Mississippi Unbuilt: A Holabird & Roche Capitol

OldCapitol1890You may recall a 2012 post, “Mississippi Unbuilt: 1897 New Capitol,” about a proposed New Capitol for Mississippi, designed by the Memphis firm Weathers and Weathers, that was never built although it received full-page treatment in January 1897. Perhaps the price tag was too steep for the legislature, because a few months later, in May 1897, the Macon (Miss.) Beacon published this fascinating what-if of history, a proposal to either repair the Old Capitol, build an addition to it, or build a completely new capitol. The architects on this proposed project were none other than Holabird and Roche of Chicago, which was establishing itself as an expert in steel construction and skyscrapers and was a major player in the “Chicago School” of architecture that dominated the American building arts at the turn of the twentieth century. No renderings appear in the article, but the sad description of the Old Capitol, “To rebuild the end of house where broken, where the Sec’y of State and Senate Chamber are located,” is enough to make you wince.

I found this article by searching for “Mississippi architecture” on the Chronicling America website, a digital newspaper collection sponsored by the Library of Congress. MDAH has recently received a grant, as shown in a recent History Is Lunch, to scan 100,000 pages of microfilm newspapers and add them to Chronicling America, so Mississippi is finally getting some much-needed digital newspaper coverage. You can see the current Mississippi coverage here, and I’m told they are adding a few thousand pages a month.

Proposition of H. Sheeler

Chicago, Ill, May 12, 1897.

Hon. W.J. East, Jackson, Miss.:

DEAR SIR:–Following on the proposition I made on May 10th for the repair of your state capitol building, I write you again. The intent of proposition was to cover a complete job of repair of the house, same to be done under the supervision of some experienced architect or builder that your Legislature might appoint, and covered by a complete specification embodied in a contract, and supported by a bond if you require it, up to the full amount of contract, and guaranteed for ten years in all, except the natural wear of house on such as plaster, paint etc. I enclose herewith a more definite proposition. Our plans have been prepared by one of the best architectural firms in the United States, and if your people see it to their advantage to use our plans, and want to deal direct with the architects (which would perhaps be better) I will produce them at once, and I assure you that you would gain the services of able and experienced men. Be this as it may, in all the propositions I make to you I include the architect’s fees, and will give bond that in neither case will the cost exceed the figures I make here.f f

Supt. for H. Sheeler.

To hold up building at first floor and rebuild the entire foundation, of ample dimensions so that it can be guaranteed to sustain the load.

To rebuild the end of house where broken, where the Sec’y of State and Senate Chamber are located, and any other bad cracks that are not practically remedied by leveling house up with screws.

Excavate under building and put a complete system of sewers under same, with branches to take off all roof water, and the waste from the new water closets, wash bowls etc.

Put in ten water closets on first floor, fitted up complete, with both material and workmanship first-class, and also five wash-bowls, all connected to the sewers and city water supply ready for use.

Repair all plaster throughout the building and calcimine all offices and chambers throughout the house.

The entire roof to be made new and secure. If roof timbers are decayed, or if roof boards are decayed, new to be provided and put in place. My proposition contemplates a composition roof, such as is used in cities and guaranteed for ten years, with all gutters, down spouts etc., properly connected to the sewer.

Repair the floor where badly worn or decayed and put cement floors in the water closet rooms.

After raising and mason work is done, give the front and the two ends of building, together with the dome, one coat of good paint. This work contemplates a complete, substantial job, which would mean many small items not written down here, for the sum of $78,000.

2D. Proposition–TO REBUILD
According to the plans made for same by Holabird & Roache, architects, Monadnock building, Chicago, making building the width of old house, which is practically 78×816 feet long with a rear wing about 69×108 feet, making a most complete house, using the old building as far as possible after raising same five feet, the sum of $450,000. To take out all wood floors and partitions of old house and use all walls that are good, and make the building fire-proof for the sum of $500,000, according to the plans and specifications which were shown and which were intended to be complete in every particular.


To build house completely new according to plans of Holabird and Roache, absolutely fire proof, perfect and complete in every detail, with fire-places in all rooms and the legislative halls seated ready to occupy, contemplaing nothing but first-class material and every part and detail executed by the most skilled labor, for the sum of $560,000. All of the foregoing propositions to be supported by a bond good for $100,000, in case we fail to execute the work, and we will carry up the walls and put the roof on before we draw any money.

Resp’ly, C.H. RECTOR
Supt. for H. Sheeler.

See the scanned article at http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016943/1897-05-22/ed-1/seq-2/.

When I searched for H. Sheeler and C.H. Rector on the internet, I found this reference to H. Sheeler as a “House Mover and Raiser” which explains why the Legislature had asked him to come take a look at fixing the “broken” Old Capitol.


I also came across a reference in the Engineering Record, July 9, 1898, titled “C.H. Rector/H. Sheeler reconstruct Chicago’s Equitable Building,” and an interesting patent: C.H. Rector Portable House: http://patentimages.storage.googleapis.com/pdfs/US649352.pdf.

The MDAH Historic Resources Database contains no indication that Holabird and Roche designed any buildings in Mississippi. They didn’t submit plans for the New Capitol project in 1900. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see the “plans and specifications” C.H. Rector refers to above?

Categories: Architectural Research, Capitols Old & New, Jackson


6 replies

  1. The newspaper archives have been a fascinating way to learn about earlier buildings, projects, and social issues. This is a great piece of research!


  2. I have found a rendering of a 1897 Mississippi State Capitol design by St. Louis architect Isaac Taylor. I can post it if you like.


  3. Wow I wonder what that completely new structure would have looked like, our own Mississippi Monadnock. Maybe it had a office tower, like Link’s design for the New Capitol (I don’t want to start a controversy by being seen as implying he “borrowed” that design too) Appropriately the Monadnock building and Holabird & Roche’s address is W. Jackson Boulevard, Chicago. Maybe they were confused about where exactly this work was to take place ;)


  4. Always enjoy reading about our 2 capitol buildings. Both are very beautiful and so interesting to visit. The renovation of our Old Capitol is beautiful but I liked it before Katrina when that big canoe was in the front room at the North end of the first floor hall.

    Liked by 1 person

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