone, the interior walls are brick and the floors are concrete on all levels, it could take as long as one year for the building to dry completely.

The Rebuilding

The reconstruction and restoration of Old Capitol has been divided into four phases. Each phase adds work that either has to be done due to the fire that destroyed the dome or upgrades that are essential to the future of the building. The following outlines a strategy for reconstructing the lost elements of the Old Capitol and providing improvements to the building and systems to insure long-term viability. This will ensure that Old Capitol will be a place of education and historical learning for the people of Iowa, the nation and the world.

Phase One

Consists of the dome, cupola and tower reconstruction and the building roof replacement. Replacing the existing asphalt shingle roof with a standing seam metal roof more representative of the building's era is proposed. The total cost of Phase One is estimated at $4.45 million. Construction should begin in midsummer 2002 with completion expected in February 2003. Earlier approved millwork packages will be incorporated in Phase One.

Phase Two

Includes reconstruction of interior fire damaged areas as well as upgrading building infrastructure (fire alarm & suppression systems, electrical and lighting upgrades, elevator improvements) and enhancing the building's gift ship and lower level.

Phase Three

Consists of reconditioning portions of the building's exterior. This includes completing the restoration of the west portico and wood trim, recounting and restoring exterior masonry, and relaying the west stairs. Storm window replacement and general window repairs are also included. These are essential restoration actions but unrelated to the fire damage.

Phase Four

Consists of restoration and improvements to the building site. Landscape and walkway improvements are included along with repair to the west terrace area that was constructed during the 1920 restoration project.

Fire and Recovery: Photo Features

Old Capitol library bookcase is taken apart for the move. Click the image below to see how it was done!

Click to view bookcase page

Fire and Recovery: Current Updates

This portion of the Old Capitol web site is devoted to providing the most current news on the Old Capitol Museum. Primarily, it is devoted to the work being done in recovery, rebuilding and restoration of the capitol following the fire of November 20, 2001. All information is listed in order, with the most current listed first.

August 2004: Phase 2

Almost a year has gone by and the work at Old Capitol continues to proceed. Phase 2 began at the beginning of the year and contsists of the interior restoration and some exterior restoration. The interior restoration involves a new fire surpression system, repairs to the floors, ceiling and walls, and upgrading the lighting. The exterior work continues the project that was begun before the fire. This entail restoring all the wood trim and both portico columns. The west steps are also undergoing a face lift making them safer and preserving them for the years to come. Work will continue through the rest of the year.

Old Capitol

September 2003-New Roof

Phase 1 is nearing completion as Old Capitol receives it's new lead coated copper, standing seam roof. Old Capitol has had many different styles of roofing from the original wood shingles to slate shingles to asphalt shingles. The lead coated copper is historically correct for the time period and is much more durable than the previous roofs, lasting approximately 50 years. Phase 2 (which includes interior work) will begin this fall.

May 13, 2003-Flag Returns to Old Capitol

The Old Capitol Museum has a flag atop itso gold dome for the first time since the fire of November 20, 2001. The new flag was raised today and the new Meneely bell was rung sixteen times, as it was custom to do in between classes before the fire. The flag was raised and the bell rung during a ceremony at which the University of Iowa president, David Skorton and Margaret Keyes, the director of the 1970s restoration to Old Capitol were present. The ceremony included the presentation of the flag by members of the American Legion and the UI Air Force ROTC and was the hoisted to the top of the flag pole by two University employees, Tadd Wiseman and Joe Stockman, who were in the building when the fire occured and tried to save the dome.

Flag Returns

April 2003-Flag to Soon Return to Old Capitol

On November 20, 2001 the flag waved for the last time on top of the Old Capitol's golden dome, this is soon to change. On Monday, April 21, 2003 the new flag pole was put into place on the reconstructed gold dome of the Old Capitol. The flag is scheduled to be raised in a few weeks. In an effort to show respect to the American military forces in Iraq, a temporary flag pole has been placed on the roof of the building, this will be taken down when the new flag is raised.

Flag Soon to Return

February 2003-Old Cap Gets Its Dome Back

February 24, 2003 marked the end of a year and a half of waiting for the Old Capitol Museum building's gold dome to once again shine atop the cupola. Hundreds of onlookers watched as the 12,000 pound gold dome was lifted by crane and then carefully lowered onto the cupola, guided by workers on top of the building. The new dome for Old Capitol was constructed by Renaissance Restoration, Inc. in Galena, Illinois and then shipped to Iowa City to be coppered and gilded. The enclosure is scheduled to be removed and work on the new roof will begin in late April.

Old cap Gets Dome Back


Flag Soon to Return Flag Soon to Return

December 2002-Timber Framing and Bell are Installed

The end of 2002 marked the return of a bell to the Old Capitol building. On December 9 the bell level framing (see update 'December 2002' to read about the construction of the framing) was installed. The next 20 days were used to ready the inside of the bell level framing for the bell to be installed. On December 30, 2002 the bell was installed. On that same day the timber framing for the cupola (constructed by Trillium Dell) was installed. Large cranes, as can be seen in the photos were used in the installation of both the bell and the timber framing.

The bell that now sits in the Old Capitol tower is a Meneely West Troy bell from the mid to late 1800s and weighs approximately 1500 pounds. On the new bell is an inscription which reads, "MENEELY WEST TROY BELL CAST BETWEEN 1860-1890 REPLACES THE 1864 MENEELY BELL DESTROYED IN THE 11-20-01 FIRE. INSTALLED 2002."

Phase One of the rebuilding of the Old Capitol, which includes the dome and cupola area is scheduled for completion in late spring 2003. Phase Two, including the building's interior, will then begin later in the year.

Framing and Bell are Installed

December 2002-The Rebuilding Begins: Framing is Built for Dome

On November 13 the Old Capitol Project Team headed to Trillium Dell in Galesburg, Illinois to view the progress of the timber framing for the Old Capitol tower and dome. The framing is the structural support for the tower and dome and is constructed with large oak beams, which are cut and shaped by the workman at Trillium Dell. The workmen have also built the joints that will fit in to the oak frame.

When the pieces to the framing are complete they will first be put together in the workshop at Trillium Dell to assure that all the joints fit correctly. The framing will then be taken apart and transported to Iowa City where it will again be put together on the ground and then lifted by crane to the top of the bunker. The tower will be built in three sections; the bell level, cupola level, and dome. The bell level will be lifted soon with the cupola level following later.

Framing and Bell are Installed

September 2002-Contractor is Named for Phase 1 of the Rebuilding

The Iowa Board of Regents has named Knutson Construction Services Midwest, Inc. of Iowa City as the contractor for Phase 1 of the rebuilding of Old Capitol Museum.

Knutson will be responsible for the rebuilding of the dome, cupola and roof replacement of the building. They will also construct a new fence around the building to replace the older one, which has been in place since August 2001.

Knutson Construction has been in operation since 1911, and has been in operation in Eastern Iowa for more than 30 years. The company has worked on a number of other University of Iowa buildings in the past including the Levitt Center for University Advancement, Biology Building Annex, and the Seemans Center for Engineering Arts & Sciences.

In addition to the work that they will be completing, Knutson will also be subcontracting a number of specialty projects to be done on Old Capitol. Renaissance Restoration will be working on masonry repair and repointing, finishing carpentry, and the wood windows. VIS Ltd. will be completing the sheet metal roofing, flashing, and trim. The Guilders' Studio will be responsible for the gilding of the dome. Also, Pospisil Painting is the painting contractor.

September 12, 2002-Moving Day for Old Capitol

Flag Soon to Return Flag Soon to Return The first two weeks of September have been ones of moving boxes and packing. In order to ready the Old Capitol building for Phase 2 of the recovery and restoration all artifacts had to be removed from the building prior to the start of construction.

This was done through the efforts of the Old Capitol Staff and Hawkeye Moving Company. To facilitate this move the fragility of each artifact was taken into consideration and carefully wrapped. Also, it was necessary to take apart some of the artifacts due to their size. The building's artifacts will be kept in a secure location until the completion of the work on Old Capitol.

In addition to the moving of all artifacts from the Old Capitol building, the offices of the Old Capitol staff have been relocated to the Communication Center until the completion of Phase 2.

Summer 2002 Update-Staircase is Load Tested

Flag Soon to Return Summer has been a busy time for all the people involved with the Old Capitol Recovery and Restoration project.

The architects, historic preservationists, and staff have been working tirelessly doing research and looking through 80 years of blueprints to put together a set of drawings for the dome, cupola, and roof repair that will begin in September.

The building has been monitored very closely as we continue the drying out process. Doug Steinmetz, Historic Preservationist Architect, has been checking the percentage of water in the walls, floors, and air. Even after ten months the building is still wet.

The artifacts have been cleaned, oiled, and repairs have been made to the pieces that were in need. The Schanz Furniture Comp. of South Amana have been diligent in the delicate work that entails repairing 160 year old artifacts.

In August the decision was made to relocate the artifacts and staff of Old Capitol Museum. This is to ensure the safety of artifacts and staff during the rebuilding and restoration time period. Included in this move are the 1,100 books from the Territorial and State Library, 680 artifacts and the gift shop items. They will be moved to a secure/temperature controlled environment. The staff will be relocated to the Communications Center, Room 315. Our phone number will remain 335-0548. This move will be taking place very soon and we hope to be in our new offices by September 13.

In July a load test was done on the unique reverse spiral staircase to ensure it's stability. Ashton Engineering Inc., of Davenport, conducted the test. An intricate set of braces were erected around the stairs with monitors that rested on the underside of the stairs. Then sand bags were placed on the treads. After a number of bags were loaded the monitors were checked to see how the stairs were handling the added weight. In the end 9,000 lbs of sand were placed on the staircase and left for 24 hours. The same process was repeated as the sand bags were removed. We are happy to report that the structure of the staircase is stable! There still is work to be done to the treads, railings, and balustrade, but the 80 year old staircase is as strong and secure as it was in the 1920's when it was rebuilt.

May 16, 2002-Floor Boards are Torn Up

Beginning in early May, workers began removing the flooring of the first floor rotunda of the Old Capitol. This was done to help the building in the drying process. Water still remains in the building following the fire of last November.

Flag Soon to Return

May 16, 2002-Tours at Old Capitol Town Center

Flag Soon to Return The spring is the busiest time of the year for Old Capitol as it is the season in which the majority of school tours of the building are scheduled. Although tours of the inside of the building were not possible this spring, the Old Capitol staff made a valiant effort to provide a program for the tours that were scheduled prior to the fire. With space donated by Johnson County Historical Society in Old Capitol Town Center, a small exhibit was set up to tell the school children about the building and the fire.

Fire and Recovery: Questions and Answers

Here are the answers to some commonly asked questions regarding the fire at the Old Capitol of Iowa on November 20, 2001, the recovery efforts that have followed and the restoration.

What caused the fire?
The State Fire Marshall has ruled that the fire was started accidentally by a torch or heat gun.

How long will the recovery, rebuilding and restoration take to complete?
Exterior dome and cupola scheduled to be completed February 2003. Interior and other phases, undetermined.

How will the repair to Old Capitol and the rebuilding of the dome be funded? Funding is anticipated to be from insurance proceeds, gifts, various University sources, grants, and other sources of revenue.

What happened to the bell? The bell was destroyed during the fire. It has been salvaged and will be on display at the Museum of Natural History. A replacement bell has been purchased.

Is the staircase ruined? NO!! The staircase has suffered water damage. The loose treads, rail, and balusters will be restored.

How much furniture was lost during the fire? No furniture was lost during the fire. Fortunately, the fire wall which was installed in the 1920s prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the building. However, some of the furnishings have suffered water damage and will need minor repair work.

Can members of the general public get in the building? The Old Capitol Museum is closed and not accessible to the general public. It will be reopened upon completion of the work. The staff at Old Capitol, in cooperation with the Museum of Natural History, has set up a temporary exhibit outside of Iowa Hall. This will give insight to the damage caused by the fire and information on the rebuilding and restoration process. The exhibit is located in Macbride Hall, south end of the building on the first floor.

If you have any further questions about the Old Capitol fire please send them to: shalla-wilson@uiowa.edu

© 2013 The University of Iowa
Old Capitol Museum
Office of the Vice President for Research and Economic Development