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Workers atop Capitol dome
Workers atop partially completed Minnesota State Capitol dome, 1902
Photo courtesy of New York Historical Society

On July 27, 1898, marching bands led thousands of people to the highest point in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. Columns of veterans, stonecutters and other workers marched to the ribbon-draped speakers’ stand.  Here, the new capitol was rising from the ground.  Onlookers leaned over the partially finished first floor walls.  Among the throng of dignitaries was Minnesota’s first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, to officially lay the cornerstone for the people’s house - the grandest building in the state and one of the finest statehouse buildings in the country. 

The cornerstone was five feet long with a hollow core to hold a copper box.   Into the box were placed more than 45 books, newspapers, photos and documents - including histories of legislators and soldiers since the founding of the state. The names of the Capitol Commissioners and architect Cass Gilbert, as well as his associates, were etched on a bronze plate. But the box contained not a single name of a worker or contractor who erected this structure.  Since construction began in 1896, hundreds of workers were drawn to this spot – they dug and laid the foundation and built the lower walls. Hundreds more came to work there through the building’s completion in 1907.

For some, it would be the spark for a long, successful career and the beginning of generations in Minnesota; for others, it was one stop of many in a wandering artisan’s life; and for still others it marked the end of their lives.  These people all came together to create this Minnesota icon, but they have remained nameless - until now.

This is their story.