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Kansas State Capitol - Lost Cornerstone

Capitol construction, 1870

For 84 years the original cornerstone of the Kansas State Capitol lay buried near the northeast corner of the east wing. It had plunged into the muck and mud of the original foundation, which disintegrated during the winter of 1866-1867.

According to news stories of the day, October 7, 1866, was perhaps the most festive day ever in the "little village" of Topeka. The event was the dedication and laying of the first cornerstone to the beautiful new capitol, which was then the largest building in the state.

The original three-foot by six-foot cornerstone had been hollowed out to contain a copper box filled with a Bible, the laws of Kansas (1863-1864), reports by state officers, packages from the various state departments, the roll calls of several lodges, cards of Topeka and Kansas businessmen, copies of every newspaper published in the state, coins and stamps, samples of grain, the Associated Press report of the event, a land reform pledge and a piece of sheet music graciously donated by the brass band's piccolo player. A number of people tried to add their names to the faces of the stone. Apparently, most did. Names had been carved "in every available spot." When the original foundation and cornerstone crumbled the following winter, many attributed the fate of the cornerstone to the weakening of the material from all the names that had been carved on it.

That winter was particularly severe and while the state’s architects had sanctioned the foundation stone for building, the elements proved otherwise. The press insinuated political graft had played a part in choosing the "inferior material." What was left of the foundation was dug out and replaced with stone from Chase County.

Landscaping was planted in 1870 over the original cornerstone buried beneath the surface and it wasn't until, quite by accident, during the summer of 1950, that the original stone was discovered by workmen who were digging around the foundation.

At 10 a.m. July 17, 1950, another ceremony was held to investigate the historical documents from within the old copper box. As the box was ceremoniously opened a swarm of bugs and cockroaches sprang from the box sending people scurrying and stomping. An investigation of the contents proceeded. The paper documents immediately disintegrated. Only a handful of corroded coins were salvageable; a few were identifiable to denomination or date of minting.

A 25-cent piece bore the date of 1838. A half dollar was dated 1858 and a $5 gold piece was dated 1817. A dime was dated 1853 and a three-cent piece was dated 1855. Portions of "shin plasters" of the Civil war era were in the box. One was for 25 cents, another for 50 cents. Bits of other currency which could not be identified were in the box. There were numerous quarters, half dollars and large size copper pennies as well as several English and Canadian coins.

Nine bottles of Kansas grown grain and a sheepskin cover of a book of state laws with crumbled pages were also found. The rest of the contents were identified only after records of 1866 were used for reference. "All were restored to the box and were replaced in the capitol under direction of the executive council."

Today a bronze plaque, which was placed on October 26, 1950, marks the replacement cornerstone.


Entry: Kansas State Capitol - Lost Cornerstone

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2009

Date Modified: July 2011

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.