The original plans called for the exterior of the California State Capitol to be built of cast iron and stucco. In 1863 the supervising architect, Reuben Clark, suggested that stone was more suitable for a public building of such importance.
Taking Clark's recommendation to use stone the Board of State Capitol Commissioners drafted a contract with a sandstone quarry in Yolo county to use its stone at a cost of $1.00. Upon inspection of the sandstone, the state geologist found that it was too dark and would not weather well. He considered granite a better choice for the project. He also felt it could be brought in from the Sierras by rail far more cheaply than the sandstone could be transported from Yolo county.
A Railroad Rivalry
Thus, the story of the two granites used to build the Capitol became the story of the rivalry between two railroads-the Sacramento Valley and the Central Pacific. Both railroads were in fierce competition to be the first over the Sierras to link up with the transcontinental railroads coming from the East.
The granite for the first story of the Capitol was quarried in Folsom and transported to the building site on the Sacramento Valley Railroad. In February 1864, Reuben Clark found the Folsom granite unsatisfactory. He reported it difficult to cut because it was "of bad rift, with black knots, and by reason has caused us much expense."
At the time the Legislature was considering a bill to aid the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad. In return for receiving military and other transportation services, The railroad allowed free transport of construction materials to Sacramento. A granite quarry on the railroad line near Penryn would also be given to the state.
Contract Granted to Penryn
The state geologist gave the Penryn granite a favorable recommendation and encouraged the commissioners to open bids for quarrying the stone. On August 16, 1864, a bid of 58 cents per foot was accepted. Since the Folsom granite averaged $1.12 per foot, work on the facade stopped in November 1864. Only half of the Capitol's first story had been constructed. Three months later the first load of granite arrived from the Penryn quarry, and work began again on the first story.
As the San Francisco Mining and Scientific Press observed, "The granite seems to have been experimented with, as there are two kinds."
Moving the Corinthian Columns
Each Roman Corinthian style column used to create the Capitol's portico and colonnade was 30 feet long, four feet in diameter, and weighed eleven and a half tons. Arriving either by water or rail, the columns were hauled from Sacramento's waterfront to the building site by a steam-powered tractor. This "modern" machine of 1871 moved at a rate of approximately one mile per hour.