Old Cap Tour - Staircase and Dome
Wide View of Staircase Side View of Staircase with Chandelier Visible and Interior Dome

Staircase and Dome: Old Capitol's Centerpieces

Old Capitol's staircase, unlike spiral staircases, starts ascending to the left, turns right, and finishes with the top step directly above the bottom. This shape is known as a reverse spiral.

The reverse spiral design was not easy to build. When architect John Frances Rague walked off the Iowa Capitol project, he took the plans with him. Builders were left guessing how to assemble the staircase. When they finished, the bottom inside newel (the final post of a staircase) was ten inches too short. With little money to fix the problem, builders placed a water cooler next to the newel to balance out the different heights. The staircase went unchanged for 80 years.

During the 1920s rehabilitation, architects realized that Rague's design called for each baluster (the supporting post of a handrail) to be a different size. They rebuilt the staircase, adding steel cables to the inside and metal poles to the outside, to prevent steps from swaying during heavy use. The current staircase is actually the building's second, based on the original plans.

Above the stairs is an interior dome. This structure actually lies 40 feet beneath the exterior gold dome. In the 1920s, the exterior dome was covered with 57,000 square inches of gold leaf, which cost about $200. Rolled up, the gold would have been the size of a golf ball.

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Old Capitol Museum
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