Lots of states have placed their capital city in their largest metropolitan area (Denver, Colorado) or in a place of strategic importance (Juneau, Alaska, is closest to the U.S. mainland). Others are a little more mystifying. Here’s why a lot of the less logically-placed state capitals are where they are.
Sacramento is one of the larger cities in California, but it’s not among the most populous regions, such as the San Francisco Bay Area or the Los Angles/San Diego metroplex. It sits amid the Central Valley in the northern part of the state, which was among in first in California to be settled by Europeans. It was a stopping off point for miners heading west during the Gold Rush of the 1840s, and it was close to rivers that led to San Francisco, making it a viable trade city. Also, because it’s so far inland, Sacramento couldn’t easily be invaded by sea. After legislators rejected plans to put the capital in Monterey, San Jose, and Vallejo, Sacramento was a logical pick.
Louisville is the most popular city in Kentucky, but Frankfort has been the capital since 1792. Reason: The citizens of that area, more than any other inhabited region in the state, pledged the most labor to build a statehouse. If its people were willing to raise the building, they got dibs on being the capital.
Lansing is the fifth largest city in Michigan, with about a sixth of the population of Detroit. That had been the original capital but it was moved to Lansing in 1847. Located almost in the center of the state’s lower portion, having a capital in a more western place encouraged westward expansion.
It’s since been eclipsed by booming metropolitan areas such as Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, but Austin has remained the capital of Texas since 1837. Settlers founded it as a village called Waterloo along the Colorado River. Two years later, it was named the capital of the Republic of Texas. And there was a name change: Austin is from Stephen F. Austin, the Republic’s first Secretary of State.
It’s not even close to being a metropolitan center of Missouri—it’s the fifteenth largest city in the state. But Jefferson City was a planned city, and a planned capital. Situated in the middle of the state, it was established in 1821 in honor of founding father Thomas Jefferson, who was still alive at the time.