Capitol Legends

Through the years, several stories about the State Capitol building have become legend.

Ringed Pavers Leading to Crawl Spaces Beneath the Capitol

Escape Tunnel

When the Capitol was constructed, pavers with metal rings, located in each of the first floor halls, served as hatches to enter small crawl spaces beneath the building. In the late 1880s, a small tunnel was built to connect the Capitol to a heating plant (no longer there) across Edenton Street, and later it also served as an electrical conduit. Contrary to legend, there was never an escape tunnel made for the governor to use during the Civil War.

meeting room with table and chairs in center

Secret Rooms

When the Capitol was built, the so-called "secret rooms," above each of the two House offices, were neither rooms nor a secret. There simply were no accesses to the spaces from either end of the House gallery, as in the Senate Chamber, so those areas remained unfinished. Until the 1920s, the spaces were accessible only from the attic, when the House offices were modified. Enclosed cast-iron spiral stairs were installed at the rear of both offices, and the upper areas were floored for use as additional legislative office space. It has been claimed that the "secret rooms" were used by Confederate spies during the Civil War and by political spies during the Reconstruction era, but neither story has ever been proven.

West Stairs showing chips in stair treads

The Third House

In 1868, during Reconstruction, an office and a makeshift bar was set up in the West Hall Joint Committee Room by former Union General Milton Littlefield. Due to its regular use by many legislators and officials under General Littlefield's dubious influence, the room became known as the "Third House" of the legislature. It was described, during testimony before an investigative legislative commission in 1871-72, as containing a "profusion of bottles . . . and seegars." According to later anecdotes, whiskey barrels being rolled up and down the west first-to-second floor staircase for Littlefield's bar damaged the edges of many steps; however, the barrel story is almost certainly false. A recent investigation determined that the edges of the steps actually had been damaged from beneath. The damage likely came from the constant hauling of large amounts of firewood in wheelbarrows up the "back" staircase during earlier legislative sessions (over 300 cords of wood were burned per session), as the Capitol's woodshed stood near the northwest corner of Union Square. However, this explanation is just conjecture, as no conclusive historical data on this issue has been located.