10 Things to Note When You Visit the Utah State Capitol

Built on a hilly 40 acres, surrounded by trees, grass, and native plants, the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City is absolutely gorgeous! Here are ten things to note when you visit…

For 20 years after statehood, the leaders of Utah operated out of borrowed spaces. But, when railroad executive Edward Harriman died in 1909, the state collected nearly $800,000 in inheritance tax that seeded the funding of the Utah State Capitol. 

Here are ten things to note when you visit the Utah State Capitol:

1 – Little Cottonwood Canyon Granite

Mined from nearby Little Cottonwood Canyon, the Utah State Capital is constructed from Utah granite. When the building was under construction, a dedicated railroad was built to haul granite from the quarry to the construction site. 

Exterior of the Utah State Capitol
The Utah State Capitol is made of locally-mined granite.

Fun Fact:  Other Salt Lake City landmarks built from Utah granite include the Salt Lake Temple and LDS Conference Center.

The side of the Utah State Capitol building in Salt Lake City
A side view of the Utah State Capitol

2 – Amazing Views

The view from the front steps of the Utah State Capitol.
The front steps of the Utah State Capitol offer amazing views of the Salt Lake City valley and surrounding mountain ranges.

Pro Tip:  Complimentary tours of the Utah State Capitol are offered hourly at the top of the hour from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday. But, the building is open to the public from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on weekdays and 8:00 am to 6:00 pm on weekends and holidays. These hours make it easy for someone like me to fit in a visit around my day job.

 

 

3 – A Mix of Marble

Although the Capitol Commission wanted to construct the building out of local materials, fiscal realities forced them to occasionally supplement with out-of-state products. The main floor’s columns, walls, and staircases all feature Georgia marble. The rest of the building, including the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the State Reception Room, feature birdseye marble from Utah County.

Interior view of the Utah State Capitol
The interior of the Utah State Capitol features both Georgia and Utah marble.

 

4 – Niche Statues

The four niche statues directly under the Capitol’s dome are dedicated to the timeless beliefs of the people of Utah:

  • Immigration & Settlement
  • Land & Community
  • Science & Technology
  • Arts & Education

Each sculpture features an adult figure mentoring a younger prodigy. In the Immigration & Settlement statue, the woman barely touches the girl’s shoulder giving her loving encouragement but allowing her to choose her own path forward.

This bronze statue in a niche at the Utah State Capitol supports immigration and settlement.
One of four bronze statues placed in the niches of the Utah State Capitol.

 

5 – Use of Natural Light

Like the Salt Lake City Public Library, the Capitol harnesses natural light to reduce the use of electricity. While the library uses a curved wall of windows, the architect who designed the Capitol used arched skylights.

Arched skylights in the Utah State Capitol
Arched skylights in the roof of the Utah State Capitol leverage natural light and reduce the electricity needed to light the building.

 

6 – Beehive State

As a nod to the hard work and cooperation that takes place in a beehive, Utah adopted the nickname The Beehive State. Utah incorporated a beehive into its state seal, and copper beehive sculptures are prominently displayed on the main staircase outside the Capitol.

A beehive sculpture on the front steps of the Utah State Capitol building.
One of several beehive sculptures on the front steps of the Utah State Capitol.

Fun Fact:  Probably not surprising, the Utah state insect is the honeybee.

 

7 – Inventor of the Television

Credited as the inventor of the television, Philo Farnsworth was born in a log cabin near Beaver, Utah and raised predominantly in Idaho. After attending college in Utah, Farnsworth spent most of his career away from his birth state. In California, Pennsylvania, and Germany he secured more than 150 US and foreign patents for his inventions.

These details are important because a similar statue to the one standing in the Utah State Capitol is in the National Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. The Statuary Hall includes two statues of important figures from each state that represent its history. Recently, a Utah legislator proposed replacing Farnsworth’s statue with one of Martha Hughes Cannon.  Keep reading for more on her…

Philo Farnsworth's statue stands in the Utah State Capitol
A statue of Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of the television, stands in the Utah State Capitol. 

 

8 – Honorable Lions

Sculpted from Italian marble, two pairs of lions guard the east and west entrances of the Utah State Capitol. Each lion represents a different age of life and has an honorable name:  Fortitude, Integrity, Honor, and Patience.

A marble lion guards the entrance to the Utah State Capitol
One of four Italian marble lions that guard the entrance to the Utah State Capitol

 

9 – Lincoln Statue

Born in South Dakota and educated at the Art Institute of Chicago, sculptor Gilbert Riswold moved with his family to Salt Lake City in August 1926. During the five years that he lived in Utah, he worked on his most famous piece dedicated to the 500 Mormons who joined the US Army during the Mexican War.

His bronze bust of Abraham Lincoln is located on the 4th floor of the Utah State Capitol where it is clearly good luck to rub his nose.

10 – Relegated to the Back of the Building

Behind the Capitol stands a sculpture of Martha Hughes Cannon. A physician, suffragist, and women’s rights advocate, Dr. Cannon was the first female state senator elected in the US. At a time when most women couldn’t even cast a vote, Dr. Cannon defeated her own husband to win her state senate seat.

Fun Fact:  Although the Utah territory granted women the right to vote in 1870, Congress revoked that right in 1887. Voting rights for the women of Utah were restored in 1895 through the state’s constitution. But elsewhere in the US, women weren’t granted the right to vote until August 1920 when the 19th Amendment was ratified.

After learning more about Dr. Cannon and her contributions to the state of Utah, I certainly respect and appreciate Adam Gardiner’s efforts to replace Farnsworth’s statue in DC’s National Statuary Hall with one of Dr. Cannon. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, there are two requirements for replacing a statue in the National Statuary Hall:

  1. The governor must sign a resolution for replacement
  2. The statue has been on display in the State’s Capitol for at least ten years. (The bronze statue of Dr. Cannon was dedicated in 1996.)
A statue of Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon outside the Utah State Capitol
Dr. Martha Hughes Cannon was a physician, suffragist, women’s rights advocate, and the first female state senator in the US


What about you?

Have you visited the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City? Share your experience in the comments section below.

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