Senate Chamber: Crossroads of Iowa Heritage
Iowa's General Assembly consists of the members from the House of Representative and
Senate, both elected by the public. 50 members comprise the Senate, one from each of
the 50 districts in the state. Each district is then divided into two house districts,
giving the state 100 representatives. Iowa's first senators met here.
In 1847, lawmakers gathered here for the First General Assembly and founded the University
of Iowa. When the University moved into Old Capitol, officials divided the senate
chamber in half. One side was arranged with desks for the education department. The
other side housed the Cabinet of Natural History, forerunner of the current UI Museum
of Natural History. The Cabinet remained here until 1886, when it moved to the new Hall
of Science, now known as Macbride Hall. As the University expanded in the early 1900s,
the senate chamber became home to the law library and University registrar.
Although initially built for government activities, Old Capitol quickly became Iowa City's
social center, with the senate chamber a favorite gathering place. The room was used for
legislative purposes during the week, but on weekends churches of various denominations
conducted services here. This practice replaced holding religious ceremonies in private
homes and continued until church buildings were constructed in town.
Sewing clubs, the Iowa State Teacher's Association, Iowa Republican Party, State Historical
Society, State Medical Society, and other diverse community groups met in the senate chamber
and other Old Capitol rooms. Several festivities-from election parties to celebrating the
railroad's arrival in Iowa City-also enlivened the senate chamber. In February 1849, a grand
ball was held here in honor of Washington's Birthday.
After the 1920s, the senate chamber was set up as a lecture hall. In 1950s and 1960s, the
University hosted high school speech events and debates here. When Old Capitol opened as a
museum in 1976, the tradition of community use endured. The senate chamber continues to
serve as a venue for public events, concerts, PhD defenses, and lectures.
The chandelier hanging from the center of the room was installed during the 1920s
rehabilitation. 750 crystal prisms hang from this 650-pound chandelier, which is lowered
by a pulley system for cleaning.
In December of 2006, Old Capitol acquired an 1878 Steinway. Purchased with an in-kind
donation, the piano itself has a rich history and
and was originally purchased by a prominent businessman in Burlington, Iowa. Click here for more information about the 1878 Steinway.