We’re on the 2nd day of a 4-part adventure into the ins-and-outs of the Arkansas Capitol project, courtesy of guest author Blake Wintory, in order to gauge the veracity of the claim that the dome on Arkansas’ Capitol is in fact a twin of the Mississippi dome. This series is shaping up as a blockbuster here on MissPres, and I hope will inspire someone in Mississippi to look more closely at how our own Capitol came to have the beautiful dome it does.
If you’re just joining us, make sure to read the first part of this story.
The official version of the building of Mississippi’s New Capitol never so much as mentions Arkansas, and you can read that four-part series as background research for this series:
As you read this report, you will no doubt notice how our own Capitol project was a model of efficiency and competence, in contrast to the Arkansas project, which sounds like it was a 16-year snake pit. Isn’t it fun being better than a neighboring state for once? And if I might say so, I think we emerged with the better Capitol too.
“I made the the mistake of assuming that the Commissioners of the Arkansas Building had the same point of view that I did, and would follow Mississippi’s good example.”
—George W. Donaghey in Building a State Capitol (1937)
In the spring of 1903 the Mississippi Capitol neared completion, while Arkansas’s lagged behind. The Arkansas Capitol Commission scheduled a trip to Jackson to “obtain all the information that in their judgment would be of value in the prosecution of our work.” The minutes of Arkansas’s Capitol Commission reflect admiration for the Mississippi project and a desire to learn from their example.
Minutes of the Arkansas Capitol Commission
May 15, 1903
The following resolution offered by Mr. McFarlane was adopted:
Whereas the state of Mississippi has first completed a magnificent and costly state House and that it is the opinion of this board that much valuable information might be gained by an examination of the plans, specifications, contracts, and buildings, etc of said state Capitol.
Therefore be it resolved that a committee of this board to visit: Jno B. McCaleb, Z. T. Matthews and R. W. McFarlane be instructed to visit said state Capitol and obtain all the information that in their judgment would be of value in the prosecution of our work, and that said committee make report at the next regular meeting.
June 10, 1903
Your committee heretofore appointed to visit and examine the Mississippi State Capitol Buildings [sic] begs leave to report that they did so immediately after the adjournment of the last meeting. We found the building nearly completed. It has since been dedicated June 3rd 1903. It is built on the site formerly occupied by their penitentiary, a plot of ground of eleven acres.
The first contract price was $833,000 but an additional appropriation of $30,261 [$390,000 crossed out] was made for excavation. The building completed will have cost $1,100,000, and it will take at least another $100,000 to level up the ground and furnish the building.
It is a beautiful structure, the basement story of granite, and the superstructure brick and faced with Bedford stone, faced inside on second and third story with Italian Marble and finished in scagliola.
The general plan of the building is the same as ours, but it is smaller and has not the massive appearance.
We saw their contracts, expense accounts plans and specifications and gained much valuable information that will be of great value to us as our building progresses and we also file copy of report of their commission to last legislature.
They told us the trial and triumph in building their house. We were courteously treated by the officer in charge, Hon F. H. Thompson and we come away believing that our plan can be executed within our appropriation, and that we can make its execution a success.
J. B. McCaleb
Z. T. Matthews
Also invited on the journey from Little Rock to Jackson was George W. Donaghey, a former commissioner, future governor, and a favorite of the commissioners to be the contractor for the Capitol. In his Building a State Capitol (1937), Donaghey recounts the minutes of the commissioners’ report and delves into the issue of “native materials” in the construction of the Capitol:
State pride…prompted many influential citizens to advocate the use of this home material. It was always spoken of as “Arkansas Marble,” and in every instance its beauty was remarked upon. But while we were at Jackson, Mississippi…we had discussed the subject of stone at considerable length with the Mississippi officers. What was there said gave me the impression that the Arkansas committee had come to the conclusion that the development of an Arkansas marble quarry would take too long and that its use would prove too costly. I was therefore, under the impression that when the bids were made they were going to adopt the Bedford stone for us on the outside facing of the upper stores of the Capitol, and Arkansas granite for the facing of the Basement story (pg. 106).
At Jackson, Mississippi, the Arkansas Committee had been informed that a stone contractor by the name of George Dugan was responsible for having the Bedford stone quarried, cut, molded and laid into the walls of the Mississippi Capitol within a little less than twelve months time. Such speed was in keeping with modern enterprise, and I was tremendously impressed. Personally, I was so enthusiastic over the encouraging reports on this stone, that I made the mistake of assuming the Commissioners of the Arkansas building had the same point of view that I did, and would follow Mississippi’s good example. (pg. 107)
Donaghey’s lower bid was rejected. The “native materials” clause in the legislation and state pride over-ruled “Mississippi’s good example.” The firm of Caldwell & Drake of Columbus, Indiana was chosen to construct the Capitol. Quarrying the harder “Arkansas marble” caused many delays and cost over-runs.
In the next post, I’ll look at the debate over the Arkansas dome including Theodore Link’s advice to Arkansas officials.
- Donaghey, George W. Building a State Capitol. Little Rock: Parke-Harper Company, 1937.
- Minutes of the Capitol Commission, Capitol Commission Reports Collection, Arkansas History Commission.