The B1G List: Ranking the State Capitals of the Big Ten

By Johnny Ginter on June 24, 2013 at 4:00p


The one thing that a minor in Geography taught me, other than human migration patterns and the macro effects of rapid urbanization in third world countries, is that state capitals are pretty much a complete crapshoot.

Boston, despite the presence of Bostonians, is a pretty cool capital, filled with hundreds of years of incredible American history that illuminates our origins as a country and can help us consider the path that we walk down today. Pierre, South Dakota, may or may not have a Wal-Mart. I'm actually not sure.

Anyway, the point is that a state capital says a lot about the state itself; ideally it's supposed to be a sampler platter for out of state visitors so that they can get an idea of what the state as a whole represents. Not that that actually happens 90% of the time. Visitors to Carson City might get the impression that Nevada is a barren wasteland when in fact it is a barren wasteland that also has Vegas in it. Visitors to Montpelier may not actually be aware that they are in Montpelier and somewhat correctly assume that Vermont is some backwoods part of Canada. If visitors to Austin think that it's representative of Texas, they are either going to be incredibly depressed or greatly relieved once they get to Houston.

So today we are going to take a look at the state capitals of the B1G and determine two things. First, how awesome they are, and two, how well they represent they rest of their state in both a geographic and metaphysical sense.

1. Columbus, Ohio

Oh, did I mention this list is backwards? It's backwards.

Because let's be honest: even if this entire exercise wasn't completely rigged and just an excuse for cheap jokes, Columbus would be pretty high up this list. Ohio (believe it or not), actually fared relatively pretty okay during the recent recession, and Columbus fared the most okayest of the big three cities in Ohio. Because of a diversified economy that includes a whole slew of things for bored college kids to buy, Columbus continues to truck on and easily be the best state capital in the B1G. Ohio State is an obvious bonus, but even without the influence of OSU, C-Bus has a huge amount of things going for it.

PROS: Ohio State, cheap cost of living, High Street in general, the Short North, terrific public libraries, frequent festivals, the Arena District, a professional hockey team that is usually infuriating one way or another, a billion other things that I could mention but will be brought up in the comments section anyway so screw it.

CONS: One time I was at Tasi and there was a weird little metal rod in my scrambled eggs. It was probably from a whisk or something but it grossed me out and I haven't been back since. So yeah, that's the only bad thing about Columbus.

I... I think I want to go to thereNot bad, Madison, not bad

2. Indianapolis, Indiana

Indianapolis is actually a pretty awesome place that is surrounded by some of the most uniform bland nothingness this side of every other state in the Midwest. At least Cleveland and Cincinnati, while grimy dens of backwater dealings and depression, are still really interesting places with their own unique culture, whereas the rest of Indiana is comprised of Bloomington, the Mad Maxian hellscape of Gary, and corn/wheat/whatever.

Anyway, Indianapolis is surprisingly cool. It's the largest state capital in the B1G footprint, has a really awesome downtown district, and is obviously a great sports city (what with the Colts and the Pacers and the speedway).

PROS: Downtown, sports, Kurt Vonnegut was from there, the Children's Museum, part of any great cover story for a spy wishing to conceal their true identity ("Oh, where do you live?" "Indianapolis." "Huh. That's... neat.")

CONS: If you are not a spy it just means you live in Indiana, making a real run at Gary in overall crime rate, while Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden during WWII I heard he said something like "Man at least I'm not in Indiana."

3. Madison, Wisconsin

Madison is interesting because while it is smack dab in the middle of nowhere, Wisconsin, it also is bordered by several significant lakes, furthering attempts by city founders for outsiders to confuse it with Milwaukee. It's also the quintessential semi-major Midwestern city. It's quaint, cold, infested with locally grown cheese, has just enough festivals and concerts to keep everyone from going insane, and everyone is drunk 24/7.

PROS: College town, cool lakes, good schools, everyone is drunk 24/7.

CONS: City still reeling from the loss of Bret Bielema, everyone is drunk 24/7 AND DRIVING.

4./5. Lincoln, Nebraska and Des Moines, Iowa

Yes I am being a jerk by lumping these two capitals in together. Yes I understand that just because they're both nondescript cities of roughly 250,000 people located in corn belt states does not mean that they don't have their own unique cultures, attractions, and points of interests. No I have not visited either city in person and am therefore not qualified to make jokes about their blandness and general uniformity. No that will not stop me from making fun of them.

PROS: State fair, [INSERT NAME OF CORN MAGNATE HERE] Memorial Opera House, the "world famous" Jazz Festival, all the corn you can eat and high fructose corn syrup you can drink.

CONS: Cormac McCarthy will write a bleak novel about your life at some point.

6. St. Paul, Minnesota

St. Paul used to be called "Pig's Eye" but then a bunch of priests decided to not be awesome and give the city a more respectable name that would attract big diaper wearing babies instead of cool biker dudes on Harleys. Well, whatever. St. Paul is basically the nerdy brother who got the smarts, while Minneapolis got the looks (and the football team). It's not like St. Paul is a bad city to live in by any means, but it more or less serves as a spot for government officials to stash their crap while they party a few blocks to the west.

PROS: An honestly kickass and free public zoo and botanical gardens, more hockey than your could ever watch in 50 lifetimes, get to be sister cities with Nagasaki despite there being almost zero similarities between the two.


7. Lansing, Michigan

You can learn a lot about a place by looking at its Wikipedia page. Not factually, because we all know everything written on Wikipedia has to be approved by a panel of reptilian alien overlords bent on controlling the flow of information to bored college kids, but more in the sense that you find out what people who live/like value about their city.

So what I learned about Lansing is that it's basically Columbus without everything that makes Columbus cool. You've got the politics and a giant state university, but when "TIME CAPSULE" is prominently placed on Lansing's Wikipedia page, the city might want to throw a party or something to make sure that people are around in 2159 when they figure they're going to open the damn thing up.

PROS: Probably pretty cool for four years or so at Michigan State, lots of snow for the making of both snow balls and men, basically a get out of jail free card in Ohio if you have to reveal you're from Michigan.

CONS: Will take constant shit from people in Ann Arbor for your entire life, as if Detroit doesn't exist or something.

8. Springfield, Illinois

Look, I love Abraham Lincoln. He's my favorite president and also one of my favorite people in the history of the world. That he lived in Springfield for 24 years, however, is not enough to convince me that the city is anything but a place for politicians to go in Illinois that is not Chicago. No matter how hard you try, Springfield, you will not convince me that your existence is not just to ensure that Chicago doesn't go completely bonkers from concentrated political corruption in both local and state government.

Here's a fun fact about Springfield that does not involve Abraham Lincoln: they think they invented the corn dog. ...Annnddd that's it.

PROS: What if they DID invent the corn dog? Wouldn't that be cool?

CONS: They probably didn't.

9. Annapolis, Maryland

Home to the US Naval Academy and that's about it. The Annapolis Wikipedia page also takes great care to detail the exploits of the community theater scene in the city, which I have to respect on some level despite the obvious futility of it. On the other hand, now I really want to see a boat themed version of Twelfth Night.

PROS: Those aliens from the movie Battleship will likely have difficulty attacking, oysters, oysters everywhere!

CONS: Hope you like lacrosse!

10. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Harrisburg is what happens when a city makes politics their sole business and then ends up being bad at that business. Bridges collapse, schools fall into disrepair, crime goes up, and the whole place devolves into a nightmarish grid of bureaucrats, crooks, rust belt industry, and depressed kids on front porches who wish that they had something to swing on that wasn't riddled with rusty nails.

And surrounding it all, like a candy bar with garbage nougat, are various Hershey chocolate attractions and locations. Nice.

PROS: All the chocolate your inner Don Draper can eat.

CONS: Everything else.

11. Trenton, New Jersey

Ah, Trenton! The reason why this list is backwards, I wanted to fully savor the utter crapulence that is this New Jerseyist of New Jersey cities. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy than that which exists in Trenton. The city, which has been hemorrhaging residents since the 1950s, is now ruled by a shadowy cabal of assorted lepers, pickpockets, and thieves, with Chris Christie commanding all that he sees, Kurtz-like, on a throne made from the skulls of a thousand failed mobsters.

Recently 33% of the police force has been banished from the city limits, due to either budget cuts or through a concerted effort by concerned lawbreakers to maintain the general milieu of rampant crime and vandalism. During the Revolutionary War, the Colonial Army won an important battle at Trenton (after their famous crossing of the Delaware River), and most people agree things went steadily downhill after that.

PROS: A man's price comes awfully cheap in Trenton, New Jersey.

CONS: Shank or be shanked.

And that will do it for this week! I hope the fine citizens of the cities I made fun of don't send me too much hate mail, although to be honest I've set up e-mail filters to weed out lame dorks, so whatever. Next week we tackle state fish, in what is sure to be the most controversial list yet. See you then!

The B1G List: State Birds | State Mottos | State FlowersState Songs | State Fossils | State Flags | TV Shows | State Trees


Comments Show All Comments

Denny's picture

Annapolis is a lovely town, especially if you like to sail. Or overpriced things. But it's damned pretty.


rdubs's picture

Agreed it is pretty expensive, but it is an amazing town (not really a city).  I would put it behind Columbus and Madison probably.

Maffro's picture

I've been to Annapolis like three times in my life, and one of those was for a field trip to the state capitol we took in like 8th grade.

YTOWNBUCKI's picture

PROS: A man's price comes awfully cheap in Trenton, New Jersey.

How this doesn't qualify them a little higher on the list is beyond me.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

Nick's picture

Haha trenton. I feel bad for anyone in NJ in general. Never been to trenton, though. 

Hovenaut's picture

Annapolis deserves better, great town.

Harrisburg is actually a decent little city on the Susquehanna River, a nice metro feel without the hustle and bustle. Not to mention they churn out some decent football talent (George Chaump, Dennis Green, LeSean McCoy and one Noah Spence, just to name a few).

Trenton is perfectly rank....ed.

cplunk's picture

Annapolis is absolutely beautiful. Except you have to pretty much be a millionaire to live there. Unless you are currently a midshipman.
My brother lives in Madison (this isn't the betrayal it seems; he is one of those artsy guys who couldn't tell you anything about football if you put a gun to his head. I find that more forgivable than rooting for Wisconsin), and it is also actually a really nice town. Too bad about the fans. Not sure how that happened.

CC's picture

With all due respect Annapolis is easily #1.
Catching blue crabs from your dock is something that's tough to do in any of the other cities.
The Navy game has fly over-overs that coincide with the OSU games so I get a local fly-over while watching an OSU game.

Nick's picture

As a non Crab lover and homer I agree with  this list as is

Johnny Ginter's picture

to be fair, nothing about this list is fair

AAStagg's picture

When in doubt, publish a List.
Next can we do a ranking of BigTen states with a nut in their nickname?

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

Nick's picture

HAHA I just noticed. WINTER IS COMING. 

PA Buckeye's picture

Other than the few years I was fortunate enough to attend Ohio State, I've spent my entire life in Pennsylvania. And for such a diverse and beautiful state, Harrisburg is an abortion of a capital city. When I was at OSU, I remember wondering why Harrisburg could be that nice.
I used to say that they should have put PSU in Harrisburg because University Park is isolated. Perhaps I got that backwards.
I've never been to Trenton, but dang it must suck to be ranked lower than Harrisburg.
Now all of this being said, the Pennsylvania Capitol building itself kicks ass. Nicer than the national capitol.

Hell with the lid off

SoDakBuckeyeFan's picture

I just want everyone to know that not only does Pierre South Dakota have a Walmart, it is in fact a "Super Walmart". It is also full of Cornshucker fans which made last years trouncing of Nebraska one of the greatest nights of my life. 


AndyVance's picture

I immediately Googled "Pierre, South Dakota Walmart" as soon as I read that line in the post. Funny thing, Johnny's post comes up first in the Google News search rankings.

MN Buckeye's picture

Sodak, you just made my day!  The Black Hills and the Badlands are among my favorite places on the planet!  I am encouraged to hear about the Super Walmart.

nvbuckeye's picture

Sitting here writing this is Carson City, Nevada I take umbrage to the "wasteland" comment.  CC is really a nice little town with lots to do and beautiful mountains all around.  While it is not C-Bus it is still better than any other BIG state capital and I have been through half of them since leaving Ohio 30+ years ago.
Great article and keep them coming.  GO BUCKEYES!!!!!!!!

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Yeah, lived in Central PA for almost 8 years and went to H'burg a lot for business. It's a pus pocket; it does produce some pretty good football talent, though.

hetuck's picture

I vote for Annapolis as # 1 and Harrisburg last. It is teetering on bankruptcy and the Mayor spent millions on Wild West artifacts. Plus it is next to Three Mile Island. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

cplunk's picture

Man, it's all jokes with trees, flowers, and fossils but talk about state capitals and people come at you. S*IT GETS REAL.
Apparently. For some reason. 

AndyVance's picture

Bonus points for the Don Draper Hershey reference (poor, poor Don), and Madison is a very cool town despite being, well, Madison. And yes, India-no-place has a really nice downtown. It's a good convention city.

MN Buckeye's picture

I vote for Cbus as #1, of course.  Madison is a great small town, particularly during the summer.  In St. Paul, 'winter is coming' is a pro for many people, particularly those that enjoy winter sports.

pjtobin's picture

Yes I agree. Columbus is a great place. I love it there. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

argyle182021's picture

A pro for St. Paul has to be proximity to Minneapolis.  Minneapolis is an underrated city, IMO.

MN Buckeye's picture

Minneapolis does have a lot to offer, but so does St. Paul.  Great theater and sports, lots to do.  The only down side is when I am forced to go to the Mall of America.
A former governor and former pro wrestler (Ventura) once claimed that the streets of St. Paul were laid out by a drunken Irishman.'s picture

Columbus is the finest place on earth, but Annapolis is a great destination. Deserves to be a close second. 

Haybucks's picture

Madison number 3?  I think not, but I have noticed the dairy farms/fields around Madison are quite nice.

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


spqr2008's picture

I think you meant "Cleveland and Cincinnati, while wretched hives of scum and villainy," instead of "Cleveland and Cincinnati, while grimy dens of backwater dealings and depression,".  Never pass up a chance to quote Obi-Wan.

Johnny Ginter's picture

whats funny is i had literally typed exactly that and then i realized i had done it again with trenton so i went back and changed it

MassiveAttack's picture

I think 1, 2, and 3 are right on.  While I have only lived in Columbus, having visited the other two multiple times, Indianapolis is a solid town and Madison is really nice as well.
I have never been to any of the other B1G captials.

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

NorthernOhioBuckeye's picture

Just think of New Jersey as the state version of Detroit.

mtharp's picture

Great Comment! Nailed IT!
i travel alot for work and i will drive a hour out of my way each way just to say i didn't have to go through detroit