A Rosetta Stone and Truth about the Dome?

I hope y’all all enjoyed a relaxing Labor Day weekend with the welcome deluge of rain from Tropical Storm Lee after a long hot summer. While MissPres universe was on vacation, I was thinking about the series of posts by Blake Wintory recently about the similarities between the Arkansas and Mississippi Capitol domes. This series began and ended questioning what role, if any, Arkansas architect George Mann played in the design of Mississippi’s dome. This lack of closure inspired me to go back over some earlier posts here on MissPres to see if we could move in any direction toward an answer, and sure enough, I think we may be able to.

Image from the Report of the State House Commission to the Legislature of Mississippi, 1902

In the May 2011 post Critiquing the New Capitol Designs (1900) Part 2, Malvaney re-printed architect Bernard Green’s official critique of the designs submitted by fourteen architects for the New Capitol. Green specifically honed in on Nos. 5, 8 and 13, but we know only from the results that Theodore Link, who won the commission, was No. 5. We were never told in that critique who was Nos. 8 and 13. Malvaney pined away wishing,

“Some day the Rosetta Stone matching numbers with names will appear and all the mysteries of the world will be solved!”

In the meantime, during Blake Wintory’s series, we found out that George Mann claimed that Link, a friend from St. Louis, had approached him after receiving the commission, asking him if he could “borrow” his dome design because the Mississippi Capitol Commission had asked him to re-design his original dome to more closely match Mann’s. Mann used this story to claim that he himself was therefore the designer of the Mississippi dome, but he didn’t mention this until 1937, well after Link had died, so Link had no way to respond to this. In addition, the original submissions to the Commission were apparently not kept, and Link’s office records have also been lost, so it has been difficult to argue for or against Mann’s story.

If we had the original submissions, we could compare Mann’s submission to the final product and make a judgment, but it turns out, we have another option.

After a little detective work, we find that Malvaney’s Rosetta Stone may have been under our digital noses on MissPres for over a year. In the January 2010 post “The Story of the Mississippi’s New Capitol: Hiring and Architect,” Malvaney reprinted a 1902 Report to the State Legislature by building committee chairman Governor A.H Longino (you can read the document in its entirety here). In that report Gov. Longino gives the following numbered list:

“…the following persons, firms or corporations presented plans and specifications as required by the Commission under the statute, viz:

  1. Moad & Bramlet, Dallas, Texas.
  2. E.E. Meyers, Detroit, Michigan.
  3. J.W. Gaddis, Vincinnes, Indiana.
  4. Bruce & Morgan, Atlanta, Georgia.
  5. Theodore C. Link, St. Louis, Missouri.
  6. Weathers & Weathers, Memphis, Tennessee.
  7. H. Wolters, Louisville, Kentucky.
  8. George R. Mann, Little Rock, Arkansas.
  9. James B. Cook, Memphis, Tennessee.
  10. Bryan & Gilbert, Atlanta, Georgia.
  11. J. Riley Gordon, Dallas, Texas.
  12. Alfred Zucker, New York, New York.
  13. G.W. Bunting, Indianapolis, Indiana
  14. E.O. Murdock & Company, Omaha, Nebraska”

Since we know that Theodore Link was Number 5, I propose, gentle reader, that this is Malvaney’s desired Rosetta Stone. This also answers the question of who designed submittals Numbers 8 and 13, the other submittals that Bernard Green found to be of merit.

Arkansas State Capitol designer George Richard Mann (left) with George Mohr. Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Number 8 turns out to be George R. Mann. In Green’s review of the plans he says this about Mann’s design:

“This design shows originality and ingenuity next in order to that of No. 5, although materially inferior to it. There is much waste space in the basement and the arrangement of rooms is not convenient nor economical, while the three-section plans makes the building bulky and expensive. The exterior design is by far the chief merit, while the interior is quite without dignity, and, if employed, the architect would have to start on a quite different plan. The ornamental detail of the exterior lacks the strength required for a monumental building. The domes are weak and thin in appearance.”

Knowing now that this critique applied to Mann’s design, this statement, especially the last sentence, raises very serious questions about Mann’s later claim on the dome’s design. With the State House Commission weighting Green’s recommendations fairly heavily, I find it hard to believe that the Commission would have asked Link to copy a dome that was “weak and thin in appearance.”

Caricature of George R. Mann, hired in 1899 to design Arkansas’s new capitol building; 1908 From Men of Affairs, courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission

Number 13 was the design of G. W. Bunting of Indianapolis, Indiana.  I am not sure if this design was the work of George Bunting Senior or Junior.  Col. George Bunting Sr. has been described as one of Indiana’s most prolific courthouse architects. Born in Berks County Pennsylvania in 1829  he worked as a ship builder’s apprentice and eventually studied Architecture at Girard College. Bunting Sr. moved to Mississippi some time before the Civil War.  During the war he served the Confederacy in the First Mississippi Calvary, rising to the rank of Colonel. After the war he moved back north, eventually settling in Indianapolis, Indiana.  He began designing and building his most notable buildings in the 1870’s. The firm of G.W. Bunting & Son was established by the mid-1880’s.  Col. Bunting died in 1901 so it’s possible he had retired by the time the Mississippi State Capitol design was submitted, but Bunting’s time spent in Mississippi was no doubt the motivation for his firm to submit a design for the new state capitol.

Bernard Green said this of the G.W. Bunting submittal:

The merit of this design is chiefly in its exterior, although rather heavy, — but this may be classed as a “good fault.” The interior lacks dignity and economy of space and is generally uninteresting, while the arrangement of spaces is mechanically planned and gives no impression of the superior importance of the building and its purposes. The Supreme Court is on the same floor with the Legislature and the halls of the latter are square and hard in their outlines and treatment, while the visitor’s galleries overhang the members seats. If the author could start out on a different theory of the interior, — more in the line with my suggestions above, — he might prove to be a desirable architect for the commission to appoint. His general conception of the building is good.

All of Green’s statements seem to describe the body of Bunting’s work.  While a lot of it was courthouse buildings, his experience was nothing on the scale of a state capitol and this may have shown.  The majority of his work was mostly in the styles popular in the 1870’s and 80’s making a design submitted in 1900 possibly seem outdated.  Green also stated that he thought submittal No. 13 was among the designs that could not be built for the sums stated by their authors.

Green’s review of submittals No. 8 and No. 13 were overall positive.  He stated in his report that if the Architect of No. 5 (Link) was not available for the project, No. 8 (Mann) and No. 13 (Bunting) should be contacted successively.  Failing in this, he did not advise further consideration of any of the other architects.

Now that we have the legendary Rosetta Stone in hand, I think it’s safe to say the ball is in Mann’s court to provide more proof than just his word (30 years after the fact) that the Mississippi dome is not in fact the design of Theodore Link.



Categories: Architectural Research, Jackson

19 replies

  1. Good detective work, Malvaney!

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  2. Actually it was my own lack of detective work that sent Thomas Rosell off on his hunt for the truth. Surely I can’t be expected to remember things I have posted over a year ago?? :-)

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  3. Very nice. I missed this too! The other question (Did Arkansas Gov. Donaghey and Cass Gilbert (2nd architect) consciously borrow the Mississippi dome?) still needs more work on this side of the river.

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    • Thanks! Knowing the glowing praise that the Arkansas officials had for the Mississippi State House project its perfectly plausible that the Arkansas Capitol Commission ask both Mann and Gilbert on separate occasions to make their dome look like Mississippi’s dome.

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      • I agree — Donaghey/Gilbert borrowing the MS design is pretty likely, but the case is still a bit circumstantial.

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        • Its always great to find period documentation. I think that Gilbert was an accomplished and original enough architect that an out right copy would have been unsatisfactory to him. Not knowing the Arkansas Capitol Commission’s architectural savvy, them asking for a dome like Mississippi’s could have simply been asking for a dome with a fully colonnaded drum, or just a dome without windows.

          I know I can barely remember last week let alone recall the particulars of a project I worked on 30 years ago :-) But when I do read old reports the details come flowing back.

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          • If I remember right, only one Commission member ever had any building experience—that guy was Donaghey…there were 4 different Commissions (at one point there was even a rogue commission)…

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            • Wow with all the parties involved it is amazing it only took 16 years to finish! With the commissioners not having construction experience I can see their education coming at the cost of the project. I bet you could have a post about each individual commission.

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  4. In comparing the drawings for the Mississippi and the Arkansas buildings, there seems to be other similarities as well. Link’s original plan did have a dome of sorts, in front of the tower, and the thing on top of the dome (cupola?) is somewhat similar to Mann’s top of the dome. They both also have the “mini domes” at each end of the building, along with other similarities. I don’t know what you call the dome-like structure on top of Link’s tower, but it seems to bear similarities to the dome as actually constructed.

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    • After looking at lots of different sumbittals for state capitol buildings across the U.S. the Beaux-Arts style buildings do start to look very similar to one another. I think a lot of them were emulating the basic form of the U.S. Capitol.
      I wish we had all the New Capitol submittals. I think G. W. Buntings may have looked very different than the others.

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  5. Thomas, my apologies! For some reason, my brain saw Malvaney on the post!

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    • That’s ok! E.L. and Blake did all the back ground work to make the post possible. I think that we could have a post about the New or Old Capitol every day on the blog and learn something new every time.

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  6. Longino’s report is interesting, but oh, for renderings of Mann’s and Bunting’s designs. I wonder–were plates of any of the designs published in the Jackson newspapers of the day?

    I lean toward putting some–though by no means total–faith in Mann’s claim. Like the little girl said, in Abraham Lincoln’s anecdote, when she stuck her foot into the stocking, “It strikes me there’s something in it.” Perhaps it might be accurate to cal the Arkansas Capitol’s dome “inspired by” that of Mississppi’s; it’s not a precise copy, but the famuily ressemblance is certainly there. Mann was not shy about promoting himself but I think it unlikely that he would have claimed–even to his family– to have originated the Mississippi dome’s design without thre being some truth to the tale. The dispersal of most of his designs after his death has made it unlikely that his degree of parentage can be established with utter certainty, though–so we’re left with a scotch verdict, and two handsome buildings of which the respective states can be proud.

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    • Malvaney is working on at least one post regarding the Mississippi Capitol project as it was featured in the Times-Picayune. I know the more I dig on this topic the more questions surface.

      That reminds me of the six phases of a project:

      1.Enthusiasm

      2.Disillusionment

      3.Panic

      4.Search for the guilty

      5.Punishment of the innocent

      6. Praise and honors for the non-participants :-)

      It seems, from reading the series of posts that Mann felt that, (and I think his period plans and renderings back him up) that the exterior and interior of the Arkansas Capitol are his basic design. By being able to claim the dome in a round about way would make the entire building of Mann’s design.

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    • That post is actually about the 1899 aborted attempt to get a new capitol and one of the proposed renderings for it. Probably won’t run until October because I have a couple of other posts to set the scene of how bad off the old capitol was and why they felt they needed a new one in the first place.

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  7. Love that cartoon of Mann, btw!

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  8. To help myself keep track of earlier posts about our capitols, I’ve created a Series page on the topic: http://misspreservation.com/series/capitols-old-and-new/

    It can also be reached by clicking on “Series” in the header bar.

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