On this day, 100 years ago, the governor of Nebraska had to put a team of horses to work.
But first, he had to work a crowd.
Thousands of Nebraskans gathered before him on April 15, 1922. All of Lincoln, the paper reported, and most of the countryside too, as the roads were relatively good that Saturday.
The group from the University of Nebraska showed up. The American Legion group. And veterans – VFW and Legion. Cadets, scouts, students.
Most had marched to the Capitol grounds from the Burlington depot, where they had met the train carrying the day‘s guest of honor, Joseph Joffre, commander of the French army during World War I and something a celebrity at the time.
Joffre was there to attend the dedication of Nebraska’s third state capitol, a building dedicated to those who died in the Great War.
It would be a symbolic gesture, but tangible too. The Earth would finally be rotated after five years of planning.
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The commission held a nationwide competition to find an architect, and they had some specific requirements. The building was to be paid as it was built, accommodate the state’s climate, contain 100,000 square feet and have lavishly appointed bedrooms for the governor, said Roxanne Smith, the Capitol’s director of tourism.
Ten architects competed. But the commission was immediately drawn to Bertram Goodhue’s towering design, what Smith called the country’s first truly vernacular state house – that is, it reflected its location, it spoke the language of Nebraska.
Even then, they were still a few years away from construction. Goodhue had to turn his designs into blueprints. The state needed to raise funds, and it did so with a special property tax. Engineers had to ensure that the sandstone substrate would support the building.
The state’s third stab at a state house would take 10 years and $10 million. It would become an iconic tower, an iconic beacon visible for miles, and a place of governance that has guided the lives of Nebraskans for decades.
But before any of that could happen, Governor Samuel McKelvie had to dig a hole. And, of course, give a speech to the thousands of people surrounding him at the northeast corner of the Capitol.
He looked to the past. We have only been a state for 54 years, he said, but consider what we have achieved.
“This vast expanse of pristine grasslands and treeless plains has been transformed into a veritable garden of productive land and comfortable homes.”
And he looked ahead, and the reason they were all there that day.
“Thus we may expect to rise from these humble beginnings a monument which, in its permanency of construction and the beauty of its architecture, will serve the needs of the state and inspire the people to thoughts of higher service.”
Someone drove a team of horses and a lawn plow to him, and the governor got to work. The Clay County native knew how to get into it.
“The Governor proved he was a true son of the land,” the paper reported, “by throwing the lines over his shoulder, under the other arm, clucking the horses, and plowing a line more or less upright”.
Photos: The Nebraska State Capitol through the years