History of First Capitol

Wisconsin Territorial Legislature Council House in 1870.

Wisconsin Territorial Legislature Council House in 1870, Image ID WHI 10476.

Belmont, the Birthplace of Wisconsin Territorial Government

Near the picturesque hamlet of Belmont is First Capitol, the place where the first territorial Legislature established Wisconsin's territorial government. These lawmakers, huddled in the cold during the fall and winter of 1836, built the framework that would evolve into the state of Wisconsin 12 years later.

They met from October 25 to December 9, 1836, put 42 laws on the books, established a judicial system, called for roads and railroads, and — most significantly — established Madison as the permanent capital city.

Capital Relocation Affects Belmont's Livelihood

Establishing Madison as the capital city had an immediate impact on the Belmont community. Many people and several businesses left the area. The town maintained its post office and several other businesses until 1867 when residents set up a new town along the railroad tracks. This community became Belmont, and the older town came to be known as Grandview.

In 1884 the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad established a station north of Grandview. This small community was named Leslie.

First Capitol Buildings Become a Historic Site

Foundation for lodging house.

Foundation built for the lodging house at the current First Capitol site near Belmont in 1955. The corner of the council house can be seen at the right, Image ID WHI 36926.

The First Capitol site features two buildings used during the 1836 territorial legislative session. The first was the Council House, where the legislators met. The second building was a lodging house for the legislators. Both structures were eventually used as residences. The lodging house became the residence of territorial Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Dunn. Both were later converted to livestock barns.

In 1910 the Wisconsin Federation of Women's Clubs began raising funds for the restoration of the buildings. In 1924 the Council House was moved to its current site and restored. In 1956 the lodging house was moved to the site and restored. During this time it was operated by the Department of Natural Resources.

In 1994 the site became part of the Wisconsin Historical Society.


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