View a map of the Capitol grounds to locate where the monuments and sculptures are.
About the Grounds
Over the years, the Capitol grounds have been shaped by both human hands and the forces of nature. The Capitol grounds wouldn’t be what they are today if it hadn’t been for the hard work of many individuals as well as the unexpected events that affected the area.
Before the construction of the Utah State Capitol, Capitol Hill was known as Arsenal Hill. Four buildings—each serving as storage for a private explosives manufacturer—held black Hercules blasting powder. On April 5, 1876, two young boys by the names of Charles Richardson and Frank Hill were herding cattle in the area and were seen shooting at some cranes flying overhead. The explosives detonated moments later, throwing debris and instantly killing the two boys.
Destruction was devastating and widespread. All buildings within a two mile radius shook and many suffered damage. John Nicholson, a newspaper writer who witnessed the event, reported that there was an “immense shower of missiles from the size of small boulders, to rocks weighing a couple hundred pounds.” Shop windows along Main Street shattered; some buildings crumbled to the ground. Not only did the areas surrounding Arsenal Hill suffer much damage, but human life was also lost. Action was immediately taken to move the remaining explosives to a more remote location.
The Transition from Arsenal Hill to Capitol Hill
The Arsenal Hill event was quite tragic, but it set the stage for change in the area. In 1888, Salt Lake City Council donated 19.46 acres of land to the territorial government for the purpose of building a new statehouse. At the time, the grounds were much smaller than they currently are. Over time, more of the surrounding area was purchased in order to add more monuments and buildings. The Capitol now sits on 40 acres of land.
This natural phenomenon was as unexpected as it was destructive. Due to the mountains that surround the Salt Lake valley, the area very rarely sees tornados. The tornado hit downtown Salt Lake, passed the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds, and left destruction in its wake.
The tornado uprooted 93 fully mature trees on Capitol Hill. What used to be a very green, forested lawn was now stripped of trees. However, the destruction gave way to something creative when Chris Gochnour volunteered to construct a desk for the Governor’s office out of wood from the fallen trees. He used maple trees, linden trees, and japanese pagodas to create the desk that remains in the Governor’s office to this day.
The Grounds Today
The 2004–2008 Capitol restoration project dramatically changed the grounds once again. Today, the grounds more closely honor Richard K.A. Kletting’s original plans for the area, and Capitol Hill includes six buildings; sprawling lawns; a central plaza with a reflecting pond; a .7 mile circular walkway boasting 433 yoshino cherry trees; and a broad collection of monuments, plaques, and statuary.