Jane Elliott spied the beautiful Mississippi state capitol when we were traveling south on our trek to Florida. It was President’s day and downtown Jackson was quiet. “Let’s take a look,” Jane said and so Keith and I and Jane and Kent Elliott and their daughter Beth.
Much to our delight, they let us park right up front and they were just about ready to start a tour. The lovely building is referred to as the “new Capitol” because it succeeded the old statehouse that was built in 1903. It sits on the site of the old State Penitentiary and was built at a cost of $1,093,641, which seems like a pittance when you see the amazing architecture they refer to as Beaux Arts. This amazing building that is easily the most beautiful capitol I’ve ever seen. What was kind of funny though, being from Illinois and a state that is currently in quite a financial fix, is that the funds used to build the capitol came from a lawsuit against the Illinois Central Railroad for back taxes, a decision that was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court!
The architect that designed the Mississippi State Capitol was German-born architect Theodore C. Link of St. Louis, Missouri. Our guide said Link also designed St. Louis’s Union Station. According to A Guide to the Architecture of the Mississippi State Capitol “The building took three years to complete, from the creation of the State House Commission led by Governor Andrew H. Longino in February 1900, to architects designs in May 1900, to dedication in June 1903.””
Originally all three branches of the state’s legislators were in this building until 1910 when overcrowding forced several agencies into the building. A major renovation of the building took place from 1979 until 1982 restoring much of the original architecture of the building. As you can guess, the renovation cost much more than the original building did.
The first thing that catches the eye in when taking this tour is the main rotunda. Composed of Italian marble with trimmings of Belgian black marble and friezes and columns of scagliola, which is plaster made to look like marble, all eyes look up. Color and gilt were added to the dome in 1934. The dome rises 180 feet from the first floor and is 402 feet in width.
Even the water fountains which are no longer used are pieces of art comprised of iron and marble. The capitol was quite modern for its time. Theodore Link used the new technology of electric lighting. There are 750 lights in the rotunda and 4,759 in the building! We even saw one of the maintenance men changing one of the many bulbs during our tour. The capitol featured one of the first electric elevators in the state.
The grand staircase is quite lovely and the stained glass that you see when coming up the stairs is breathtaking. There are three windows they are created by the Louis J. Millet Company of Chicago and they represent the Native American, Mother Mississippi, and the Pioneer Settler.
Our guide took us through the hall of governors then onto the original Supreme Court Chamber where there is a neat M for Mississippi in the tiled floor. Some of the highlights of the tour were the wonderful opportunity to be able to go into the Governor’s office, a chance to see one of my favorite author’s John Grisham’s pictures. He was a state representative prior to being a famous writer, and just seeing all this lovely marble in one place.
The Capitol is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and they offer self-guided as well as guided tours. Our tour took just short of an hour. It was a totally impulsive stop, but one I don’t regret. Government buildings are often overlooked as places to view for their beauty, but this is surely worth a stop and a tour when traveling through lovely Mississippi!