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California Capitol

Gateway to History Series

Capitol Construction 

Construction of California State Capitol Building, 1868. Sacramento Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce Collection, 2001/059/1321

The Gateway to History series enables educators to make use of archival information and teaching strategies to employ when involving students in examining local history. The purpose of this series is to infuse Sacramento regional history into the classroom as supplementary resources to motivate student achievement, enhance curriculum-based instruction, and increase their understanding of community creation. The resources answer such questions as: What were the capitols of California and why so many relocations; what did Sacramento do to ensure the capitol remain in the city; and what impacts occurred when Sacramento became the official state capitol, then and now?

Sample Resources at the Center for Sacramento History (CSH)

History of Sacramento County (1880), Chapter XXVI, The Capitol on Wings, page 90.

CSH Call Number: F868 S12 1960

The first session of the legislature in 1849 was held in San Jose. The city was unable to accommodate all members and visitors, capitol was moved to Monterey, and a similar problem ensued. Sacramento offered a resolution in 1850 to obtain land, build a state capitol building. In the interim, the capital travelled to Vallejo and Benicia, but a failed land arrangement and lack of records security became the downfall for these small towns.

California’s Historic Capitol (1983)
CSH Call Number: NA 4422.C3 D6
The publication describes the physical offices of Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney General, Senate and Assembly Chambers. Features of the capitol building are in narrative and photo format, contrasting original and restored offices.

Golden Notes (April 1968)
CSH Call Number: Golden Notes vol.14, no.3
A publication of the Sacramento County Historical Society, this issue reprints a transcript of the California State Legislature discussing whether or not to declare Sacramento as seat of state government. The amendment was rejected.

California’s State Capitol (1942)
CSH Call Number: SITE WOR
A history of the state capitol building and its surrounding park, the book was a WPA project sponsored by the California State Department of Education. The book includes numerous drawings and images of the capitol building.

California’s State Capitol, Time Machine, A Coloring Book (1989)
CSH Call Number: SITE DON
The engaging information synthesizes the history and related development of the capital, suitable for younger students.

Minute Book, Sacramento City Council (1854)
CSH Call Number: City Council, Minute Book, vol. H, page 204
The City (Common) Council meeting of July 17, 1854 records the request from Gov. Bigler for the city and county to cooperate with the purchasing of property for the State Capitol building.

Minute Book, Sacramento Board of Supervisors (1862-1865)
CSH Call Number: Board of Supervisors, Minute Book, vol. G, page 179
A special tax fund is established on April 6, 1863 by the Board of Supervisors for the construction of the state capitol in Sacramento, at a rate of $.05 per $100.00 of taxable property throughout the county.

Suggested Activities

Activity A
Group students to represent the seven cities where the seat of the legislature existed: Monterey 1849; San Jose, 1849-1851, Vallejo 1852-1853, Sacramento 1852-1854, Benicia 1853-1854, and Sacramento 1855-1859. Students create a brief proposal to the legislative committee why their community should be selected. Legislature questions sufficient land acquisition, location access, cost of capitol and other building, security, housing for members and visitors, etc.

Activity B
Examining the cartoon, what messages are being communicated and why? If you lived in Sacramento in 1850, why would you support, or deny the capital move to your city. Develop a brief statement representing your position.

Activity C
Student debate – What positive/negative ways would Sacramento change when it became the state capital? Provide evidence for your position, challenge rumors, myths, mis-information, etc.

Activity D
Governor Bigler (1854) sent a communication to the Sacramento City Council requesting the city’s cooperation in purchasing property for the state government structures. Citizens met at the corner of Front Street to discuss their opposing views. Create a reaction survey with statements agreeing or disagreeing with having to levy a capitol tax.

Activity E
Create an exhibit, "Capitol on the Go," brainstorming potential elements.

Activity F
Other questions/strategies for research projects, inquiry sheets, and constructing learning modalities:

  • If the state capital moved to San Francisco, how would that change government, political, economic, and social factors?
  • Diary entries – students write a day in the life of a historic person during the time of the relocation the capital (i.e., Governor Bigler, Sacramento Mayor Johnson, General Vallejo).
  • A journey through time – students role-play a scene in history during the formation of a capital. Journalists interview the characters and write an article about the event.