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Oregon State Legislature History of the Capitol Building

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Fire and Bronze

The location of Oregon's capital city has had a tumultuous history. Over the years, the government seat moved from Oregon City to Salem to Corvallis—then back to Salem. Two state Capitol buildings have burned to the ground and been replaced. The main structure of the current building was completed in 1938. Two wings were added in 1977.

The First Capitol Building

Before Oregon became a territory in 1848, the Oregon Country provisional government selected Oregon City as the capital. Intense debate between Whigs and Democrats resulted in the legislature designating Salem as the capital. The governor and Oregon Supreme Court, however, refused to move.​

An act of Congress settled the matter in Salem’s favor, only to be overturned in favor of Corvallis. After years of wrangling, the matter was settled, and a new Capitol in Salem was built and dedicated. It burned down in a mysterious fire 11 days later and had to be rebuilt.

Read more about the 19th century argument over the seat of Oregon’s government​.

The Second Capitol Building

Oregon's second Capitol building was the seat of government through intense debates over direct legislation through popular vote (the predecessor to our initiative system), and women’s suffrage. The building burned to the ground the night of April 25, 1935. No foul play was suspected.​

Our Current Building and the Oregon Pioneer

The main structure of our current State Capitol was completed in 1938, at the height of the Great Depression, with the help of the federal government. Sheathed in brilliant white Vermont marble, the building is a landmark example of Modernist Art Deco design. The pinnacle of the building is a gilded bronze statue of the Oregon Pioneer.

Take a virtual tour of the Capitol here.

Did You Know?

Because of controversy over the location of the capital, Oregon was governed without a capitol building for 21 years. During this time, the Legislature met in Salem at the Nesmith Building and the Holman Building, as well as Willamette University.

Capitol, capitol, or capital?


Capitol: the U.S Capitol building in Washington, D.C. or specific state capitol buildings, e.g. the Oregon Capitol.

capitol: state capitol buildings in general.

capital: the town or city where the state legislature meets.