The “New” Capitol is over a hundred years old now. At the turn of the 20th Century, Mississippi designed and built its new state house.
In 1900 the legislature authorized its construction. It took two years to build it, finished in 1903 at a cost of a million dollars. Now, if that sounds like a bargain, consider in 1979 it was restored. The restoration took THREE years and cost in the neighborhood of 19 million dollars.
To replace it today, marble, granite and light bulbs and all, would pretty much be unthinkable.
The building is a departure from the past in many ways, as the state was going through departures from the past at the same time.
The old planter-based power structure was being broken up at the end of the 1800s and shifting more to the masses. And this new building reflected new, forward thinking.
For instance, it was one of the first buildings in Mississippi lighted from the onset by electricity, with over 47 hundred light fixtures in the building. And its design wasn’t the old Greek Revival style of the past, either, but Beaux-Arts.
The layout of the building reflects the ideal of governance with the two bodies of the legislature being balanced on either end of the building with the Governor’s office off to one side in the middle. But in the CENTER of the building is a rotunda representing the governed, the people. That’s our place, in the middle.
All around is marble and other magnificent materials. But then again, that’s just at eye level. Up above, and the large columns are plaster decorated by skilled artisans to LOOK like marble to save money, called scagliola.
The exterior is mostly limestone on a base of granite. With lesser expensive, lighter weight materials used above the roofline, terracotta on the base of the skylights above the legislative chambers, topped off by an eight-foot tall, gold-leafed copper eagle.
And one of the wonders of the New Capitol in Jackson is how few Mississippians have actually been inside to see it. It is open from 8 to 5 weekdays for free, self-guided tours. I believe all who’ve seen it are impressed and feel we got our million dollars worth when it was built.
A sign that times change: Nowadays real marble is less expensive than making the plaster columns look like marble because creating scagliola is practically a lost art.