Colton Hall in Monterey is where California became America’s thirty-first state.
Soon after the American occupation in 1846 of what was then called Alta California, a prominent local businessman named Walter Colton was appointed as “alcalde,” or Chief Magistrate, of the Monterey district. During his three years’ service in this capacity, among other accomplishments he directed the construction of the first American public building in California. It was ultimately named Colton Hall in his honor.
From September 1 to October 13, 1849, Colton Hall was the site of a convention to draft California’s first constitution. Forty-eight delegates had been elected from ten districts and they debated many issues. California’s eastern boundary had to be decided upon. Slavery was forbidden in the new state. After much argument, the city of San Jose was chosen as California’s first capital.
On October 13, 1849, the new constitution was signed. It was ratified by the people on November 13 and California was ready to be admitted to the Union. However, word of this then had to be sent to the American government for its approval. This was done by ship; southward along the western coasts of the continent, “around the Horn” at the tip of South America and northward through the Atlantic Ocean to Washington, DC. The trip took three months. As time-consuming and arduous as it was, it was still considered safer and more certain than any route overland at the time. The issue then had to be debated and voted on by Congress. Ultimately, on September 9, 1850, California was admitted as the Union’s 31st state under the administration of President Millard Fillmore.
Of course, word of its admission then had to be sent back around the Horn, which took another three months.
In the meantime, the state capital had moved to San Jose as specified in the constitution and Colton Hall was put to other uses. The local school district established a grade school there in 1873 and the building continued to serve this purpose until the school moved to larger quarters in 1897.
Today, Colton Hall is part of Monterey’s city hall complex. The first floor is occupied by the offices of the Planning and Building departments. The second floor contains the Colton Hall Museum which was established by the city in 1949, one hundred years after California’s constitution was created there. The museum is open to the public every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., free of charge, and a museum attendant is available for tours and information.