North Dakota State Capitol Complex

Located north of downtown Bismarck is the North Dakota State Capitol Complex. This 19-story, Art Deco building is the tallest in the city standing at 241.75ft. It towers over the central part of the city and can be easily seen from as far as 20 miles away on a clear day.

The original North Dakota State Capitol building, built between 1883 and 1884, saw several additions through the early 1900s until it burned to the ground on the night of December 28, 1930. The fire was said to be started by oily rags in a janitor’s closet on the top floor of the building. The rags had been used to clean and varnish the legislator’s desks in anticipation of the next legislative session. Secretary of State Robert Byrne was able to save the original copy of the state’s constitution, but he suffered cuts and burns on his hands while breaking a window to reach the document.

Another state employee, Jennie Ulsrud, burned her hands when she attempted to save records in the North Dakota State Treasurer’s office. Governor George F. Shafer came back from his trip to St. Paul, Minnesota while the fire was still burning. Upon arrival, he immediately assembled a team of state legislators and officials to discuss steps for coping with the loss of records and workspace. The day after the fire, in an effort to save as many records as possible, 40 state prison inmates went to work trying to salvage materials from the ruins. The Legislature ended up meeting in Bismarck’s War Memorial Building and the City Auditorium.

The Capitol grounds serve as the central hub for the state’s government departments and the numerous walking trails, parks and monuments gave visitors insights to the state’s history. Currently, there are 6 buildings within the grounds. There were plans for massive expansions since 2000 but very few of these plans have been implemented as of 2007.

The building was completed during the 1934 Great Depression, it was built to replace an old capitol building which was burned to the ground 4 years earlier. Within the grounds of the complex are the North Dakota Heritage Center, the North Dakota Governor’s Residence, the North Dakota State Library, the Liberty Memorial Building and the State Office Building. The North Dakota State Capitol Building Tower is often lovingly referred to as “The Skyscraper on the Prairie” although it is only 241 feet 8 inches tall. It is a popular belief that the Capitol Building Tower is the tallest structure in North Dakota, but that honor belongs to the 2,063-foot tall KVLY TV tower (3 miles west of Blanchard, ND), which also happens to be the tallest manmade structure in the entire World.