We headed into Raleigh this morning under overcast skies to tour our 39th state Capitol. However, the current building was not the first capital of the State.
Royal Governor William Tryon and his family brought architect John Hawks from London to design and build the Georgian-style structure. Completed in 1770, Tryon Palace served as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina and home to the Tryon family.
Tryon Palace was the site of the first sessions of the general assembly for the State of North Carolina following the revolution and housed the state governors until 1794. In 1798, fire destroyed the original Palace building.
Meanwhile, the state's population had moved westward, and in 1788 a State Convention voted to fix the capital within ten miles of Isaac Hunter's plantation in Wake County. A committee later purchased 1,000 acres and a plan for Raleigh was drawn, based on the then nation's capital of Philadelphia. Construction of a State House began on the town's central square in 1792. First occupied in 1794, the building served as the capitol until it burned in 1831. The cornerstone of the present State Capitol, constructed on the site of the former State House, was laid in 1833 and the building was completed in 1840.
On the morning of June 21, 1831, the State House was being fireproofed, following several disastrous fires in Raleigh. Workmen laying sheets of zinc on the roof left the project untended and a boiling pot of lead solder spilled setting the roof ablaze over the western portico. Within three hours, the fire consumed and razed the entire building.
The current North Carolina State Capitol, completed in 1840 at a cost of $532,682.34 (including furnishing), is one of the finest and best preserved examples of a major civic building in the Greek Revival architecture style.
The Capitol is a cross shape, centering on a domed rotunda where the wings join. It is 160 feet from north to south, 140 feet from east to west (including the porticoes), and stands 97½ feet from the rotunda floor to the crown atop the dome.
Looking up from the Rotunda floor.
The exterior walls are built of gneiss, a form of granite.
The stone was quarried in southeastern Raleigh and hauled to the site on the horse-drawn Experimental Railroad, North Carolina's first railway. The interior walls are of stone and brick. The massive, original wooden truss system still bears the weight of the roof.
This Rotunda’s centerpiece is a 1970 copy of Antonio Canova's original statue of George Washington, which had been displayed in the original State House from 1820-1831.
Canova sought to honor and even glorify Washington by depicting him in a Roman general's uniform with tunic, tightly-fitting body armor, and short cape fastened at the shoulder. The figure's short hair style is that of a Roman officer. Shown with a pen (stylus) in his hand, the seated Washington is writing (in Italian) the first words of his farewell address as president on a tablet.
Did you notice the No. 2 pencil someone humorously placed in Washington’s right hand?
Around the rotunda are several plaques and busts that honor important people and significant events in North Carolina's history:
In Memory of Virginia Dare — Born on August 18, 1587, Virginia Dare was the first child born to English-speaking parents in the colonies. She was the daughter of Ananias and Eleanor Dare, and granddaughter of John White. She was born in John White's colony on Roanoke Island, which later became known as the "Lost Colony."
In Honor of the Women Who Participated in the Edenton Tea Party — On October 25, 1774, 51 women met in Edenton, North Carolina, and declared they would not participate in the buying (or consumption) of tea or wear articles of "British Manufactures." This meeting has been called the "earliest known instance of political activity on the part of women in the American colonies."
Halifax Resolves — This document, adopted by the Fourth Provincial Congress on April 12, 1776, made North Carolina the first colony to recommend American independence.
Bust of Samuel Johnston — Governor from 1787 to 1789, he then became the first United States senator from North Carolina.
Bust of William A. Graham — Governor from 1845 to 1849, and later a United States senator. He was nominee for vice president in 1852 with Winfred Scott from the Whig Party. He served as Secretary of the Navy under President Millard Fillmore.
Bust of John Motley Morehead — Governor from 1841 to 1845, he was the first governor to serve in the Capitol for a full term. He is known for his emphasis on railroads, public schools, and better care for the blind, deaf, and insane.
Bust of Matt Whitaker Ransom — United States senator from 1872 to 1895 and minister to Mexico from 1895 to 1897. He attained the rank of brigadier general during the Civil War. He also served in the N.C. House of Commons and as the state's attorney general.
While the Governor’s and Lieutenant Governor’s offices are located off the Rotunda, untypically, they were not open for visitors … apparently a recent change due to some “security issues”.
A flight of stairs leads to the second floor where large wooden doors lead to an area around the Rotunda.
To the North another set of similar doors lead to the Senate chambers.
This room served the 50-member Senate until 1961, and resembles a Grecian temple in the Ionic style.
The rostrums at the front are slightly smaller than those in the House and originally seated the Speaker of the Senate who is now known as the President of the Senate (i.e., lieutenant governor). There appear to be public galleries on all four sides of this chamber. In fact only three sides contain functional balcony seats.
The entablature above the columns on the north side was added for symmetry as the fireplace arrangement did not allow balcony access above this area.
The window shades feature olive wreaths, a symbol of victory and honor. The lithographic print of the Canova statue of Washington hangs to the right of the rostrums.
This 1840 print features the only known interior view of the 1794-1796 State House.
The chamber has been returned to its 1840s color scheme of sky-blue walls and white trim.
Original Senator’s desks and chairs
Other original furniture.
On the South wing, the House of Representatives chamber is located.
This room served the 120-member House of Commons from 1840-1868 and the House of Representatives from 1868-1961. The semicircular plan mirrors the design of a Grecian amphitheater.
Local carpenters built the rostrums in the front of the chamber, and local cabinetmaker William Thompson made the desks for the House and Senate Chambers.
Thomas Sully's portrait of George Washington (ca. 1818), which hangs above the Speaker's podium, is a copy of the Gilbert Stuart "Lansdowne" portrait. This painting was saved during the State House fire of 1831.
The original 84-candle brass chandelier was lowered each day by a pulley to light the candles. The mid-nineteenth-century brass and copper chandelier that now hangs in the House is also lowered on that same mechanism to change the light bulbs.
Records indicate that the original 1840 window shades were decorated with painted Grecian borders, so the reproduction window shades mimic decorative plaster designs in the room. The building originally was heated by 28 fireplaces, four of which are in this room.
Carpet was installed in 1854 to make the chambers more comfortable.
The 31-star patters symbolizes that that there were 31 states in the Union at that time.
The blue curtains located behind the speakers' chairs in both chambers were added to block any drafts from the windows behind them. Both the carpets and the curtains are reproductions.
The West Hall Committee Room served as a joint committee room for the House and Senate. After the Civil War it briefly served as the "Third House (1868-1869)," the Capitol keeper's office (1893-1939), a snack room (1939-1961), and a post office. This room was restored to its original 1840 size and appearance between 1974 and 1976.
It is reported that during Reconstruction in large part due to ample supplies of liquor and cigars more legislations was transacted in this room than in either House of Senate chambers.
A narrow staircase leads to a third floor
where spectators can view the Senate and House chambers from the galleries; and where three additional rooms are located.
The State Library was located in this room from 1840 until 1888. The room was completed in the Gothic style in 1842, when the staircase, gallery, and shelves were added to hold the growing collection of books and papers. The collection began with more than 2,000 volumes and grew to nearly 40,000.
It was open only to state officials until 1845, when policies were eased and the general public was admitted. By 1859 the State Library had outgrown its small, cramped room and was spilling its contents into other offices of the Capitol, including the building's closets. In 1888, the State Library moved to a larger building and is now housed in its third location since leaving the Capitol — the Archives and History/State Library Building on Jones Street. This room's 1856-1857 appearance has been re-created based on information contained in legislative papers and other records in the State Archives.
The State Geologist's Office was occupied by the Supreme Court from 1840 to 1843, before the court relocated to the northeast suite on the first floor for convenience. Afterward, the State Geologist's Office — with its "Cabinet of Minerals" display — occupied the room from 1856 to 1865. Here the state geologist, Dr. Ebenezer Emmons, conducted a geological survey to determine the commercial and agricultural value of minerals and plants native to North Carolina.
In glass cabinets, he displayed specimens from the Piedmont counties, including soil, seeds, rocks, and mineral samples. In 1858 a Gothic gallery was added to expand the collection, but it is likely that the upper shelves were actually used to store the overflow of books from the State Library. In April 1865 Union troops occupied Raleigh, and General Sherman's troops rifled the mineral collection. In 1866, the collection's remnants were donated to the University of North Carolina, and by 1868 the mineral cases were removed from the room. After the Civil War, the room housed the office of the superintendent of public instruction and was used for various legislative functions until 1961. The room's restoration to its 1858-1859 appearance is based on historical documentation and reflects its use by the geologist and legislative clerks, and as an additional reading room of the State Library.
The Capitol Documents Room, where, before the Civil War, the Capitol’s documents and primary legal records were stored. Shortly before the peaceful surrender to Raleigh to the Union Army of General William T. Sherman, Governor Zubelon B. Vance requested the Capitol with its “library and museum” be spared. While the building and its contents were for the most part left intact, many departing Union soldiers took North Carolina artifacts and documents as “souvenirs” or trophies. One key document stolen was North Carolina’s original copy of the Bill of Rights!
North Carolina’s Bill of Rights is one of fourteen original copies of the document prepared for each of the thirteen colonies and the federal government in 1789. George Washington sent the governor of each state a copy to review the twelve proposed Amendments to the Constitution. North Carolina, which had not yet ratified the Constitution, became the 12th state to do so upon receiving this document.
It was kept in the Capitol from 1840 until it was stolen in April 1865. Most of the records removed from the Capitol were recovered in 1906. However, it wasn’t until March of 2003, the Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered the document in a private collection and, after a lengthy legal battle, it was returned to the state in 2005.
The grounds surrounding the State Capitol have many statues and monuments including:
Presidents North Carolina Gave the Nation – This work honors the three presidents born in North Carolina: Andrew Jackson of Union County, seventh president of the United States (1829-1837); James Knox Polk of Mecklenberg County, eleventh president of the United States (1845-1849); and Andrew Johnson of Wake County, seventeenth president of the United States (1865-1869). Although North Carolina claims all three presidents as native sons, all were elected while residents of Tennessee.
Charles Duncan McIver – Dr. McIver was a renowned promoter of education in North Carolina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is remembered as the founder and the first president of the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (now The University of North Carolina at Greensboro).
Zebulon Baird Vance – A native of Buncombe County, Vance was one of this state's most popular political figures during the Civil War. He helped organize state troops for the Confederacy and was promoted to full colonel shortly before his election as governor in 1862. He again served as governor from 1877 to 1879 and was a United States senator from 1879 until his death in 1894.
George Washington – This bronze statue is one of six cast by William J. Hubbard of Richmond, Virginia, from a mold of Houdon's Washington which stands in the Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. It was intended to replace the destroyed Canova statue. Unveiled on July 4, 1857, it was the first statue placed on the grounds.
Charles Brantley Aycock – Known as the "education governor," Aycock was responsible for beginning the public school system existing today in North Carolina. It is said that one new school was opened for nearly every day of his term, 1901-1905.
Women of the Confederacy – The Women of the Confederacy monument was a gift to the state by Confederate veteran Col. Ashley Horne, and was unveiled in June 1914. It was the wish of Colonel Horne to recognize the suffering and hardship faced by women during this tragic period in our nation's history.
Worth Bagley – Born in Raleigh in 1874, Ensign Bagley was the first American naval officer killed in the Spanish-American War. Bagley, the executive officer of the torpedo ship U.S.S. Winslow, was killed May 11, 1898, by a shell from Spanish shore batteries at Cardenas Bay, Cuba.
Confederate Monument – This monument is in remembrance of North Carolina's Confederate dead (nearly one quarter of all Confederate deaths were from North Carolina). The three statues on the monument represent Confederate infantry, cavalry, and artillery soldiers. The inscription, "First at Bethel – Last at Appomattox," represents the forwardness and tenacity of North Carolina's soldiers during the Civil War.
North Carolina Veteran's Monument – This monument honors the veterans of the state who served in World Wars I and II and the Korean War. The base features scenes and lists major battles from each of the wars, and atop a granite shaft stands Lady Liberty holding a palm frond to symbolize peace and victory. The flags of each of the armed services fly at the rear of the monument.
Vietnam Veteran's Memorial – Entitled "After the Firefight," this memorial honors the more than 206,000 men and women of the state who served in Vietnam. The monument depicts two soldiers carrying a wounded comrade to a nearby landing zone to await medical help. This monument is unique in that it is the first to be sculpted by a woman, and the first to depict an African American.
The Tree of Life is dedicated to the 1,387 people who lost their life as a result of crashes on North Carolina roads in 2015. The 431 red ribbons and lights represent teh people who lost their life as the result of an impaired driver. The 955 white ribbons and lights represent all other traffic fatalities statewide. The one blue ribbon and light represents an officer who lost his life as the result of a traffic-related crash.
As hard as we tried, we could not locate the blue ribbon or light. Unfortunately, however, we did spot an empty blue beer can under the tree
Adjacent to the four corners of the State Capitol grounds are found four distinct and historic churches.
First Baptist Church Raleigh (established 1839)
From the State Capitol Grounds we walked Bicentennial Park where North Carolina’s replica of the Liberty Bell resides
This exact replica is the same size (3’ tall from lip to crown and a 12’ circumference and measures 3” thick at the lip), weight (2,080 lbs.) and material (85% copper) as the original. Therefore, it has the same tone.
to the new Legislative Building
Officially occupied on February 6, 1963
which now houses the State Senate
Looking back at the Capitol, the low overcast ceiling is evident as the tops of the surrounding building are enveloped.
Next, we walked by the elegant Executive Mansion
Constructed between 1883-1891 by prison labor.
Two North Carolina anecdotes we discovered:
- A three-story globe sits outside the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.
Inside the iconic globe, this three-story theater with a 45 x 45-foot HD screen and multi-channel surround-sound plays host to cutting-edge science presentations and scenes from nature.
The nation’s first gold discovery was in North Carolina.
John Reed (Johannes Reith) was a Hessian soldier who left the British army near the conclusion of the Revolutionary War and came to settle near fellow Germans living in the lower Piedmont of North Carolina. Most of the people dwelt on modest family-run farms in rural areas, where they raised small grain crops such as corn and wheat.
The life of farmer John Reed would have been long forgotten had it not been for a chance event one Sunday in 1799. On that day, Reed's son Conrad found a large yellow rock in Little Meadow Creek
on the Reed farm in Cabarrus County. This rock reportedly weighed 17 pounds and for three years was used as a doorstop at the Reed house.