Arkansas State Capitol

written Saturday, November 22, 2008
Maumelle COE Park near Little Rock, AR.

On Friday, yesterday, Dar and I drove down to the State Capitol in downtown Little Rock. The day was clear and brisk under a bright blue sky.

For all the traveling we've done over the years, and especially since we started fulltiming in July 2007, we've only been to a handful of State Capitols. It didn't become a theme of ours, an objective, a goal, until this leg of our journey. Most fulltimers have what I call "themes" to make their explorations more interesting and to provide some structure and organization to their travels.

Here are a few themes fellow travelers have told us about: major league ballparks, National Parks, highest point in each state, over-nighting in every State, fishing the major rivers in each State, various lists of museums, and, of course, State Capitols. There are many more of course -- lists limited only by your imagination.

Invariably, there are standards or requirements that go along with these themes. For instance, with State Capitols, is it enough to just see the building?  To drive or walk around it?  Or must you get inside, take a tour, and snap some photos? It's up to you. Our State Capitols theme requires that we get inside, take a tour -- guided or self-guided, and take both interior and exterior photos. Our requirements for putting States on our list of places we've been to is that we stay overnight and perform at least two voluntary bodily functions. I think that's all I'll say about that.

This visit to the Arkansas State Capitol will be our 6th that meets our minimum requirements. Even after seeing this small number there's a similarity to most of these stately old buildings that becomes evident. The architects and builders of most capitols west of the Appalachian Mountains were influenced by the US Capitol in Washington DC, and it shows. Every State, with the exception of Nebraska, has a bicameral legislative branch of government which necessitates a large chamber, meeting space, for each. Invariably, these two chambers are placed at the extreme ends of the building. There's usually a rotunda under a central dome of some kind which provides a sense of power, importance, strength, and possibilities. The executive branch, the Governor, has a large chunk of space in each Capitol, as does the Supreme Court representing the judicial branch of government. Other functions are scattered around.

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It took the good people of Arkansas an amazing 16 years to build this building. Political wrangling, fiscal restraint, and weak leadership and vision caused a number of suspensions, stoppages, of the project. After the cornerstone was laid in 1900, progress stopped for three years. Governors came and went, contractors were hired and fired, the oversight board was replaced a number of times, architects changed. Other stoppages occurred for various reasons. If it weren't for problems (ceilings collapsing, water leaks, etc) with the old statehouse a few blocks away, where the business of government was housed since the 1830's, the project may well have been delayed even longer.

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I'm not an expert on State Capitol Buildings, having seen only 6 now, but my impression is that his one, while stately and impressive, is not very ornate and doesn't include much of the art or symbolism that we've come to expect and have seen in most of the others. The exterior is all light colored limestone. The interior floors are mostly light, almost white, marble. The walls are mostly the same marble. The ceilings provide some variation and break up some of the monotony. There are plenty of pictures of past governors and photo collages of the elected representatives and senators from each year. We could only find 4 small murals way up near the ceiling and had found no information about what they represent or who did them. Christmas decorations gave the building a spark of color that wouldn't be there the rest of the year. It's a building that's no-nonsense, that's all business, that reflects the practical nature of the people that directed it's design and construction, and indirectly, the hardworking, economical people of Arkansas.

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Incidentally, the Old Statehouse still exists, and we toured it after the State Capitol. That old building has a colorful history that includes war, murder, and the location of the election night party when Bill Clinton was first elected President. It's now a museum.

T
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