September 10, 2012 – Pennsylvania State House, Harrisburg, PA

We’d heard so much about Pennsylvania’s State Capitol Building that we were prepared for something of a letdown.  However,

from the moment it loomed into view, we knew we were in for an extraordinary day!

Since the seat of the Commonwealth’s government was relocated to Harrisburg in 1812, the current capitol, known as the Huston Capitol, is the third state capitol building to be built in Harrisburg. The first, the Hills Capitol, was destroyed in 1897 by a fire and the second, the Cobb Capitol, was left unfinished because the structure was considered undignified and unattractive in 1899.

The present, 600 room Capitol was designed by Philadelphia architect Joseph Huston who envisioned an American Renaissance style building as a “Palace of Art”.  The building incorporates various Renaissance designs in some of its largest rooms; Italian in the House Chamber, French in the Senate Chamber and English in the Governor’s Reception Room … as well as Greek, Roman and Victorian influences in its art and ornamentation.

 It was completed in 1906 and dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt who, upon entering the Rotunda, proclaimed, "it was the most beautiful building he had ever seen." 

 A sad footnote, however, after its completion, the capitol project was the subject of a major scandal.  Costing $13,000,000, its construction and subsequent furnishing cost three times more than the General Assembly had appropriated for the project.  Ultimately, Huston and four others were convicted of graft in relation to costs of the total project.

Today, it is an architectural and artistic treasure and a majestic symbol of history and power and an icon of democracy and freedom!

Its five-story exterior and surrounding entrances are faced with Vermont granite

while the roof is composed of green glazed terra cotta tile


 and topped with a 17’8” high domed entitled ‘Commonwealth” holding a garlanded mace in her left hand upholding the standard of statehood.  Her right hand is extended in benediction.

 Climbing the steps toward the main entrance, we passed between the Barnard Statues which flank the massive 17’bronze doors, each weighing a ton … but easily swung open with the touch of a hand.  Twenty-seven figures are represented in these two sculptures.

To the Left is “Labor and Love / The Unbroken Law”, representing humanity advancing through work and brotherhood

To the Left is “Labor and Love / The Unbroken Law”, representing humanity advancing through work and brotherhood

To the right is “The Burden of Life / The Broken Law”, portraying the lives of degradation and spiritual burdens

Entering the dramatic Rotunda, your attention is immediately drawn to the grand staircase, modeled after the Paris Opera House.

  As your gaze is cast upward, you are captivated by the spectacular dome


 which soars 272 feet above.  Weighing 52 million pounds, its design was inspired by Michangelo’s design for St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

At the top of the dome, the natural light 48 portholes together with 4,000 lights illuminate the Rotunda.

The floor you are standing on is also a work of art.  A 16,000 sq. ft. mosaic of Moravian tile, it was designed by Henry Chapman Mercer and is punctuated by nearly 400 tile pictures which relates the story of Pennsylvania’s rich history from the time of the Native Americans who inhabited the area before the arrival of European settlers up through the beginning of the 20th century when the floor was laid.



 Two long hallways run right and left of the center of the Rotunda


and another, leading to the elevator,  draws you attention to a dramatically tiled ceiling.

 Our guided tour took us to the fourth floor where we could have a better view of the dome,

an opportunity to view the Rotunda from above,

and the upper walls and their art work.

 You might note that the inscription from William Penn which runs around the upper reaches of the Rotunda wall is also comprised of thousands blue and gold 1” square tiles.

 On the third floor while the Supreme Court courtroom was off-limits due to a Superior Court schedule, we were able to visit both the Senate Chamber

and the House Chamber.

The wooden desks used by Pennsylvania’s representatives were constructed of mahogany imported from Belize and date back to the building’s 1906 opening.

The lights in the two-ton chandeliers hanging in both chambers appear in an "x" pattern.

When the State House was completed 25-watt bulbs were the standard.  Unfortunately, the light they gave off was too dim to illuminate the large rooms in the building.  The solution was to use cut-glass globes surrounding the bulbs to scatter their light.  The result in both the chandeliers and and other permanent lamps was to create the pattern seen above.

Both chambers boast stained glass windows, 10 in the Senate Chamber and 14 in the House Chamber.  These were created by a Philadelphia native, William Van Ingers, a former student to famous glass artist Louis Tiffany.  Each features a theme, such a Military, Education, Commerce, History, Liberty, Justice, etc.

We next set out for the Forum, with its 22 bronze doors depicting “Man’s Creative and Recreative Occupations”,

an exact, full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell,

and the State Museum of Pennsylvania …

which was, regretfully closed on Mondays!

The State Capitol complex is also populated with numerous statues and memorials including,

Mexican War Memorial

Civil War hero Gen. John Harttanft

War Veterans Memorial

Being the Keystone State, naturally, keystones are found throughout the State Capitol Complex …


as are many interesting views of the exterior of the Capitol.

Finally, we found the predictable protesters, this group part of the so-called 99%.

Nearby, we visited several churches.


Grace Methodist Church (which was used as a temporary state capitol after the February 2, 1897 fire destroyed the former capitol building until the present facility was opened in 1906)

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Mass at St. Patrick’s


Cathedral Chapel of St. Lawrence

Pine Street Presbyterian Church

After leaving the State Capitol complex and downtown Harrisburg areas, we drove back to Fort Hunter Park to see a late 19th century period Methodist church


(constructed in 1885 – damaged by fire in 1927)

and the Rockville Bridge which spans the Susquehanna Rover and is the longest stone masonry arch bridge in the world.

Constructed between 19000 and 1902, it is 3,820’ in length, 52’ wide and sits 46’ above the river’s mean height.  The present bridge has 48 spans, some say intentionally representing the 48 states before Alaska and Hawaii; although it is worth noting that when the bridge was built there was only 45 states, each 70 feet long.

From there we continued a few miles north where a 25th tall replica of the Statue of Liberty sits in the middle of the Susquehanna River’s Dauphin Narrows.

The original 18 ft. tall version was built by Gene Stilp in 1986 out of venetian blinds.  Demolished in a storm, it was later recreated taller and out of sturdier materials.


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