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.
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 &
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
September 12, 2002-Moving Day for Old Capitol
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
Summer has been a busy time for all the people involved with the Old Capitol Recovery and Restoration
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.
May 16, 2002-Tours at Old Capitol Town Center
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,
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: