WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Man on carriage being pulled by horse in front of Black Capital

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Council and Court houses

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Explore Wisconsin History

Step into the original meeting place of the state legislature, explore Wisconsin’s territorial beginnings, and experience the founding of its government.

About Us

Kids standing in front of a building at First Capital

Before Madison became the state capital, it was in the picturesque hamlet of Belmont where the first territorial legislature met in 1836 to build the framework for Wisconsin statehood. President Andrew Jackson signed the bill creating the Wisconsin Territory and appointed Henry Dodge as its first Territorial Governor. On July 4, 1836, Wisconsin Territory came into existence. In just 46 days, from October 25 – December 9, this legislature put over 40 laws on the books which established a judicial system, called for roads and railroads, and established Madison as the permanent capital city. At First Capitol, you’ll immerse yourself in the world of these founders, walking through the buildings where these important decisions were made.

When the legislature moved to Madison, Belmont’s political prominence faded. After the promised university and railroad bypassed the town, people and businesses moved from Belmont and the first capitol site was largely forgotten. In 1908, the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs began raising money for the site’s restoration, and in 1917 the state legislature purchased the Council House. The Council House was restored in 1924 and the Court House followed in 1956

Things To Explore

Kids exploring an exhibit inside of the council house

Council House

Enter the council house where Wisconsin history was made. Decades after the session, the building was moved, converted into a private residence and later a livestock barn. The house was later brought back to the site and restored in 1924

Court House

Explore the building where the state legislators were housed during these early sessions. Despite its name, court sessions were never held here. After the session, it became the residence of Territorial Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles “The Court” Dunn before being moved across the street and converted to a livestock barn. The house was moved back to the site and restored in 1956.

First Capitol Visitor Guide


First Capitol
MAP & GUIDE

Visitor Guide

Learn with the Wisconsin Historical Society

Virtual and In-person Programs!

Get ready to give your young learners the best field trip memory of the year. WHS is excited to bring back our popular sensory-rich, wonder-filled, on-site Field Trips at our historic sites and museums. We are also continuing our live, interactive online programs to bring creativity, critical thinking, and empowered storytelling into your classroom!

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Wisconsin Historical Society Sites

First Capitol is one of 12 historic sites and museums owned and operated by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Explore all of these sites below.

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Black Point Estate, a view of the tower and the rest of the building, the clouds are beautiful and really frame the building.

Black Point Estate & Gardens

A circus cart on a lawn, bright red, yellow, and orange colors.

Circus World

An old fashioned camera is set up facing a dramatic photo backdrop

H.H. Bennett Studio & Museum

Wood building with antlers attached. A sign reads Museum

Madeline Island Museum

A group of people bail hay out of an old fashioned cart

Old World Wisconsin

Pendarvis house at dusk, orange colored brick and white trim windows and doors. A stone wall lines the house next to the road. The lamp is lit.

Pendarvis

A older white couple holding hands and walking towards the Stonefield buildings

Stonefield

The Villa Louis Manor on a sunny day, victorian architecture on elegant display

Villa Louis

People visiting the Arts and Crafts Fair at Wade House

Wade House

Walking by the Capitol Square

Wisconsin Historical Museum

Inside the Reed School classroom, with vintage desks and a chalkboard

Reed School

The two historical buildings of Wisconsin's First Capital

First Capitol

Learn more about all our sites here!

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