Capitol’s renovation into history museum nearly finished
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee National Capitol Building is a downtown landmark and will continue to be as the tribe’s Cultural Tourism department readies the 152-year-old building to be a history museum.
“We’re getting ready to open this summer as a Cherokee National History Museum. We’ve been working over this past year to renovate this site,” Cultural Tourism Director Travis Owens said.
“We’ve been working several years to restore the exterior of the building. About a year ago we started on the interior, and now we’re getting ready to start on the actual exhibit installation.”
He said the museum is being developed to use both floors of the historic building. The first floor will contain a gift shop, some gathering space and nearly 1,000 square feet of exhibit space that will periodically change. The museum’s upstairs will have a full story of Cherokee history from ancient times to present day.
He added that the museum would be “a one-stop shop” for Cherokee Nation history.
“We’re actually going to tell the Cherokee story from time immemorial to present day. So we’ll have a lot of exciting exhibits, a lot of artifacts from institutions like the National Museum of the American Indian, Gilcrease Museum and the Oklahoma Historical Society,” he said.
Plans are still being made for the opening ceremony in June, Owens said.
Construction on the building began in 1867 two years after the American Civil War ended. Most of Tahlequah’s public buildings had been destroyed during the war. After the building was completed in 1869, Cherokee leaders used it for a courtroom and to hold council meetings.
“It was the first building that independently housed all three branches of Cherokee Nation government, post removal (Trail of Tears). It was used by the Cherokee Nation to house the executive, legislative and the court system right up until statehood,” Owens said. “After that… it was owned by the county, and it operated as a county courthouse until the late 70s. The Cherokee Nation gained ownership of it after that time and then used it as its own courthouse until just very recently.”
Before Oklahoma statehood in 1907, an act of Congress abolished the tribe’s government. The CN regained its government in 1975 after it elected a chief and formed a constitution that was ratified in 1976. The tribe now operates under a constitution that was written in 1999, ratified in 2003 and implemented in 2006.
The Capitol Building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961. In 2013, the CN began a restoration project to preserve the building’s original appearance, including roof repairs with historical-era shingles, new decking, new doors and windows and added a cupola to the roof. The project also includes adding a new back porch.