Richmond, Virginia – Capitol on a Hill

I started off my visit at the Virginia State Capitol building with some difficulty because I thought the entrance would be at the main building like other state capitol buildings I have visited.  During the drive to Richmond I called the visitor center and asked for information on tour times.  I talked to a friendly lady who gave me lots of information and told me to make sure to go to the entrance on Bank Street.  Mark dropped me off on Bank Street before the Capitol due to road construction and when I saw the building, I headed up the set of stairs to the top of the hill.  The building is on a big hill, especially noticeable since I started from the bottom with many steps to climb.  But reaching the top I found the door locked and no other entrance when I walked around the building.  Another puzzled visitor and I were directed by a passerby to walk to the bottom of the hill to find the entrance near the street.  I headed back down finding a rather covert entrance situated against the hill and down the street from the stairs I had started up.  For all the information I received on the phone from the friendly visitor center, accurately how to get in didn’t seem to be included.

Once inside I was told to follow a set of stairs past a few levels to the main part of the Capitol on top of the hill, an interesting setup.  I had missed the 11:00 tour I was hoping to take but was told that the tour was a group of high school students from France and I could catch up to them if I wished.  I considered it but was distracted by the five cent ice cream sundaes in the cafe for Thomas Jefferson’s 275th birthday.  I haven’t had five cent ice cream since Thrifty drug store sold a scoop for that amount when I was a teenager!   Anyway, while Thomas Jefferson was the minister to France in 1785 he designed a new Capitol building with the help of a well known French draftsman.  Jefferson modeled the building after a Roman temple he saw in Southern France.  It was fully completed in 1798 making it one of the oldest state capitols.  To honor Jefferson, a statue was completed and in his hand he holds an architectural drawing of the building.

When I reached the 2nd floor where most of the interesting rooms are located, I caught up with the 11:00 tour.  The centerpiece here is a marble statue of George Washington and I decided to stay with the group and learn.  Considered a perfect likeness of the first president, the French sculptor who completed it visited Washington at Mount Vernon taking detailed body measurements and making sketches.  He coated Washington’s face with oil and covered it in plaster to make a life mask.   (Ooh, that sounds scary to me to be encased in plaster!).  He then went back to France to complete the 6’2” sculpture.   Our tour guide noted little details such as how one of the bottom buttons on his vest is straining against his stomach.  It really is a magnificent statue.   Situated in the rotunda, it is surrounded by busts of the eight Virginians who became presidents of the United States.  More presidents have come from Virginia than any other state.

We next went into the Old Hall of the House of Delegates.  Important events happened here such as the Bill of Rights being ratified, Virginia seceding from the Union in 1861 and Robert E. Lee accepting command of the Virginia State forces at the outbreak of the Civil War.  It was intriguing observing the French teens wondering how interested they would be in learning about U.S. government and history.  Most of them had expressionless faces that seemed resigned to their fate as the energetic tour guide produced fact after fact.  I thought the most interesting artifact in the room was the Mace which represented English authority and was first used in the British colonies when Williamsburg was the Capitol.  As a tradition, this more modern 1938 Mace made in England is still carried into the House Chamber each day the House is in session and displayed in front of the speaker’s podium.

Our last stop was the House Chamber which was preparing to be in session that afternoon.  Our tour guide explained the buttons on the desks and how the delegates voted.  One of the French students touched the buttons and got a rather stern rebuke and hard look from the guide.  I wondered if perhaps she had been a former teacher and was used to dealing with “unruly” students, ha, ha.  Later when all the students had filed out I stopped for a few seconds to take a picture of the room.  I also got a stern rebuke and hard look (Mark would call this the “look of death”) as she needed to lock up the room.  It appears even us older folk are not exempt from some chastisement.   But other than that, I enjoyed the tour.

I went back down and out of the entrance so I could walk up the hill again to take a look at the capital square.  The grounds have a number of monuments – the most impressive is George Washington on horseback, completed in 1869.

The square looked like a popular place to hang out with a number of people eating lunch or just relaxing on the many benches.  I really enjoyed all the tulips and flowering trees.   In the picture below shows a bed of tulips and violas with the Old City Hall in the background.

This was a beautiful and historically interesting capital to visit.  I got a workout climbing so many steps and stairs but it was worth the trouble to see one of Richmond’s best attractions.

Thanks for reading!  In my next blog we enjoy spring at a Richmond garden.

2 thoughts on “Richmond, Virginia – Capitol on a Hill”

  1. Beautiful building. Was the tour in French for the students or English? You gave me a fun thought that on our trip out east we should try to visit the burial sites of founding fathers, is Jefferson buried nearby? Maybe a future post will tell me lol. But I’m definitely more excited to visit Richmond!

    1. Thanks Matt for your comment! The tour was in English, the tour guide seemed to be someone from the capital building. There was also a French teacher (?) along. Jefferson is buried at his Monticello property near Charlottesville, Virginia, we saw his grave and family cemetery when we visited there. I am working on the Monticello post now.

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