In the mid-1800’s, the Nebraska Palladium, a former newspaper company in Bellevue, reported on the first building that housed our state government. The publication described the building, originally located in Omaha, as a “plain, substantial, two-story brick edifice” that measured nearly 30 feet wide by 45 feet long. Their description continued saying “the representatives’ room will be found on the left, and the governor's apartment on the right. … The building is a neat and substantial one, but altogether too small for the purpose intended.”
A second, larger Capitol Building was constructed in 1857 to accommodate for Nebraska’s legislature, Supreme Court, government offices, and library. But our young state was growing larger and even more space was needed to effectively serve our citizens.
In search for a new home for our legislature, the Nebraska Capitol Commission was created in 1919. The commission was made up of the governor, the state engineer, and three private citizens. These members held impressive resumes, but as the Architectural Foundation of Nebraska wrote, “none possessed the expertise, experience, and especially the knowledge of the profession of architecture at all levels to entice the quality of expertise the commission sought for Nebraska’s new building.”
The Nebraska Capitol Commission then turned to an Omaha architect to serve as their professional advisor: Thomas Rogers Kimball.
Only years before, Mr. Kimball designed some of Nebraska’s most beautiful landmarks. The historic Burlington Station in Grand Island, the gorgeous carriage house at Arbor Lodge, and the twin-belfried Saint Cecilia Cathedral in Omaha speak for themselves as products of his masterful skill.
His next assignment was to create a selection process to choose who would design our State Capitol Building in Lincoln. He employed a brilliant approach – a “double blind competition” which kept anonymous the names of the architects and the judges. With many of the nation’s top architects participating in the competition, this process promoted fairness and eliminated opportunities for corruption. Mr. Kimball served as a professional advisor on the Nebraska Capitol Commission until its completion in 1932.
The Nebraska Historical Society notes that Thomas Rogers Kimball is perhaps the most unsung contributor to the creation of our nationally-landmarked State Capitol. This June, he receives his due recognition with an induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
Kimball joins the ranks of individuals who achieved prominence with their contributions to our state. The current list of 25 Hall of Fame inductees include Willa Cather and Mari Sandoz, whose pioneer prose captured the hearts and minds of Nebraskans and readers around the world. The group also includes Chief Standing Bear, who successfully fought for equal treatment under law for Native Americans.
Anyone who has seen the Nebraska State Capitol knows its architecture is breathtaking and unique. But even more so, I am proud of what the building symbolizes for our state. Its design is a lasting message of prudence, service, and equality.
My father worked in the State Capitol when I was growing up. I have great memories of walking these hallways and touring the building on almost a daily basis when mom would drive down to pick him up from work and I would run in to get him.
As someone who was also blessed to serve in the Unicameral for eight years, I love its design and inscriptions and marveled daily on this beautiful building so filled with symbolism, inside and out, of the richness of Nebraska. I am glad Thomas Rogers Kimball is receiving the credit he deserves, and I hope his story inspires Nebraska’s future architects who seek to leave their own mark in our communities.
To learn more about the inspiring stories of those in the Nebraska Hall of Fame, I encourage you to visit history.nebraska.gov.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.