Thursday, June 5, 2008

Richmond: Capital of the Commonwealth

The Virginia State House, seat of the General Assembly
comprised of the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates

Long before Richmond was the one-time Capital of the Confederacy, it was the capital of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The history of legislative bodies in Virginia is as old as its first settlers. In 1619 in Jamestown, the first general assembly in the new colonies was established and met in a church for 11 years. Between 1632 and 1699, the state house in Jamestown changed four times. In 1699, the capital moved to Williamsburg and remained there until 1780; the period included two state houses. In that year, Richmond was chosen as the capital of the commonwealth and in 1788 Thomas Jefferson began construction on the main section of the current state house.

The capitol dome and detail of the same. According to one docent, the master craftsman--a Scotsman from
Baltimore--had to work off 24 layers of paint to arrive at the original colors and patterns!
(Click on images to enlarge.)

Originally, the state house consisted of a single building with bicameral bodies meeting in small legislative chambers. In 1904, wings were added to the building with a chamber for the Senate and a chamber for the House. In 2007, a two-year, $75 million dollar restoration project was completed in time for celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement and a visit by Her Majesty, Elizabeth II and her husband, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Portraits of Her Majesty, Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh,
along with a thank-you letter on official stationary from Buckingham Palace,
hang in the hall just off the rotunda.

Today, the state house is a beautiful symbol of craftsmanship and statesmanship. It is the second oldest state house in the United States, after Annapolis, but the oldest legislative body in our country. The executive (governor's) mansion on the grounds of the state house is the oldest in continuous use. When I quipped to the docent that they had one up on Maryland with the mansion versus the state house, she said, "Yes, they have the oldest state house, but not by much!"

Statue of George Washington in the rotunda.
The image on the right was taken from the mezzanine above.
(Click on images to enlarge.)

One of America's leading figures and founders and our first president was Virginian George Washington. He is honored in the state house and on the grounds with statues. In the case of the former, he is the prominent fixture in the center of the rotunda. In niches in the same space are busts of seven other Virginians who have been presidents: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. (A bust of Jefferson Davis resides in a niche in the old House of Delegates chamber. Also, Sam Houston, a Virginian, served as President of the Republic of Texas before it joined the Union.)

A beautiful equestrian statue of Gen. George Washington--
later to be America's first president--on the grounds of the state house.

In the case of the latter, the grounds of Capitol Square include the most beautiful equestrian statue of George Washington. It was on this spot on February 22, 1861 that Jefferson Davis took his oath of office as President of the CSA. The statue is surrounded by smaller renderings of Washington's compatriots in the revolutionary period of American history. Specifically: Andrew Lewis, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Nelson, Jr., and John Marshall.

The Virginia State House.
In the center, the original structure designed by Thomas Jefferson.
On the sides, chambers for the Senate and House of Delegates were constructed in 1904.

To read more about the Virginia State House and see more photos, including its original design and construction by Thomas Jefferson and recent renovations, visit these sites: Virginia General Assembly, Virginia State Capitol, and The Library of Virginia (five linked articles.) If you're driving I-95, make some time in your travel plans to stop in this capital city and, at the very least, visit the state house. It's worth a few hours of your time!

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 5/08


Lori said...

Wow, there are so many things to see in Richmond. I haven't been to Virginia in many years so it's nice to see it in your photos. The inside of that dome is amazing!

Maya said...

Oh my! The ceilings! The floors! I'll have to visit someday. Beautiful photos!

D.C. Confidential said...

Lori: There some great things to see in Richmond, as I discovered! The State House is definitely a must-see!

Maya: Beautiful, isn't it? They did a really great job with the restoration. Virginians can be proud and know their tax dollars were more than well-spent.

b.c. said...

these photos cover so much--thanks for taking such good care of us out here

D.C. Confidential said...

B.C.: My pleasure! Richmond was quite a treat and far more than I expected. I'm happy to share a wonderful discovery!