Lisa and I have added state capitols to our travel bucket list. Our goal is to eventually visit all 50 state capitols. We have a ways to go since we just completed our seventh stop with a visit to Bismarck, North Dakota.
North Dakota was the 37th state admitted to the Union. The capitol is conservatively decorated, which matches the tendencies of the state’s residents.
The capitol – commonly called the “Skyscraper on the Prairie” – is the tallest building in North Dakota, at about 242 feet high. It consists of 19 stories, with an observation deck on the 18th floor. It is one of four skyscraper state capitols in the United States. Nebraska, Florida and Louisiana are the others.
The original capitol building was constructed in 1883-84. It was destroyed by fire in 1930. So, the skyscraper style was built to replacement it at a cost of $2 million. It has since been expanded at its base due to staff growth.
The staircase from the lower level to the first floor has a wall with Black Belgian marble. It’s the only location in the capitol with that marble. We loved the reflection of the wall. The state’s seal is centered on the wall and is an attractive exhibit.
The main attractions to the capitol are located on the first floor –or the main lobby area. The governor’s office is very nondescript. It was closed during our visit. We wouldn’t have recognized it was the governor’s office since the closed door looked like just another door.
The legislative hall – Memorial Hall – was designed with Yellowstone Travertine. The pillars are well polished. The five lights hanging from the ceilings resemble wheat chafes.
The House of Representatives has 94 members, two from each legislative district in North Dakota. The Speaker of the House is the majority party’s legislative leader. The Republican Party is the dominant party in the state, so its members have the most seats in the House. Representatives sit in the chamber by party affiliation.
Across the hall is the state Senate. It has one member from each legislative district. The 47 members are led by the Senate’s President, who is the leader of the majority party. Senators also sit by party affiliation.
North Dakota has a history of actually voting for the best candidate, rather than just by party affiliation. They have had both Democrats and Republicans lead state government and hold federal office in the US House of Representatives and Senate.
The state Supreme Court is located on the main level of the capitol. Its five members are led by the chief justice. Gerald VanderWalle has served as the chief justice since 1993. He has been reelected five times.
A bust of former Chief Justice Ralph J. Erickstad stands outside the court, which was renamed in his honor. Erickstad served as the court leader from 1973 until 1992.
The entrance is home to the state’s “Roughrider” award recipients’ portraits. The governor recognizes residents for their accomplishments. The first recipient was the great band leader Lawrence Welk.
Air Force General David C. Jones was recognized for his military accomplishments. I was the recipient of the David C. Jones for Social Sciences at US Air Force Leadership School at Minot Air Force Base during my tour at Grand Forks AFB. I thought it was cool to see his portrait with other great North Dakotans, such as entertainers Peggy Lee and Bobby Vee, newsman Eric Sevareid, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and baseball great Roger Maris.
NBA coaching great and former player Phil Jackson was honored by the state. The Williston native played college basketball at the University of North Dakota before enjoying a decent NBA playing career. he later won NBA championship trophies as the coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers.
We took an express elevator to the 18th floor, where visitors can get a 360 degree view of the Bismarck area. You can see for miles on a clear day. Unfortunately, visitors aren’t allowed to walk out to the balcony. Someone apparently threw things at people on the ground from there, so that privilege was revoked.
We loved the view of the entrance area to the capitol. Near the entrance, you can see a bed of white flowers with “North Dakota” spelled out with red flowers. The ground view of it is nice, but it looks so much nicer from overhead.
We had an enjoyable time visiting the state capitol. If you like to learn some history, state capitols are a good place to visit.
For more information on the Skyscraper on the Prairie, we recommend visiting: