State houses : America's 50 state capitol buildings /

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Main Author: Thrane, Susan W.
Other Authors: Patterson, Tom, 1958-
Format: Book
Published:Erin, Ont. : Boston Mills Press, 2005.
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Preface My interest in state capitols can be traced back to my childhood in rural Iowa, not far from Iowa City, the state's first capital. There, amid the University of Iowa buildings and overlooking the Iowa River, stood the old stone Greek Revival capitol. To me it was the largest and most handsome building in the world. My father knew its history: it was the territorial capitol (1842-1846) where Iowa inaugurated its first governor; home to the first six General Assemblies from 1846 to 1857; the site where the state constitution was drafted and where the state university was chartered in 1847. In fact, the capitol was the university's first permanent structure, and it housed the University of Iowa's administrative offices for over 113 years as the university built around and enveloped it. When my family traveled throughout the United States (most memorably in a 1948 Ford), we looked for state capitols, often recognizable by their Renaissance-style golden domes. While preparing this book, I discovered that we were not alone in our interest. The admiration, even veneration, of people toward their civic temples became increasingly evident. This was especially clear to me the day I was visiting Des Moines and working in the elegant law library of the present Iowa State Capitol. I was interrupted by news from Iowa City that the first capitol, now a landmark, was burning. As the tragedy unfolded, I joined the librarians watching the collapse of its cupola on the Internet. Simultaneously, throughout the building and the state, distraught Iowans wept at their loss. This respect and devotion are not surprising. Capitols are symbols of democracy. They are homes of history, where leaders are elected and laws are passed. Moreover, capitols reflect the unique past and identity of each state and, collectively, of the United States. Architecturally, despite the fact that at least thirty-two states have capitols with externally visible domes, each is distinctive. They are also repositories of arts and crafts in the stained glass, carved wood, delicate ironwork, mosaic tiles and large murals that are no longer economically feasible to incorporate into new public buildings. Significantly, in our increasingly rootless twenty-first-century society, the capitols bring continuity from our past to the future. And the business carried on within these historic structures has become increasingly relevant to the lives of each of us as states assume a growing role in the fluctuating federal system. The buildings notwithstanding, differences in the legislation of the fifty states demonstrate their unique character, One vintage legislation, "An Act Directing what Fence shall be deemed lawful," was enacted by the Vermont General Assembly in 1780, before Vermont became a part of the United States, and remains on the books. In contrast, the Wisconsin legislature outlawed oleomargarine until 1967 and still restricts its use. Throughout the book, many of the chapters contain examples of other laws passed in the legislative chambers of these buildings. And along the way, what history and stories were discovered! During 1807, in the old house of the Virginia Capitol, Aaron Burr was tried for treason and acquitted, with John Marshall, chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, presiding. Angelina Grimke, the first woman known to address a state legislative body, gave a speech advocating the abolition of slavery in the old Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1838. In Ohio, in order to save money, the General Assembly drafted prisoners to build its state house. Jefferson Davis proclaimed independence and the birth of the Confederacy from Alabama's old state capitol, where later, in 1963, civil-rights activists protested Alabama's newly inaugurated governor, George Wallace. Wallace promised loyalty to segregation while standing on the capitol steps, within view of Martin Luther King's Dexter Avenue Baptist church. In Kansas, semi-nude women in frescoes commissioned by the Populist Patty were replaced with fully clothed figures when the Republican Party took control. While these are special, singular events, one in particular that tied many of the state capitols together and focused national attention on them occurred following Lincoln's assassination, His body was transported from Washington, D.C., to Springfield, Illinois, by train, befitting his strong support of railroads, first as an attorney and then as president. During a three-week period, the cortège stopped at Pennsylvania's capitol, in Harrisburg, and at New York's state capitol, in Albany, before his body was brought through the front doors of the state house in Columbus, Ohio, and lay in state for eight hours, Thousands of grieving Hoosiers later filed through the first Indianapolis State House, when for eighteen hours his body lay in state in its rotunda, For two days in Representatives Hall of the Illinois old capitol, seventy-five thousand mourners passed before his casket before the burial in his hometown of Springfield. This mourning did not take place in churches or business auditoriums but in state capitols, or as some call them, civic churches, symbolic of state government and American democracy. Events such as these indicate that state capitols represent history, as well as being repositories of legislation, architectural design, and especially interior design and artwork, The art is more than decoration -- it conveys the state's history, by emphasizing public figures and events and by promoting government. Thomas Hart Benton and N.C. Wyeth created murals with westward expansion themes for Missouri's capitol in Jefferson City. The New Mexico State Capitol is considered an art museum, with changing displays of works by living New Mexican artists, reflecting the state's unique heritage. Charles M. Russell's painting of Lewis and Clark meeting Native Americans in 1805 dominates the Montana House chamber, while above the grand staircase is a mural depicting the driving of the golden spike commemorating the completion of the transcontinental Northern Pacific Railroad at Gold Creek, Montana, Also noteworthy are John Steuarr Curry's mural of John Brown in Kansas, Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington in Rhode Island, and Virginia's life-size statue of one of its favorite sons, George Washington. War memorials and statuary placed on the buildings and grounds include a statue of Sergeant Alvin C. York, a hero of the First World War, on the grounds of Tennessee's capitol and Daniel Chester French's sculpture of the gilded quadriga above the entrance portico of the Minnesota Capitol. Moreover, after the Civil War, installing such public art as Confederate memorials preserved the culture of the South. Eager to absorb and connect with the fifty capitols, my journey began in New England, followed by the Mid-Atlantic states and the Midwest, then on to the remaining states. While Atlanta, Boston, Honolulu and Denver are major metropolitan centers, others exist and are primarily known because they are state capitols. Juneau, for example, has only about thirty-one thousand inhabitants. Helena, Frankfort, Augusta and Pierre are even smaller than Juneau, but Vermont's Montpelier is the smallest, with less than one third the population of Juneau. Throughout this long project I came into contact with too many men and women to acknowledge individually their gracious and enthusiastic assistance. They include state archivists and librarians, state historical preservation officers, capitol curators and historians, legislative council attorneys and staff, capitol tour guides, state legislators and officials, I am, however, particularly indebted to my children, John Wilfong and Sara Wilfong, and my husband, Bill Thrane, for their ongoing encouragement, support and good humor. After a hiking accident that had a significant impact on my ability to proceed, they rearranged schedules, became my drivers and travel companions, took on additional domestic responsibilities, and overall contributed to making life easier so that my work could be completed. Thank you. Susan Waddell Thrane Excerpted from State Houses: America's 50 State Capitol Buildings by Susan W. Thrane All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.