July 14, 2016 – Idaho State Capitol and Idaho’s Old State Penitentiary

Although Lewiston, Idaho briefly served as Idaho's capital from the formation of Idaho Territory in 1863, the territorial Legislature moved the capital to Boise (pronounced “Boy see”) on December 24, 1864.

Idaho State Capitol (Territorial Capitol Painting), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

In 1905, the Idaho legislature passed the bill authorizing construction of the Capitol Building. The dome and central parts of the Capitol were built first between 1905-1912 while the House and Senate wings were constructed during 1919 and 1920.

Idaho State Capitol (b), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (a), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Most of the superstructure is made of sandstone taken from Table Rock (near Boise); convicts from the Old Idaho Penitentiary (see below) were responsible for transporting the 10-ton sandstone blocks from the quarry. 

From the first floor to the eagle atop the dome, the Capitol building rises 208 feet. 

The floor area of the building when completed was 201,720 square feet.   Over 50,000 square feet of artistically-carved marble exists in the building.   The original cost to construct the Capitol was $2.1 million.  Replacement costs today would be over $100 million with many materials considered irreplaceable.

Idaho's Capitol Building is the only one in the United States heated by geothermal water.  The hot water is tapped and pumped from a source 3,000 feet underground.

Architectural inspirations included St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC.  The most prominent feature of the capitol is its dome.

Idaho State Capitol (Exterior Dome), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Exterior Copula and Eagle), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Eagle atop the Dome -c), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14The eagle atop the dome stands 5 feet 7 inches and is made of copper. In 2005, as part of the exterior restoration, it received a new gilding of gold leaf.

There are 219 pillars in the original building – Doric, Corinthian, or Ionic – and each pillar is made up of marble dust, plaster and Scagliola. Scagliola is a mixture of granite, marble dust, gypsum and glue dyed to look like marble. This artificial marble was created by a family of artisans in Italy.

Other than for the major support columns, some of which are five feet in diameter at the base, the remainder of the true marble Is used extensively throughout the building.  Four types of marble were used for the Capitol's interior:

  • Red from Georgia
  • Gray from Alaska
  • Green from Vermont
  • Black from Italy


Idaho State Capitol (Rotunda 1st Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Dome Columns and Decorations), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Interior Column Capstone), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14Corinthian Capstone

Idaho State Capitol (Rotunda from the 2nd Floor - z), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (3rd Floor Railing Ballisters), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14


On the first floor of the capitol building, when looking upward to the dome, 13 large stars and 43 smaller stars can be seen. The 13 large stars represent the thirteen original colonies and the 43 smaller stars indicate that Idaho was the forty-third state to enter the union.

Idaho State Capitol (Interior Done from 1st Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Rotunda Dome from the 1st Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Rotunda Dome  Center from the 1st Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

The floor contains a compass rose. In its center is a sundial that has minerals found in Idaho.

Idaho State Capitol (1st Floor & 2nd Floors from 4th Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Needing more office space, engineers excavated off the East and West ends of the Garden (basement)  Floor 17 feet down  to create two underground wings, each with glass skylights which run the length of their corridors and from which (given the position of the sun) the Capitol dome is visible.

Idaho State Capitol (Dome thru Atrium Roof - a), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Dome thru Atrium Roof - b), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

In one of these atrium wings are replicas of the only two life masks of Abraham Lincoln.  The first was done in 1860, just before he was nominated for President.  At that time he fit, vibrant and a robust 51 year old man with a firm face and full of life.

Idaho State Capitol (Lincoln's 1860 Life Mask), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

The other was done on February 1, 1865, just two months before his assassination.  The differences in his face are stark and poignant.  His face then was one of unspeakable sadness and sorrow.

Idaho State Capitol (Lincoln's 1865 Life Mask), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

At the center of the Garden floor is a replica of the Idaho State Seal, done in 9,750 individual tiles.

Idaho State Capitol (State Seal on Rotunda Floor -  9,750 tiles), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Up one flight, the State Treasurer’s office is located on the floor, where an original vault contains a large manganese steel safe.  One of its doors adorns the adjacent hallway.

Idaho State Capitol (Vaule Door on the First Floor), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

The second floor houses the Executive Branch including Governor Otter’s formal reception office.

Idaho State Capitol (Governor Otter's Reception Office - a), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Governor Otter's Reception Office Companion Desk), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14"Companion" double-kenn Hole Desk

Idaho State Capitol (Governor Otter's Reception Office - b), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Governor Otter's Reception Office - Historic Tea Set), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

While each governor selects many of the adornments and photographs for this office, the formal silver tea set remains from term to term.

Idaho State Capitol (Governor Otter's Otter), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14What other type of trophy would you expect in the office of a governor named OTTER?

Climbing the gorgeous marble staircase

Idaho State Capitol (Marble Railing and Ballisters), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

to the third floor, we had unlimited access to both the House


Idaho State Capitol (House Chamber - a), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (House Chamber - b), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (House Chamber - Dick Presiding), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14Where I had an opportunity to run a session … albeit, no one else was present (kind of like many sessions of Congress)

and Senate chambers.

Idaho State Capitol (Senate Chamber - a), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Senate Chamber - b), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Idaho State Capitol (Senate Chamber - Debbie Presiding), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14and, where Debbie presided over an equally empty room

While the Supreme Court has, as in most other states, moved to separate judicial buildings, its former chambers are now used by JFAC (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee) , the original Justices and bench remain.

Idaho State Capitol (Supreme Court's Original Chambers), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

The clock above where the justices formally sat was covered by a painting for many years and it wasn’t until 2005 renovation that the painting was removed and the clock rediscovered.

Idaho State Capitol (Supreme Court's Original Chamber Clock), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

On the steps of the Capitol is a replica of the Liberty Bell (In 1950, the Christopher Paccard Bell Foundry was commissioned to cast a full size Liberty Bell replica for each State in the Union plus Territories.  Each replica was placed into a park setting on the grounds of the respective state capital).

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Liberty Bell), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

In addition to three trees planted by presidents, including a water oak planted by Benjamin Harrison, whose proclamation admitted Idaho to the Union, there are statues on the Capitol grounds recognizing:

Abraham Lincoln

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Abraham Lincoln Statue and Capitol Dome), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Former Governor Frank Steunenberg (1897-1900) and assassinated in 1905

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Governor Steunenberg Memorial), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

The Grand Army of the Republic

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Grand Army of the Republic Monument), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Pioneers of the Oregon Trail

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Pioneer Monument), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Civil War Veterans (a Model 1840 cast iron cannon)

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Model 1840 Confederate Cannon), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14

Lewis and Clark

Idaho State Capitol Grounds (Lewis and Clark Monument), Boise, ID - 2106-07-14It depicts Lewis and Clark meeting with Twisted Hair of the Nez Perce as his young son Lawyer, later to play a major role in the conflict between the Nez Perce and American settlers, plays at their feet.

While walking the Capitol grounds, we noticed a detailed reflection in the glass facade of teh nearby Department of Commerce building.

Idaho State Capitol Reflectd in State Department of Commerce Building (b), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

The Old Idaho Penitentiary was a functioning prison for 101 years. 

Old Penitentiary (a), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

It was built in 1870, and the first prisoners arrived in 1872.  The four and a half-acre site was selected because of its proximity to the growing agricultural center in Boise and to sandstone, the material used in the construction of the penitentiary’s walls, an Administration Building, cell blocks and later a guard’s living house and Warden’s residence,

Old Penitentiary (Warden's House), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

complete with a tennis court … at a time when funds to improve prison conditions were not forthcoming from the State.  The buildings on the site were built by inmate laborers. 

The federal government operated the site until statehood in 1890. The “Old Pen”, as it is affectionately referred to by locals, officially closed in December 1973.

One of Four Guard Towers

Old Penitentiary (Guard Tower), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14Between which armed guards patrolled the walls

Double-gated “Sally Port” to permit vehicles to enter and leave (still functional today)

Old Penitentiary (Sally Port from Inside the Walls), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (Sally Port from Outside the Walls), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

No Man’s Land

Old Penitentiary (No Man's Land), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14A barren area of gravel running around the entire prison just inside the walls

Warden’s Office

Old Penitentiary (Warden's Office - a), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14The safe was used to store monies and prisoner records.

Old Penitentiary (Warden's Office - b), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14A Kodak camera was used to photograph each entering prisoner

Cell Blocks #2 and #3

Old Penitentiary (Cell Blocks #2 and #3), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Cell Block #4 (left) the Basketball/Tennis courts and Maximum Security Block (right)

Old Penitentiary (Cell Blocks #4, Basketball & Tennis Court and Maximum Security Block), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (Cell Blocks #4), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (Cell Blocks #4 Four-man Cell), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14Cell Block #4 (interior and typical four-person cell)

Maximum Security (interior and typical cell)

Old Penitentiary (Maximum Scurity Cell Block), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (Maximum Scurity Cell), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Death Row Cell

Old Penitentiary (Death Row Cell), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Death Chamber

Old Penitentiary (Death Penalty Chamber - Interior), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14(where only one man was hanged; others were executed outside in the Rose garden on a temporary scaffolding)

Old Penitentiary (Rose Garden), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

The “Cooler” (Solitary Confinement), referred to by the Inmates as Siberia

Old Penitentiary (The ''Cooler'' - Solitary Confinement Block), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (The ''Cooler'' - Solitary Confinement Block Cell), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14Prisoners lived in 3 foot by 12 foot concrete caves with only a small roof opening for light.  After stepping inside for just a few moments, I can 't imagine having to live there for an hour or, as was teh case with some prisoners, months on end!

The Women’s Ward (Opened in 1906 after a woman prisoner wound up pregnant)

Old Penitentiary (Women's Ward), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Old Penitentiary (Women's Ward Two-person Cell - b), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14Typical two-person cell

Old Penitentiary (Women's Ward Day Room), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14The women inmates were able to use the Day Room (above) and roam the exterior courtyard at will


Old Penitentiary (Laundry), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14The prison laundry was built in 1923 as a shirt factory and expanded in 1944 to include a prison laundry.  During World War II, inmates, using natural hot water, did laundry for Gowen Field and Mountain Home Air Force Base

Just a few of the in mate-made weapons confiscated by the prison guards.

Old Penitentiary (Prisoner Weapons), Boise, ID - 2016-07-14

Over its 101 years of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 inmates, including 215 women, with a maximum population of 603 at any one time. 

  • The youngest was just 10 years old and served less than 1 year for killing a man.
  • An 11 year old served 9 years for shooting his mother.
  • The oldest, an 81 year old Native American served 3 years for cattle rustling.
  • There were over 500 escapes, but only 90 got away.
  • Ten men were hanged there, the last one in 1957.  No women were executed in Idaho.
  • The most common crimes committed by inmates were Forgery (for women) and Theft (for men).
  • There were riots in 1935, 1952 and 1966.  However, two more serious riots occurred in 1971 and 1973 over living condition in the prison and resulted teh the destruciton of the prison chapeland dining hall.
  • The two famous inmates were Harry Orchard who assassinated former Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 and spent 46 years at the prison, where he died in 1956 (the institution’s longest serving prisoner); and Lyda Southard, known as Idaho's Lady Bluebird for killing several of her husbands to collect upon their life insurance policies.
  • The 416 resident inmates were moved to the newly built Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise and the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed on December 3, 1973.
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