It 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