In 1832 Newfoundland was granted representative government, but a permanent home for the legislature was delayed. Finally in 1847 the cornerstone for the Colonial Building was laid, though it was not until 1850 that it was completed and Newfoundland's legislature began to meet there. The building was designed by James Purcell and features a neoclassical facade with a portico, ionic columns and a large triangular pediment. It was constructed using white limestone imported from Cork, Ireland, at considerable expense. The interior of the building was also finished with an eye to style and features 2 legislative chambers that once housed the elected legislative assembly and the appointed legislative council.
Between 1850 and 1960 the Colonial Building served as the centre of government and public life in Newfoundland. In 1960 the legislature and other government offices moved to the newly completed Confederation Building, and the Colonial Building was turned over to the provincial archives. The provincial archives moved to The Rooms (officially opened in 2005) and the Colonial Building now houses the provincial historic sites division and non-governmental provincial heritage groups. The building and grounds are open to the public.