Mississippi Unbuilt: 1897 New Capitol

Back in the 1890s, as we’ve shown in articles and other comments from the period, Mississippi’s capitol, now known as the Old Capitol, was in serious disrepair and considered structurally unsound. Senators dithered about whether to vacate the building for fear the roof might fall in on them. Into the breach stepped architects from all over the country, each giving their own ideas for a new capitol that would be more beautiful, more modern, more commodious than the old decrepit antebellum landmark. Today’s article, originally published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune back when it had a full-fledged bureau in Jackson, shows one such proposal, put forth by the Memphis architectural firm of Weathers and Weathers in 1897. Over time, we’ll run a few more proposed Mississippi capitols that never got built. It took 6 more years to get the “real” New Capitol, and I for one am thankful that the delay brought about a better design than some of the Unbuilts.

Weathers and Weathers was composed of L.M. Weathers and his nephew P.H. Weathers. While they didn’t get the New Capitol commission, Jackson was fertile enough ground for the young Patrick Henry Weathers to set up shop here. In fact, he may already have been established here by the time this New Capitol proposal was made, as he was the designer of St. Peter’s Cathedral (still standing in downtown Jackson) in 1897. His masterwork in Jackson, as far as I’m concerned, was St. Andrew’s Episcopal, in 1903, but he also left his mark around the state in several fine classical revival courthouses–Marion, Lamar, and Lee (renovation)–and the Delta Bank & Trust in Yazoo City after the 1904 fire. For a full listing of known Weathers buildings, see the MDAH database. According to that database, P.H. was briefly affiliated with the M.T. Lewman construction company, who we’ve seen around these parts before (the Lewmans built the Lamar  and Lee courthouses), but lit out for the territories sometime around 1907, ending up as State Architect of Oklahoma. Their gain was our loss, but thankfully he left us some great buildings. Read on about the big new capitol he and his uncle planned for Jackson. I’m not clear of the politics that led to this proposal’s being abandoned, but no doubt some digging in the newspapers of the late 1890s will help explain what happened.

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CURRENT COMMENT IN MISSISSIPPI

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The State to Have a Capitol of Which They May be Proud
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Plans Were Submitted by Seventeen Leading Architects.
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A Detailed Description of the Building Made for the Picayune
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By the Successful Firm of Weathers & Weathers–It Will be Modern in Every Particular

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The Picayune’s Bureau
218 Capitol Street
Jackson, Miss., Jan. 2, 1897

The proposed new capitol building, shown elsewhere, is one that will be worthy of the great state of Mississippi, and at the same time be moderate in cost, as compared with edifices of similar character in other states. The dingy, antiquated and very unsafe old capitol building does not accord with the marked progress of the state. When scores of towns throughout the state have established water works and electric lights, and telephone connections are being carried into rural district; when handsome stone and brick business houses and schoolhouses and churches are seen in every direction; when the testimony is almost universal that the people of the state were never in more prosperous condition, and homeseekers and capitalists are trecking southward with a view of investment, it does seem that Mississippians should not longer be compelled to blush for the people’s building.

The additional taxation involved in the cost is inconsiderable, and will fall most largely on those best able to bear it, who have ——– their approval of the project as a good advertisement of the progress of the state, as well as meeting the necessity of safer, better and more ample accommodations.

The plan adopted by the committee created by the legislature is the admiration of all who have seen it. It was drawn by Weathers & Weathers, the well-known architects of Memphis, and when it is stated that it was selected over seventeen other plans, submitted by leading architects from all over the United States, no better encomium can be passed upon the firm of Weathers & Weathers.

This committee, composed of Governor McLaurin, Attorney General Nash and Secretary of State Power, in selecting this plan, acted under the following concurrent resolution, adopted by the legislature March 19, 1896:

Resolved by the house, the senate concurring, That the governor of the state, the attorney general and the secretary of state be and they are hereby appointed a committee of three, whose duty it shall be to procure, by advertising or otherwise, plans and specifications for a capitol building, suitable for the needs of the state, to cost not less than $550,000 nor more than one million dollars. That the plans and specifications adopted and used in the erection of the statehouse shall be paid for in a sum not to exceed $1000, and, should the architect drawing the same be engaged, to supervise the erection of said house, then there is to be no compensation for said plans and specification, and in no case shall there be any compensation for plans and specifications not adopted and used, and the said committee shall meet within sixty days after the adjournment of the legislature, and collate all plans and information obtained by them that would be useful to the legislature in letter a contract for the erection of a new statehouse, and report same fully and furnish the new capitol, supply the deficit in school revenues, and meet other demands for which the legislature at its last session made no provision.

Should the governor convene the legislature in extra session, about which there is much doubt, the expense need not exceed $15,000, and the account might be credited with the time that would be consumed by the legislature in January, 1898, should the matter be postponed till then. In other words, if the capitol can be disposed of in ten days at a special session, it will be that much time saved to the session of 1898.

Immediately after the acceptance of the plan for the new capitol by the committee, a brief description of the building was contained in these dispatches. This description, however, made by one not engaged in architecture, was necessarily crude and imperfect. Mr. L.M. Weathers, of the firm of Weathers & Weathers, of Memphis, the architects of the proposed new capitol, has, at the request of the Picayune correspondent, furnished the following detailed and interesting explanation and description of the building, which will be read with interest by every Mississippian:

The building is to be fireproof throughout, and will be three stories high above the basement story. The foundations will be constructed of concrete, of best quality, made of crushed granite and Portland cement, and of such dimensions necessary to carry the weight imposed by the superstructure. The outer walls will be of white limestone, cut and polished, and base coarse, and approaches to be of granite.

The floor construction, column and roof construction will be of steel, and will be thoroughly protected by fireproof material of the most approved quality. All floor arch construction and partitions will be of fireproof floor and partitions tile. The basement will have a carriage driveway through the center, from south to north, passing the elevators, which will be located in the rotunda in the center of the building. The basement floor will be 6 inches above the grade of the lot, thereby affording perfect drainage, etc. The floor of the entire basement will be of the best granolith, and will be so laid that the floor can be washed out with hose, and the water wil pass into catch basins, thence to drain pipes, which will be provided for the thorough draining of the basement and entire foundations of the building. There will be storage-rooms in the basement for old records and archives of the state. There will also be ample space in the basement for the storage of military accouterments, etc., belonging to the state. The heating and ventilating plant, also electric light and power plat, will be located in the basement, with all necessary appliances thereto.

On the first floor, beginning at the southwest corner of the building, will be located the governor’s rooms, four in number, consisting of private office, secretary’s office, clerk’s office and grand reception room, also toilet-room, cloakroom and vault. Next to the governor’s office are located the offices of the attorney general; these also being on the west side of the building. Next to the attorney general’s office are located ladies’ waiting-rooms, with toilets, etc., which is next to the grand entrance on the west side of the building, which leads to the rotunda and the state library. On the north side of the entrance and rotunda is situated the offices of the land commissioner, and adjoining the land commissioner is located the office of the revenue agent. Next to the revenue agent’s office, and at the northwest corner of the building, the offices of the auditor are situated, which consist of a business office, clerk’s office, private office and one vault. At each end of the building there is an entrance, which will present a very handsome appearance on the west side, and at the center of the building, will be two grand marble stairways, which lead to the second story, and from second to third story. There will be two stairways on the east side of the building, one between the library and secretary of state’s office, and one between the library and treasurer’s office. The toilet rooms, etc., for offices of the first floor of the building will be located on the east side of the building, and will be fitted up in the most approved manner, and will be finished in Georgia pine or Italian marble. The floor in grand entrance hall, rotunda and corridors, first floor, will be laid in mosaics, in Grecian design, and the seal of the state will be formed in the center of the floor in the rotunda, in the mosaic work. All the halls, corridors, rotunda and entrances will be finished in Georgia or Italian marble.

There will be three electric elevators located at sides of the rotunda, two passenger and one freight elevator, which will be of the most approved design. These elevators will run from basement to top floor, and will be fitted up with inclosures of handsome design. On the second floor, and at the south end of the building, the senate is located, which will be of magnificent proportions, having all necessary committee rooms, cloakroom, post office, etc. At the north end of the building, the house of representative will be located, which will also be a handsome room, with committee rooms, cloakroom, post office, clerk’s rooms, etc. Both the senate and house will have grand balconies around the sides and one end of the rooms, affording ample space for visitors. In the center of the building, and east of the rotunda, the supreme courtroom is situated, with judge’s rooms, clerk’s rooms, toilet rooms, etc., attached. This courtroom will be one of the most complete supreme courtrooms that has been erected in any of the states, and it will be a comfort to all those who shall occupy it from time to time.

American crystal glass, and all windows will be provided with inside blinds of most approved design. All hardware used in the building will be of the best manufacture, and of the heaviest and best quality, and to be finished in Bower-Barff. The building will be lighted throughout with both gas and electric lights, and dynamos will be located in the basement to generate electricity of the lights and also power for the elevators. The building will be fitted up in the best manner, with toilet rooms, with the most approved sanitary fixtures, and a system of sewerage will be put in to convey the waste water to a sufficient distance from the building.



Categories: Architectural Research

1 reply

  1. Mississippi is last in so many things, but I think we are in the top 10 for beautiful state houses!

    Like

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