MissPres at 8: It seems to have been generally accepted that the old capitol could not be restored.

Yesterday’s post began our special birthweek series, a partial reprint of A.S. Coody’s 1949 article “Repair of and Changes in the Old Capitol.” We cut him off in the middle of a long section called “The Movement for Restoration,” just after Gov. Vardaman essentially said “it’s a lovely building, BUT it can’t be repaired so it needs to be demolished.” Today, Coody picks up the story with a great line about group-think that holds true down through the generations; most preservationists could insert their own special project into this sentence in place of “old capitol.”

Thankfully, the old capitol sat on the back burner for a while, kind of like the King Edward Hotel. Distraction, apathy, and lack of money has preserved many a landmark building. Use all the tools you have in your toolbox, preservationists! Patience comes in handy, as long as you’re working behind the scenes to build support like Mr. Stone, the legislative hero, or the many women’s groups who had been sending letters to the editor, letters to the governor, letters to their representatives, and talking with their husbands for a decade about saving the old capitol.

Once again, I’ve inserted a photo to spice up this recitation of legislation, and ellipses when Mr. Coody just gets too detailed for his own good.

The Movement for Restoration (cont’d)

Senate Chamber, 1915, by T.F. Laist. Photo by T.F. Laist. Original photo at Miss. Department of Archives and History.

Old Capitol Senate Chamber, 1915, by T.F. Laist. Photo by T.F. Laist. Original photo at Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

It seems to have been generally accepted as true that the old capitol could not be restored, but no action was taken to tear it down. During the terms of Governors Noel and Brewer public interest was centered on politics, connected with the election of United States Senators, and the old capitol was forgotten, for all practical consideration.

Governor Bilbo was inaugurated in 1916, and in his campaign had advocated measures which required additional duties for existing state officers and the creation of new commissions and boards. This was an added burden on the already over-crowded new Capitol, and gave a new argument for the repair of the old capitol for use as state offices. Thus its repair was urged by a combination of utility and sentiment.

Governor Brewer, in a special message to the Legislature on January 17, 1916, recommended the repair of the Old Capitol, and suggested that it could be done for $100,000.00 (H.J.P. 132). Governor Bilbo recommended its repair the following day, January 18th (H.J.P. 175). It was suggested that Governor Brewer had an advance copy of Governor Bilbo’s inaugural message, and sent in his special message in order to claim credit for the first recommendation.

However, it is a matter of record that both recommended the restoration. This dual approval no doubt helped to win support for the movement.

It would be impossible to single out and name those in the Legislature to whom credit is due for the enactment of the necessary legislation. It is nearly always true that the bare legislative record does not reveal the men most responsible for the passage of a bill. There are arguments, cloak room conversations, personal friendships and many other things which can and do influence votes. The one who introduces a bill or resolution, is frequently chosen for the honor for the purpose of winning doubtful votes.

The opposition to the repair of the building was on the belief that it could not be repaired or restored, and that the original appropriation would be only a beginning, with the ultimate cost running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The reports of architects on file were unanimous in the opinion that repair or restoration was not practicable. It was also asserted that some  property owners near the old capitol had an ulterior motive in supporting the repair. Looking at it objectively, there is no evil in the desire to repair or replace an ugly ruin.

Alfred H. Stone, Representative from Washington County, is entitled to credit as the leader in the movement for the restoration of the old Capitol. His persistent and intelligent work among the members rescued the movement from defeat and accepted failure, to final victory. But this does not detract from the splendid work done by other members. When the first resolution to authorize an investigation of “the feasibility of its renovation” was defeated, without the formality of a roll call, Mr. Stone continued to discuss the matter with members of the legislature, until a resolution was passed and the investigation made, resulting in a favorable report by Theodore C. Link, architect. Mr. Stone’s personal relation with Mr. Link and correspondence with him prior to the introduction of the second resolution is the cause of the favorable outcome. In fact Mr. Link agreed to make the investigation for a nominal fee, of $100, which did not cover actual expenses of the trip from St. Louis.

When Mr. Link visited Jackson, Mr. Stone spent several days with him, examining the old building and discussing the alternative plans for the repair and restoration, so that Mr. Link was able to present to the legislature a clear outline of what could be done, and how it could be done, with an accurate estimate of the cost. His report to the Legislature presented a proposal which was not only definite, but was in harmony with the prevailing desires of the legislature. The merit of the report lies in the fact that he presented one plan, without being confused by a discussion of probable and alternative plans. The actual work proved his knowledge of the structure and the accuracy of his estimated cost.

The journals of the House and Senate are incomplete, and in some cases incorrect, with respect to the handling of the resolutions and bills, and the index is faulty. The account which follows is substantially the history of the passage of the resolutions and bill authorizing the work.

On January 11, 1916, which was the sixth legislative day, A. H. Stone, introduced a House Resolution (without number) providing for a committee of three members to investigate the condition of the old Capitol, and determine “the feasibility of its renovation for the purpose of affording adequate accommodations for such departments of the state Government as now have insufficient quarters, or none at all, and to the further end that this House shall be put in possession of the information necessary to any intelligent action in determining the final disposition of said “Old Capitol.”

The resolution directed the committee to examine any previous architect’s report, to employ a competent architect to make a survey, and to make a report and recommendation “at the earliest possible day.” The committee was authorized to spend one thousand dollars.

The resolution was immediately considered by the House. The opponents resorted to the usual tactics. First, an amendment to make it a concurrent resolution, which would require Senate approval. Next an amendment to raise the Committee to five House members, then one to reduce the amount which could be spent to $500. All these were accepted by Mr. Stone. Then a motion was made to refer it to the Resolutions Committee, and finally a motion to indefinitely postpone, which prevailed.

The discussion and parliamentary moves served to show the strength of the opposition and the arguments against the movement.

. . . .

Mr. Stone had continued his work in behalf of the repair, and . . . on February 21, Mr. Stone introduced H.C.R. No. 52, providing for the employment of Theodore C. Link for inspecting the old Capitol. The resolution was adopted and Mr. Stone obtained unanimous consent that it be sent immediately to the Senate. It was adopted by the Senate on February 22, the day following its introduction and passage by the House. Its passage in the Senate was by roll call and the vote was 19 for and 18 against.

The resolution is not printed in the journals of the House and Senate, but will be found in the 1916 session laws at page 627. It refers to Mr. Link as “the distinguished architect of this capitol,” and states he has expressed a willingness to inspect the old Capitol and report to the Legislature for a nominal fee of $100, to be paid from the contingent funds of the House and Senate.

The committee to consult with Mr. Link consisted of A.H. Stone, J.S. Rhodes, and W.J. East from the House, and J.Q. Poindexter, H.H. Casteel and L.C. Franklin from the Senate. Mr. Link came to Jackson in the early part of March and spent several days examining the old building, studying reports of other architects, checking the original plans, and conferring with the Legislative Committee. During these days, Mr. Stone gave his entire time in assisting Mr. Link in the search and examination of records. As a result, Mr. Link found that the foundation of the outer walls and of the dome were in condition to be preserved without extensive repair.

On March 12, Mr. Link made his report to the Legislature, being introduced by Governor Bilbo, at the request of Mr. Stone.

. . . .

There were three bills authorizing the repair. Senate Bill No. 318 provided for the sale of bonds for several projects, and included $125,000 “for the restoration of the old capitol.” Senator Carroll Kendrick of Alcorn County introduced two bills on March 20. These were S.B. 525 authorizing the capitol commission “to repair the old capitol building and to change its interior for offices and for state officers,” and S.B. 527 to appropriate $125,000 “to repair the old capitol.” The first passed the Senate by a vote of 29 to 11, and the second by a vote of 30 to 10.

These two bills passed the House on March 30; No. 525 by a vote of 78 to 32, and No. 527 by a vote of 82 to 36. They were approved by the Governor on April 8th, and are chapters 112 and 75, of the Laws of 1916.

When the bills were on passage in the House, Mr. Stone offered an amendment to each that the cost “shall not in any event exceed the sum of $125,000,” exclusive of convict labor and brick furnished by the penitentiary. Both amendments were adopted.

This remarkable photo in the MDAH Daniels collection shows convicts at the back of the Old Capitol. It was probably taken after April 1916 and shows convicts engaged in the labor that the Legislature had directed in their bill to renovate the Old Capitol. The photo at the MDAH Al Fred Daniel Collection shows the stripes on the convicts pants.

This remarkable photo in the MDAH Daniels collection shows convicts at the back of the Old Capitol. It was probably taken after April 1916 and shows convicts engaged in the labor that the Legislature had directed in their bill to renovate the Old Capitol. The larger zoomable photo online at the MDAH shows the stripes on the convicts pants.

Chapter 112 (S.B. 525) reads in part as follows:

Section 1. BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, that the capitol commission be, and they are hereby authorized to preserve and repair the old capitol building, and to overhaul, change and so construct the interior so as to furnish suitable rooms and offices for some of the state officers, and for repositories for a portion of our state records.

Section 2. That it shall be the duty of said commission, as soon as practicable, to employ a suitable architect to furnish plans and specifications to repair the old capitol building. That the exterior of the said building shall be preservation, but the interior shall be constructed and the space made into suitable rooms for offices of the state, and for repositories for such portions of the state records that the same may be preserved.

Section 3. That the commission may, at their discretion, employ a contractor who shall execute the work under the direction and supervision of said architect and with the approval of said commission, and the architect and contractor so employed shall be paid out of the amount appropriated for this purpose. And upon the order of the governor, the auditor shall issue his warrant on the state treasurer for the same, and in like manner shall the material and labor be paid for, upon the recommendation of the architect. That the board of control of the penitentiary shall furnish the brick needed for such construction as far as possible and furnish convicts and teams to haul said brick, and also to furnish convicts and teams to do all such labor as they can properly perform, and the penitentiary shall receive credit for same.

It needs to be mentioned that the United Daughters of the Confederacy were active in supporting the measures for the repair of the old building. A message from the W.D. Holder Chapter, U.D.C., is printed in the House Journal at page 1615, and signed by Mrs. A.E. Granberry, President, Mrs. J.G. Deupree, Chairman, Mrs. J.H. Frasier and Mrs. Minnie C. Dameron. The same communication is printed in the Senate Journal.

A resolution from the women’s clubs commending the Legislature and the Governor is printed at page 2217 of the House Journal. It is signed by fifteen women.

This is the second in a series about the 1916-17 renovation of the Old Capitol. Want to read the rest?

  1. MissPres at 8: Repairing the Old Capitol, 1916-1917
  2. MissPres at 8: It seems to have been generally accepted that the old capitol could not be restored.
  3. MissPres at 8: Spiral staircases and magnificent timbers
  4. MissPres at 8: Oh Bilbo, where are our columns?

Categories: Capitols Old & New, Jackson, Renovation Projects


1 reply

  1. Yesterday’s post and today’s are outstanding information on our beloved Old Capitol. Enjoyed both tremendously!

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY MissPres! I think I began following 5 or 6 years ago and have enjoyed my daily wake-up emails more than I can say. May you have many, many more happy birthdays. There are so many places in Mississippi that you can always revisit. I never tire of looking and reading about our architectural treasures.

    Thank goodness for those who fought to save our Old Capitol. When I taught school in Clarksdale back in the 70’s, my end of the year field trip was touring both capitol buildings. The students were so appreciative and impressed!

    What will be in the Old Capitol when all of the wonderful historical artifacts are moved to the new museum? Another story for MissPres:)

    Liked by 1 person

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 )

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: