The majestic Texas Capitol building is widely recognized as one of the nation’s most distinguished state capitols. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. The beautiful building stands as a testament to the rich history of Texas.
In the year 1839, the Republic of Texas established Austin as the capital. A log cabin with two large rooms served as the Capitol, with smaller meeting rooms and an eight-foot stockade fence for protection during Indian raids.
In 1880, Texas officials announced a nation-wide design competition for the new Capitol with an award of $1,700, and eight architects submitted eleven designs. Texas officials approved the design of Detroit architect Elijah E. Myers.
The limestone Capitol caught fire on November 9, 1881, and the Capitol Board had been meeting in the building when the fire broke out. The plans for the new Capitol barely escaped the flames.
Texans laid the cornerstone on March 2, 1885, and numerous government and civic dignitaries attended the ceremony. The 12,000-pound stone had a niche carved into it to hold a zinc box, which held collected mementoes.Ten derricks hoisted the massive stones from the railcars to any part of the outside walls, and it took over 1,000 people to build the Capitol. When completed, the building had 392 rooms, 924 windows and 404 doors.
In May of 1888, crowds lined Congress Avenue and filled the Capitol Grounds to view the official dedication of the Capitol. Senator Temple Houston, the youngest son of Sam Houston, accepted the building on behalf of the state. He expressed pride Texans felt in their new building: “This building fires the heart and excites reflections in minds of all…the architecture of a civilization is its most enduring feature, and by this structure shall Texas transmit herself to posterity.”
The architecture of the Capitol
Sixteen cast iron columns line the east and west corridors on the first floor. Each pillar sports a capital crafted from molten iron, poured into molds and adorned with leafy, screw-together elements.
When the Capitol was first constructed, all Texas state government departments were housed within its walls, with the exception of the General Land Office. Etched glass transoms above each door identified the occupants of each office. As time went on, most departments moved out of the Capitol, and the transoms were either removed or replaced. The 1990s building restoration returned transoms to their original locations. Today, over 20 transoms can be found throughout the design of the building, denoting spaces that were once occupied by the Supreme Court, Agricultural Department and State Treasury.
This decorative plaster work just below the Rotunda’s ceiling showcases the intricacies of Corinthian columns. The capital is an ornate, bell-shaped affair with acanthus leaves and an elaborate cornice. During the Capitol’s first 100 years in operation, as much as one third of the original plaster cornices were lost to dropped ceilings. skilled plasterers took great pains to recreate missing or damaged decorative plaster detailing during the 1990s Restoration.
The Texas Capitol is a marvel of craftsmanship down to even its smallest details. Elaborate and finely designed bronze hinges and hardware accentuate the beautifully carved wooden door frames. Each eight-inch by eight-inch hinge is inscribed with “Texas Capitol” and weighs in at over seven pounds. Sargent and Co. of New Haven, Connecticut created the glass pattern for these hinges especially for the building back in the 1880s.
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