Saving an Old and Venerable Friend: Theodore Link’s Old Capitol Report

OldCapitolToday is this little blog’s fifth birthday. If you’re one of our 509 subscribers or just a person who passes through occasionally, thanks for being a part of this journey through Mississippi’s architectural past, present, and future. We hope it has inspired you and will continue to inspire you to take a second look at your house, neighborhood, town, and state and then jump in and preserve the historic landmarks important to you.

Traditionally, we celebrate the anniversary of Preservation in Mississippi by returning to our touchstone, the Old Capitol.

After 13 years of abandonment and increasing decrepitude, threatened with demolition almost annually, the Old Capitol found a savior in St. Louis architect Theodore Link, the man who had designed the New Capitol. The Legislature hired Link to examine the building and give his opinion on whether it could be renovated as a state office building. He gave his report on March 17, 1916:


To the Legislature of the State of Mississippi:

“I am here today by invitation of your Committee on Preservation of the old State House.

“Since my arrival, I have spent much time in the old building, examining its present condition as far as it is possible, that is, as far as one can see and feel whatever is exposed. A closer examination down to the invisible would require more time and preparation than is at my disposal at this time.

“I have also gone into other aspects of the case as they would naturally and in due sequence present themselves, and have arrived at the following conclusions:

1. That the preservation of the old State House is not only feasible, but it can be made perfectly safe.

2. That it must be done without any further delay.

3. That the external appearance must be left intact.

4. That its future use as an auxiliary to the new State House will relieve a necessity already strongly felt in the administration of state departments, and

5. That the saving to the state–if used for this purpose–will be sufficiently important as comparaed with the cost of a detached new building, or a new wing to the present State house, to justify me in recommending an appropriation for the purposes of its preservation.

I shall now go a little more into detail, and give a few of the reasons which brought me to the above conclusions. I formulated the propositions before me about as follows: The people of the State of Mississippi desire very much to preserve a building, [which] while it has outlived its original purpose, retains many associations dear to their hearts–associations they wish to keep alive and fresh for themselves and generations to come. On the other hand, the State is not rich enough to spend its money purely on sentiment, therefore, I must unite sentiment with utilitarian considerations in order to make it a thoroughly acceptable proposition. If I have not fully grasped the situation, I trust you will correct me.

The technical part of restoration is very interesting and somewhat complicated. I believe I have worked out the problem to my own satisfaction, but will not now describe the methods which I should employ, because they are purely technical.

I have not in mind any makeshift repairs to put the building into fairly good and serviceable condition, for the next few years. I am rather thinking of a permanent improvement. As you look at the apparent ruins now, the first impulse is the question of safety. If it cannot be made as safe as the house we are now sitting in, you don’t want it. It can be made perfectly safe, provided you resign yourselves to the loss of the large halls and accept three stories of offices similar in plan to the present ground floor. This will give you about 24,000 square feet of working space, or approximately 60 good sized offices. It is possible, however, to leave out all the cross partitions on the ground floor, leaving the main corridor with its exquisite details, and four large rooms each, about 30 x 75 feet.

The heating plant would be in a detached building just large enough to hold one low pressure boiler and ample coal storage.

I have been asked to make an estimate of cost. If newspaper history can be trusted, they spent about $400,000 on the original building. It would cost about $300,000 today to reproduce it. It would cost about $250,000 to erect a new and modern office building of equal cubic contents without the monumental features of portico, etc.

I hope you will appreciate the difficulties of this task and not hold me too closely to my statement, but I do believe that by taking advantage of convict labor and materials made in the penitentiary, the work can be accomplished with a minimum appropriation of $125,000.

I will conclude by giving my version of what should be done about the exterior. I would not recommend anything that would destroy the integrity as an old and venerable friend that you all have respected and admired all your lives. I want it to look no better than the hundreds of old buildings which tourists travel miles to see and admire in Europe, because they are antique. It’s a piece of scholarly architecture; it ranks with the best of the kind in this country. I remember stating some 15 years ago that it could almost be called a piece of vandalism to dynamite it. Its historic and educational value is unquestioned, and after all–What would the world be without sentiment?

After reading the above report, Mr. Link made the following remarks:

“I would recommend that if the work is done, it should not be done by public contract, but should be let on a percentage contract, requiring the contractor to make a statement of all expenditures made by him in doing the work, and paying the contractors on a percentage basis.

“As to the method to be employed in doing this work, the only feasible plan I have discovered is this: That the outside walls must be entirely relieved of all pressure caused by the weight of the floors. In other words, there will be on the inside of these walls, a steel skeleton construction which will be independent of the outside walls, except for the fact that the outside wall will be attached to it so tight that they cannot fall out or in, and the inside is to be entirely independent of these walls, and any load can be carried on them without affecting the walls or straining them in any way. That, as said before, eliminates the large spaces on the lower floor. It is necessary to have this cross partition for the purpose of arising and holding the weight of the floors. I think that is absolutely necessary for the safe re-construction and life of the building; of course, this is a very hard way, but I consider it a permanent improvement, provided it is kept in good repair all the time. The building is likely to require more care or attention than a quite new building, but if that is done, it will last indefinitely.”

Journal of the Senate of the State of Mississippi at a Regular Session Thereof in the City of Jackson, Commencing Tuesday, January 4, 1916, Ending Saturday, April 8, 1916. pp. 1621-1624.

With this report, Theodore Link helped save the Old Capitol. What Mississippi landmark will you help save?



Read other anniversary posts:

Who was Theodore Link? Check out Architects Pics: Link and Barnes

Categories: Historic Preservation, Jackson


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