The Arkansas State Capitol was chief among our reasons for stopping in Little Rock.
Prior to the construction of the current Capitol, The Old State House in Little Rock was the seat of the Territory and later state’s government.
It is the oldest surviving state capitol building west of the Mississippi River and is perhaps best known as the site of President Bill Clinton’s election night celebration in 1992.
Construction of the current Capitol
took 16 years, from 1899 to 1915. The Neo-Classical design was by St. Louis architect George R. Mann. After Mann was fired, accused in bribery in 1909, New York’s Cass Gilbert was called in to complete the building. The Capitol was built on the site of the state penitentiary and prisoners helped construct the building. They lived in a dormitory that was left on the Capitol grounds while construction was taking place.
The Capitol foundations were aligned incorrectly by their original builder, the future Governor George Donaghey (who was responsible for firing Mann) centered the building on the centerline of Fifth Street (now Capitol Avenue), but he aligned the building north-south using the still-standing penitentiary walls as a guide without recognizing that Fifth Street was not aligned east-west; like other "east-west" downtown Little Rock streets, it runs parallel to the Arkansas River at a slight angle off true east-west. Therefore, the structure is situated in a north-south manner from end-to-end, which does not fit the grid street pattern of Little Rock's downtown. This also led to a slight S-curve in the formal entrance walkway between the foot of Capitol Avenue and the front steps of the Capitol.
The exterior of the Capitol is made of limestone, which was quarried in Batesville, Arkansas. Though it was initially stipulated a total cost for the envisioned capitol would not to exceed $1 million, total construction cost was $2.2 million or $320 million in 2014 dollars.
The building measures 440’ north-to-south, 196’ east-to-west and covers nearly 287,000 square feet.
Though difficult to see, letters in the five windows above the Capitol’s steps spell, “P E A C E”.
The front entrance doors are made of bronze, which are 10 feet tall, four inches thick and were purchased from Tiffany's in New York for $10,000.
Originally, the dome was to be a copy of Saint Peter’s in Rome, but as costs rose, the plans changed. Ultimately, the dome was designed from the plans used for the Mississippi capitol dome.
The distance from the ground to the top of the cupola’s finial 213’.
The cupola’s finial is covered in 24 karat gold leaf.
Upon entering the building and passing through security, you walk across a light projection of the state’s seal
The interior is constructed of marble from three states … the floors and walls from Vermont,
The dome’s interior rises 160’ above the floor.
The chandelier is 12’ in diameter, is made of solid brass and weighs 4,000 lbs.
The most ornate room is the Governor’s Reception Room.
At each end of the room are ornamental fireplaces with Arkansas marble mantles, each framed by identical carved heads … those at the east end representing the state’s historic Native American populations
Throughout the building, as is typical of nearly every capitol, are photographs, or busts, of former governors … tow of which are easy to identify.
Former Governor Mike Huckabee
Former Governor Bill Clinton
Although, as is the case in the vast majority of states, the Supreme Court is located in a separate judicial center located nearby the Capitol. However, while the Original Supreme Court Chambers are used for hearings today, it is still decorated close to when the court regularly met there. Original furnishing include its brass handrails, mahogany “bar”, light fixtures, and high-backed judges’ chairs (increased from 5 to 7 in 1920 when the court size was increased).
Shapes and symbols drawn from classical architecture ornamentation decorate the chamber’s ceilings and cornices. The latter feature a recurring pattern of three metopes, or decorative panels, bearing the symbols believed to illustrate principals of justice and law.
Terra Cotta Lamp (the lamp is a traditional symbol of wisdom or enlightenment, the guiding principal of true justice and good law)
The Gray Shield (The anchor represents safety and sureness while the dolphin is variously described as symbolizing truth, intelligence, amity and purity. Intertwined, the mean “more haste- less speed” implying good law must balance timeliness and diligence)
The 35-member Senate Chamber is traditional and voting is not done electronically, but by voice vote (something we’ve discovered is fairly common in State Senates in the West).
Chandelier is a small duplicate of the one in the Rotunda
The stain glass skylight is partially draped as a noise baffle
The100-seat House Chamber was locked and the Gallery undergoing renovations so we were only able to see it through the entrance doors.
It too has a stain glass skylight and chandelier larger than the one in the Senate but smaller than the one in the Rotunda
Four murals hang above the two grand staircases leading to the House and Senate Chambers, respectively. They are the only public artwork commissioned for the building. Over the Senate staircase are
And over the House stairs are the seemingly oxymorons of
There are a series of interesting exhibits in the Office of the Commissioner of State Lands including land records dating back to the beginning of the state as a Territory.
The Office of the State Treasurer was extremely interesting with its original vault (not just the safe door).
The vault is secured by a series of two doors and three time locks.
The 22,000 lb. main vault door presented a stiff challenge to construction crews. Ultimately, after conventional animal-drawn wagons proved unable to move it from the railroad to the capitol a dedicate rail spur was laid and then it was hoisted through a hole in the west wall using blocks and tackle and a steam engine.
The main vault door, once locked cannot be opened after hours until the next business days and controlled by four independent and synchronized time locks. We wondered what would happen if someone was accidentally locked in the vault over night or, worse, over a weekend. There was a solution … a mechanical (now driven by an electric motor) air pump.
While there, Dennis Milligan, the State Treasurer, spend 15-20 minutes chatting with us … not the first time state officials have taken time to talk to us.
Once inside the safe, they have hand-written cash journals dating to 1899,
two inner vaults where gold bullion was once stored,
Three Hundred and Eighty Thousand dollars of which were handed to Debbie!
Unfortunately, no samples were being handed out today!
On the Capitol grounds:
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Confederate Soldiers of Arkansas Monument
Confederal Women of Arkansas
War of 1812 Memorial
American Legion Eternal Flame Memorial
Replica of the Liberty Bell
Arkansas Medal of Honor Memorial
Fire Fighters Memorial
Little Rock Nine
We’d originally planned to next visit the Central High School
Museum which tells the story of the civil rights movement in Arkansas with a primary on the nine black students to tried to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High in 1957. While the Brown v. Board of Education had been the law for three years at the time, then Governor Orville Faubus called out the state’s National Guard to block any attempts to integrate Central High School. Woodrow Wilson Mann, the mayor of Little Rock, asked President Eisenhower to send federal troops to enforce integration and protect the nine students. On September 24, the President ordered the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, without its black soldiers, who rejoined the division a month later, to Little Rock and federalized the entire 10,000-member Arkansas National Guard, taking it out of the hands of Governor Faubus.
This was one of the dark period of American history which we lived through and watched unfold on the evening news!
Meantime, we had connected with Bill and Sonja McCauley,
one of the incredible couples we’d traveled to Alaska with in 2011 and who live in Little Rock. So, we quickly canceled our afternoon plans a drove to their beautiful home with its views in all directions,
Now, we’ve got more reasonsthan ever to return to Little Rock in the future!