The largest of the five original squares laid out in Christmas’ 1792 plan for the City of Raleigh, these six acres continue to be at the geographical heart of the city’s downtown. Over the course of its first century the square hosted a series of smaller governmental buildings. At the center was the first capitol, a simple two-story structure replaced in 1833 by a Greek Revival building designed by architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis. The capitol building is sited at the intersection of the four major avenues of the Christmas plan, reinforcing the axiality of the street grid. Added throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, more than a dozen monuments dot the landscape alongside mature oaks and hickory trees. A statue of George Washington was the first to be installed in 1857, situated opposite Fayetteville Street at the south entrance to the capitol. Erected in 1990, the North Carolina Veterans Monument dominates the north side of Capitol Square, with a 40-foot-tall structure within a paved oval plaza.
In 1928 Olmsted Brothers created a master plan for the capitol grounds, transforming the surroundings from piecemeal development into formalized, publicly accessible green space. The firm designed a park-like setting with curvilinear pebbled paths leading through geometric lawns. Though the paths have been repaved over time, in most cases the Olmsted-planned routes have been preserved. The firm realigned several statues to create a more orderly layout, and introduced landscape features including a stepped plaza with two small fountains at the capitol’s east entrance. The Capital Area Historic District, encompassing Capitol Square and several blocks to its east and west, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.