A Tale of Two Capitol Buildings in Jackson, Mississippi

Written by Jason Barnette
Posted on July 17, 2018

In 1839 a beautiful State House was built to serve as the capitol building for the newly-created state of Mississippi. In 1903 it was abandoned when the new capitol building was completed just a few blocks away. Today these are open for the public to tour and it offers a fascinating exploration of the similarities and differences in architecture, design, and function between the two capitol buildings of Jackson.

 

The gorgeous dome viewed from the ground level of the Old Capitol Museum.

The Old Capitol Museum

Standing tall at the end of Capitol Street, the Old Capitol Building was built on the highest hill in Jackson overlooking a swamp and farmlands in 1839. A lot has changed since then as the city has grown around it and the former swamp is now the impressive Mississippi State Fairgrounds. The building has seen a lot of tenants over the decades but one thing has remained the same: the architecture.

The self-guided tours start in the lobby on the ground floor of the building. Immediately the impressiveness of the architecture becomes apparent with a view of the dome high above. A local favorite is to lay on the cold marble floor right in the center of the dome to capture a perfectly symmetrical photo (I achieved this while still standing).

TOP: The law library with texts from across the country. BOTTOM: The Senate chamber is set to depict a key moment in Mississippi history during an impeachment trial.

The Old Capitol Building features three floors of exhibits to explore. The ground floor has various rooms explaining local history and the purpose of the Architect who lived on the property. The second floor features access to the Senate and House of Representatives rooms on either end of the building. Each room has an interactive historical display depicting a key moment in Mississippi history. The third floor offers access to the balcony surrounding the Senate chamber.

The free tour only takes about an hour to casually stroll through the exhibits. They suggest you start at the top floor and work your way down as it tends to get more impressive that way. But really it doesn’t matter where you start or how you explore this building, it will leave a great impression on you.

Old Capitol Museum 100 State St, Jackson, MS 39201 | (601) 576-6920 | www.mdah.ms.gov/oldcap/index.php

The stunning dome of the Senate chamber in the Mississippi State Capitol.

Mississippi State Capitol

In the center of four square blocks surrounded by lush grass, sidewalks, and canons, the Mississippi State Capitol makes an impressive presence. Built in 1903 the exterior of the building has remained much the same over the past century. But inside the building has been improved with modern technology, rooms altered to allow more office space, and areas shifted around. But similar to the Old Capitol Building one thing has remained the same: the architecture.

Free guided tours are given of the Capitol Building four times a day on weekdays. My tour guide was a friendly woman who had been doing tours of this building for years. She knew every story, every person who worked in the building, and shared more than a few hushed, intriguing stories from the past.

The tours start from the ground floor with a large whole in the ceiling looking up at the dome. This is the spot where people capture a photo, but although it’s the only time to stand directly beneath the dome it’s not the best place to capture a photo. On the second floor at the edge of the stone railing surrounding that whole in the floor is the best place to capture the photo seen above.

TOP: View from the third floor of the Mississippi State Capitol. BOTTOM: Light filters through the stained glass panels in the ceiling and through the glass squares in the floor to the level below.

The tour winds through hallways, climbing stairs to higher levels, as everything is explained. I learned about protocol during Senate sessions, how technology has been added to the building, and the constant renovation of older sections. I even had a chance to step inside one of the oldest rooms in the building to see how it looked with the walls stripped bare, the flooring removed, and tools laying everywhere.

The best time to take one of these tours is when the state government is not in session. I was fortunate to be spending a few days in Jackson during such a time so I was able to walk the floor of the House and Senate chambers. I learned a fascinating bit of Mississippi State Capitol history in the House chamber concerning voting and custom-made sticks, but if you want to learn that story you’ll just have to take the tour for yourself.

Mississippi State Capitol 400 High St, Jackson, MS 39201 | (601) 359-3114 | www.legislature.ms.gov/Pages/History.aspx

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