Did you know the Oregon State Capitol is Salem’s third statehouse? It is also the fourth newest capitol in the United States.

Devastating fires destroyed Oregon’s first two capitols. The third building that stands here today opened in 1938 and has undergone major expansion and renovation.

Our Capitol has great purpose. Legislators make laws here that affect our everyday life. It is the home of state government, which includes the Senate and House of Representatives, and the Offices of the Governor, Secretary of State and State Treasurer.

Despite a troubled past, the Oregon State Capitol has a story of adversity and resilience. It is a place full of rich history, activity and wonder waiting for you to discover.

Fires destroyed the first two Capitols in 1855 and 1935

Oregon City was the first capital of Oregon. After intense debate over the location, it moved to Salem, Corvallis and then back to Salem.

The first Capitol, built in Salem in 1855, was a simple structure with four columns in the front. A mysterious fire destroyed the building only 11 days after construction. People first suspected arson. It turned out the fire was not intentional. For the next 20 years, and while Oregon became a state in 1859, the Oregon Legislature met in commercial buildings near the Salem riverfront.

The first Oregon State Capitol.

The second Capitol, completed in 1876, was similar in design to the U.S. Capitol. Much larger than the first Capitol, it was three stories tall and crowned with a dome. In 1935, yet another fire destroyed the Capitol. Firefighters could not save the building, but volunteers were able to remove some furniture and records. No one suspected foul play.

The second Oregon State Capitol (1876-1935)
The second Oregon State Capitol with smoke coming from the dome.
A night view of the second Oregon State Capitol burning at night.
This photo shows flames, smoke, and firefighters directing streams of water into the burning building -- the second Oregon State Capitol.
The collapse of the Oregon State Capitol dome in 1935.

Photos: Oregon State Archives, OCR0027 [ND], OCR0038 and OCR0030 [April 25, 1935], and OBC0017 [April 1935].

History of our current Capitol

The federal government helped to finance the current Capitol, which was built in 1936-1938 at the height of the Great Depression. Several major expansion projects took place since then, including adding the House and Senate office wings, Galleria and hearing rooms in 1977.

An earthquake in 1993 damaged the rotunda. It underwent reinforcement and restoration. Renovations also took place in the south wing and a part of the Governor’s suite following a construction fire in 2008.

Capitol columns

Special features and beauty of the Capitol

The National Register of Historic Places added the Oregon State Capitol to its list in 1988. It is only one of three Art Deco state capitols in the nation. A landmark of modernistic design, it has a white Vermont marble façade with sculptures and carved details. The top of the four-story building has a gilded bronze statue of the Oregon Pioneer. 

Unlike the first two Capitols, which faced west, this building faces north to the Capitol Mall. It is the only state capitol in a state park. The architecture, botany and art all create a sense of history and place in the grounds around the Capitol.

Oregonians and Capitol visitors celebrating Cherry Blossom Day. Photo: Thurston Photography, 2019

Learn More about the Capitol and take a virtual tour.

Dive into more detail about the history of the Oregon State Capitol here. Explore its special architectural features and grounds in the walking tour brochure. Check out these tour videos to  get a sense of the main places inside and outside the Capitol. When you can’t visit in person, get transported there by taking the online 360° virtual tour, which the Oregon State Capitol Foundation funded.