Arkansas Governor Conway Creates Position To Oversee Finishing of Capitol

Mar 5, 2014

When the First General Assembly of the State of Arkansas met in the unfinished State House in September 1836, incoming Governor James Conway found it impossible to tell which contractors had been paid, how much was still owed and how much money remained to fund the building’s completion.

Conway created a new office, the Commissioner of Public Buildings, to oversee the continuing work. Between 1836 and 1842, three such commissioners carried the work forward; on November 8 1842, Governor Archibald Yell was able to declare the State House officially complete.

Construction had taken nearly a decade to complete and was attended by controversies throughout. The result, however, was a handsome structure that fulfilled former Governor Pope’s high intentions.

From its early days the new State House also served as a community meeting hall, county courthouse, event center and even a museum of antiquities and natural history. These additional duties meant extra wear and tear on the building and funds for maintenance were scant.

Thus, by the mid-1850s the State House showed signs of premature aging. An 1856 visitor noted that “the Capitol, when new, was rather an imposing building but being in an advanced state of dilapidation, it produces an unpleasant effect on the mind of a stranger.”