A visual history of the Texas Capitol’s construction

Take a walk back in time with these old photos of Austin.

The Texas Capitol as seen in the late 1800s, partially constructed. Most of the building is complete, save for the dome at the top.

The Texas Capitol building took roughly six years to construct.

Photo via The Portal to Texas History, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

The Texas Capitol is, in a word, grand.

The 135-year-old pink granite building is larger than any other domed capitol in the US — even the national one — and imposes on downtown from several angles thanks to Capitol View Corridors.

Today, we’re taking you on a visual history of the landmark.

The second Texas State Capitol, on fire in 1881. Smoke shrouds the limestone facade, and you can see a group of people standing and looking at it in the foreground.

The second Texas state capitol building caught fire in 1881.

Photo courtesy Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.


The story begins in November 1881, when the state’s second capitol building caught fire.

A passage from Texas Siftings describes the scene: “Huge volumes of black smoke poured from the doomed building, and settled over the fair city…like a sable funeral pall, enveloping in its somber folds the spires and domes that glitter on the several hills of the Capital City.”

Within two hours, the limestone facade of the building was all that remained.

An old photo of the temporary Texas Capitol building.

The temporary Capitol also housed UT students and Austin High School.

Photo courtesy Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.

Temporary home

Work to replace the structure began quickly. By 1883, the Texas government had built a temporary capitol building — working out of the Congress courthouse and jail in the interim — that later housed UT classes and Austin High School.

This building also met a fiery death in 1899, but its bricks were scavenged and reused across Austin. You can still see a historic marker to this space downtown next to the Old Bakery and Emporium.

A crowd watching as uniformed people walking down Congress Avenue toward the Capitol.

The Capitol dedication ceremony took place in 1888, on Congress Avenue.

Photo courtesy Austin History Center, Austin Public Library

In with the new

Building the new Capitol required transporting 50,000 tons of pink stone from “Granite Mountain” outside of Marble Falls (City Editor London’s hometown). This reserve also supplied 450,000 tons to build the Galveston sea wall and jetties.

When completed, the Capitol was ~780,000 sqftor 18 acres — and contained almost 400 rooms. All in all, construction lasted from February 1882 to December 1888.

Check out the gallery below for more old photos of the Texas Capitol building.

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