Everything you need to know about the Texas Capitol building

State & Regional

Photo: J. Davis

AUSTIN, Texas — You know the saying — everything is bigger (and better) in Texas.

Well, the size of the state’s Capitol is just further proof that the statement is accurate. Surveyors in 1999 using high-tech equipment measured the Texas State Capitol pink-granite dome at 302.64 feet. It is almost 15 feet taller than our nation’s Capitol in Washington D.C., which sits at 288 feet.  

But if you think Texas is the tallest you would be wrong. The Texas State Capitol is the sixth-tallest state capitol. The top height award goes to Louisiana’s 450-foot tower in Baton Rouge.   Texas has everyone beat however, by gross square footage, (2.25 acres).

How much do you know about our State Capitol?

Believe it or not, two of Austin’s three Capitol buildings have been scarred by devastating fires. Texas outgrew its first digs quickly and so a larger Capitol was built in 1853, only to burn down in a 1881 fire.

When state officials where looking to build a Capitol building in 1881 after the last one burned, they wanted it bigger and better and felt the best way to choose an architect was to hold a national design competition. Eight architects across the U.S. entered, and in the end Detroit-based Elijah E. Meyers won the competition with his “Renaissance Revival” design, which he modeled after the National Capitol.  

The original plans called for limestone from the Texas Hill Country, but all the limestone builders could find contained high amounts of iron, which caused it to streak when exposed to air. A granite company in Marble Falls called Granite Mountain Stone came to the rescue. It was willing to donate enough of the “Sunset Red” granite on the walls. The limestone was used in the foundation.  

When the Capitol was finished, it measured over 300 feet in height, had 392 rooms, 924 windows and 404 doors. It took more than 1,000 people, including engineers, contractors, laborers and craftsmen, and seven years to build at a cost of $3,744,600.

Instead of forking over $3 million to have the Capitol built, the State offered John and Charles Farwell, the project’s lead contractors, a 3 million-acre tract of public land in the Texas Panhandle. The range stretched across 10 counties from Lubbock to the Oklahoma Panhandle in a 30-mile-wide strip and soon became XIT Ranch, the largest cattle ranch in the world.  

On April 21, 1888, Texas celebrated for a week with parades, military displays, drill teams, fireworks, band concerts, and multiple speeches and ceremonies.    

Elijah Myers’ masterpiece was completed, and for nearly a century, it stood strong… until an electrical fire in 1983 did some serious damage to the living quarters and official chambers.

This prompted an elaborate 10-year restoration and renovation project that included building the $75 million Capitol Extension.

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