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Situated at the middle of the University of Iowa?s Pentacrest, the Old Capitol was once the building that served as the seat of government before and when Iowa was admitted as the 29th member of the United States. The capitol was constructed in the city of Iowa which was chosen to become the state?s third and last ?permanent? territorial capital. On July 4, 1840 (during the celebration of the Independence Day), the laying of the capitol?s cornerstone was officiated by the territory?s first governor Robert Lucas. The Old Capitol was witness to some of the important historical events of the State of Iowa including the crafting of its constitution and the inauguration of its first governor Ansel Briggs. This is also where the first six Iowa general assemblies met and the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa), as well as the State Historical Society of Iowa was founded.

The Old Capitol was only occupied by the state government from 1842 to 1857. Even before its completion, the state government moved to Des Moines in 1857. With the appropriation of only $4,000 to finish the construction of the Capitol, the state government deeded the building to the University of Iowa which has been occupying it since its opening to the public in 1855. The capitol became the University?s first permanent building that housed almost the entire university from 1857 to 1863, when the University?s second building was erected. The University constructed a library, a chapel and a fire station together with classrooms and offices for its presidents in the Old Capitol building. Despite the financial challenges the University encountered, it survived and was able to take over the Iowa Law School of Des Moines which occupied a space on the second floor of the capitol until 1910.

At the turn of the century, the University initiated its plan of building four more structures on each corner of the Old Capitol forming what is now known as the Pentacrest. The four buildings surrounding the Old Capitol and forming the Pentacrest with an ?X? pattern are: Jessup Hall directly northwest of the Capitol, MacBride Hall to the northeast, MacLean Hall to the southwest and Schaeffer Hall to the southeast.

Renovations to the building had to be done but instead of modernizing it, the University decided to restore the Old Capitol back to its original condition but with upgrades to its foundations to make it more stable. It took six years to finish the reformations but when it opened on July 4, 1976 it was already declared a National Historic Landmark. The designation transpired on January 7, 1976. Today, the ground floor of the Old Capitol serves as a museum with exhibits depicting the history of the building, the university, and the state of Iowa.
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