Newspaper Clippings: Old Capitol’s First Restoration

oldcap_classicIt seems ages ago when the Old Capitol had exposed red brick instead of the current gray scored stucco, but in fact it was only four years or so ago when the stucco was re-applied. Today’s peek back into the newspaper archives reminds us of when the stucco was taken off during the Capitol’s first “restoration,” billed as the “most accurate humanly possible” by the interior designer Earl Hart Miller.

Designer Tells Views

Old Capitol Called Second To None

By Phil Stroupe

State Times Staff Writer

An architectural designer in charge of interior restoration of Mississippi’s 120-year-old State Capitol said here recently “that is undoubtedly the handsomest building in America.”

Earl Hart Miller, owner of “Holly Hedges,” one of the 30 ante-bellum homes on the Natchez Pilgrimage, met with the State Building Commission here to discuss completion of the interior furnishing of the Old Capitol.

Meantime, House Speaker Walter Sillers suggested that the next session of the Mississippi legislature which comes to Jackson after the Old Capitol is completed, should meet in joint assembly in the Old Capitol to symbolize its historical value and accent its traditional splendor.”

The restoration project was authorized by the 1956 legislature, under former Gov. J.P. Coleman after he and Secretary of State Heber Ladner had advocated restoration on several occasions.

Critics who hurled opposition at the restoration project as “too costly and not necessary,” would some day soon learn the folly of their views, declared those in charge of the restoration.

Miller, employed by the Commission to work with Architects Overstreet, Ware and Ware, said “The interior of the Old Capitol is going to be as accurate an interpretation of the original as is humanly possible.”

Sen. John Clark Love of Kosciusko, a member of the Building Commission, injected, “The only new features not found in the original will be electric lights and air conditioning.”

But Miller explained, “Even though the restored building will be equipped with electric lights, the fixtures for those lights will be in the design of the period of architecture typical of the early 19th Century, when lamps burned whale oil.”

Sen. Love added, “We have found the original notes of the Capitol Commission that give us exact details on the construction of the building.

“We even have invoices on chandeliers and columns shipped to Jackson from New Orleans and Vicksburg for the original Capitol.”

Miller also had a comment on spittoons, those odd little brass pots around which many political battles were won and lost . . . those messy little objects towards which were hurled wads of half-digested tobacco and non-digestible stogie butts . . . all of which usually missed their marks and landed up on the floor.

“Spittoons were everywhere in the Old Capitol,” Miller said, “and they needed to be here for there was as much tobacco chewing as there was law-making.”

Miller said drapes and carpets, similar to those of the originals, will be placed in the Senate and House of Representatives and the Governor’s Office.

“The carpets will be a specially woven Brussels weave of the period in which the Old Capitol was built,” Miller said, explaining that the building was begun in 1833 and completed in 1840.

He said the Mississippi Old Capitol “is superior to the State Capitols of Arkansas at Little Rock, Kentucky at Frankfort and Tennessee at Nashville–all of which were built about the same time.”

By way of reflection on the glory of life in Mississippi in the 1830s, Miller said, “In 1835, there were 17 millionaires in Mississippi, 12 of whom were in Natchez.”

Miller, who was associated with many other American architects and designers on the restoration of Williamsburg, Va., said he assisted in the restoration of famous Stanton Hall and Conerly’s Tavern, two of the Natchez Pilgrimage showplaces.

Speaking of the restoration of the Old Capitol here, Miller said, “The restoration is costing more than the original furnishings, but we’ve got something the Old Capitol didn’t have in its original status–we’ve got a multi-million dollar tourist attraction.

Then with sage philosophical appreciation he said, “The quality of this restoration will be appreciated long after the price of it is forgotten.”

He said Tennessee, for example, “has spent four or five times as much money on restoration of their Capitol and yet their building–which is still used as the active statehouse at Nashville–is not near the perfection of the Mississippi project.”

Completion of the Old Capitol project here is set for late summer or early fall, in plenty of time to open it to expected tourist travel during the Civil War Centennial beginning in January 1861.

Jackson State Times, June 28, 1960, p. 1



Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Renovation Projects

9 replies

  1. Errrrrrrr……..

    Like

  2. In Mr. Miller’s defense the direct quote was that the “The interior of the Old Capitol is going to be as accurate an interpretation of the original as is humanly possible.” This may have been a subtle jab at the work going on at the exterior. He did also use the word interpretation rather than restoration, which I think was can all agree it definitely was.

    Boy it seems whether old or new Arkansas and Mississippi are going to argue over their state capitol buildings.

    Like

    • I won’t say Mississippi’s Old Capitol is superior to Arkansas’s Old State House, but if you want to read about the Old State House’s history check out Mary Kwas, A Pictorial History of Arkansas’s Old State House: Celebrating 175 Years (University of Arkansas Press, 2011).

      Arkansas doesn’t have the original plans (Gideon Shryock) for the 1836 structure, but we know the territorial governor had them abridged because the “splendid plan” was “on too large and expensive a scale.” The Kwas’ chapter on “Seeking Shryock’s Vision” is fascinating. Nothing about Mississippi, lots about Kentucky architecture

      http://www.uapress.com/titles/fa10/kwas.html

      Like

    • Not just Arkansas but also Kentucky and Tennessee!

      And thanks for calling me out on my paraphrasing, I guess that makes me a real journalist now :-)

      Like

  3. Was just by there yesterday. I like it red brick, so when I’m there I drive around to the back and enjoy looking at the old red brick that didn’t get stucco in the restoration after Katrina. The stucco restoration has the blahs to me.

    Like

    • The brick is attractive but brick that was never meant to be exposed is usually of lesser quality and can reek havoc with moisture problems. If you ever get a chance to study the reapplied stucco coat, each “block” have been masterfully colored to mimic a unique piece of stone.

      Like

  4. Thank you. I so enjoyed this. I am almost 70 years of age and remember my mother and father taking me thru the Old Capitol. Also think Mississippi History class at Pearl High School went but not sure. I remember as a child looking up and thinking you could never go that high up.

    Like

  5. Earl Hart Miller was a unique man as well as an amazingly talented, connected, and accomplished interior designer/restoration specialist. Many of my contemporaries don’t personally know any veterans from WW2. In the early 1970s, I had the honor of working as a chauffer for Mr. Earl Hart Miller, a veteran of WW1. His personality coupled with his experience & expertise gave me a glimpse into an historical perspective that’s all but gone now. He was a crusty old man… that I will remember fondly.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: