Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick
SELECTING A CAPITAL FOR THE NEW TERRITORY
The first meeting of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature was summoned at Belmont on October 25, 1836. Belmont is now in Lafayette County, Wisconsin. At that time it was a very crude village consisting only of 3 lodging houses, 2 saloons, a printing office and an unfinished stable, yet it was the capital. The legislature met here for 46 days.
The most stirring question at the time was the selection of a permanent capital. Even then it was considered probable that the land west of the Mississippi would soon form its own territory, thus settlements east of the river had a better chance of being selected. Both Belmont and Madison (only a paper town) were under consideration.
Madison won easily, but the new capital had to be built out of the wilderness. In the meantime, Governor Dodge decided that the legislature should meet temporarily at Burlington, in Demoine County, west of the Mississippi.
All of the legislators traveled down to Burlington for the opening of the second session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin on November 6, 1837. The town of Burlington received them with open arms. The assembly feasted on prairie chicken, venison, duck, goose and fish and a new capitol building had been prepared for them. A legislator from Burlington named Jeremiah Smith had spent $7,000 in building and furnishing the new structure.
On December 12, 1837 a whole block of Front Street caught fire and five stores and the new capitol were consumed. A defective hearth was to blame for starting the fire that was difficult to bring under control because Burlington did not have a fire engine.
Once again the legislature was homeless. The upper house were allowed to hold meetings in a back room on the 2nd floor of the newspaper office, while the lower house met in a new store building on Main Street. The 2nd session finally adjourned on January 20, 1838 after passing more than 100 bills.
Governor Dodge called a special session on June 11, 1838 and this was the last time the Iowa legislators met with their Wisconsin neighbors. As they were meeting, President Van Buren was signing an act that created the new Territory of Iowa.
Burlington was not centrally located thus the search began for a capital better suited to govern the entire state. Mt. Pleasant and Muscatine were considered, but Iowa City was chosen as the new site. Just like Madison, the new capital had to be built out of the wilderness. Until it was ready to be occupied, Burlington continued as interim capital.
In December 1841 the Legislative Assembly moved from Burlington to Iowa City.
(True Tales of Iowa. Edith Rule & William J. Peterson. Mason City: Yelland & Hanes, 1932)
Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick