During our travels, I have continued to try and see as many of the state capitol buildings as I can. I was especially interested to see Pennsylvania’s Capitol in Harrisburg after reading how ornate and decorative it was. It was described as being a work of art. When President Teddy Roosevelt attended the building’s dedication on October 4, 1906, he said, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw.” I had some pretty high hopes for my visit to Harrisburg.
When I walked into the capitol rotunda I was impressed by the fanciness of the interior. Most capitols I have visited have had a certain grandeur and elegance to them, some more than others. But inside, this building really did stand out. The Philadelphia architect who designed it envisioned a “palace of art.” It cost 13 million and features paintings, stained glass and furnishings by some of the best artisans of that time. The centerpiece of the building is the 272 foot dome which was modeled after St. Peter’s in Rome. You can see it in the picture above. I was also very taken with the marble staircase which was inspired by the staircase at the Paris Opera.
The last state capitol building I toured was in Dover, Delaware and on that day I just looked around on my own. The Delaware capitol is pretty and small in size, smaller even than the county courthouse that I used to frequent for work in Modesto. The last capitol I actually toured with a guide was in Richmond, Virginia. I wrote about that experience in a previous blog when I joined a group of French high school students on part of their tour. When I arrived to the Pennsylvania capitol and asked about getting on the next tour, I was told that it would be with a group of 3rd graders. Since I knew nothing about this building, I thought I might as well join them as I had as much knowledge of it as the 3rd graders. Before the students arrived, I was advised to check out the Governor’s Reception Room. This room is used for news conferences, meetings and receptions (below).
The 3rd graders arrived and our tour began. The guide explained that the building was priceless with irreplaceable furnishings and artwork. The students ended up being a well behaved and interested group. A few of them even held the doors open for everyone as we passed through the different rooms together. The students were more engaged and interested than the French students as they asked and answered questions. Ah, there is nothing like a 3rd grader – their minds are still fresh and untainted by their peers and the world!
After we settled in the upstairs gallery of the Senate Chamber, we were told about Violet Oakley, a 28 year old female artist who was the first American woman in 1911 to receive a public mural commission. At the Pennsylvania Capitol, she worked on historical murals for not only the Senate Chamber but also the Governor’s Reception Room and the Supreme Court. She worked more than 25 years and completed 43 murals. The elaborate Senate Chamber has stained glass windows and original mahogany desks from Belize dating back to 1906. The walls are lined with rare green marble from Ireland.
The House Chamber is also quite decorative with stained glass windows framed in gold leaf and a large mural in back of the Speaker’s chair. I was most impressed with the six huge bronze and crystal chandeliers that weigh over two tons each and require over 1,000 light bulbs. Changing those lights is not a job I would want to have!
The Supreme Court room is dominated by a very large and beautiful stained glass dome. I loved the green color.
After my inside tour I checked out the back of the building and found a beautiful fountain and flower plantings. It was a place where people liked to gather and relax.
It was a great visit to the Pennsylvania State Capitol and I hope you enjoyed seeing it through my eyes as well! Thanks for checking in!