For any of you who don’t know, the old state capitol building, commonly called the Old Capitol, just re-opened yesterday after a major renovation that was set in motion when chunks of the copper roof tore off during Hurricane Katrina. Yes, in case you’re counting, that was over 3 years ago. It’s been a long, arduous ordeal, but I think you’ll find the result is well worth the wait. In addition to (mostly) fixing the roof, the renovation included work on both the exterior and interior. On the exterior, those familiar red bricks, so beloved of Jacksonians since the 1960s, have been covered over *gasp* by gray stucco. The stucco was removed in the 1959-60 renovation that turned what had been used as a state office building into the state historical museum. According to legend, the stucco was removed because it was too expensive to put back on; however, the true story (you heard it here first) is that the director of MDAH at the time, the famous Charlotte Capers, decided that the original architect, William Nichols, probably hadn’t intended to put it on when he designed the building in the 1830s, and she went to what was in fact an extra expense in having it removed. Well, turns out, the bricks underneath were really crappy quality–Jackson was such a backwater in the 1830s it didn’t have good brickmakers–so when the stucco was removed, the bricks just started sucking up water, which is, you know, not a good thing. So, now our red brick is now covered over again, and all is right with the world.
The new focuses (or foci?) of the museum are the architecture of the Old Capitol building itself, the political history that took place in the building, and the history of preservation in Mississippi. In its previous incarnation, several areas were off-limits because they were in use as offices. Hardly anywhere is off-limits now, even up to the third floor. So next time you’re in Jackson, take a couple hours and check it out.
Other geeky architectural things to notice inside: the beautiful curving staircases in the main lobby now have much heftier, Greek Revival balusters instead of the incorrect thin and dainty Federal style balusters installed in the 1959-60 restoration. Also, notice the cool glass reflector in the center of the Senate ceiling–this was designed to throw the light from the gas chandelier back into the room. These features were reconstructed from research by architectural historian Richard Cawthon. Cawthon’s detective work in general on this project deserves high praise–lots of hours in the archives sifting through dusty documents trying to find any and all references and photos of the building in its long history.
Find out lots more stuff on the Old Capitol’s website: http://mdah.state.ms.us/museum/oldcap/
One downer: In putting up the reconstructed fence that now fronts the property on State Street, MDAH inexplicably cut down what I think was the most beautiful magnolia tree in the world. Granted, the fence needed to go through there, but here we are in the Magnolia State and we can’t figure out a way to make a fence go around a tree?? Ridiculous! April 16, 2007, a day that will live in infamy.