Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dec 13 - The Alabama State Capitol

Today we explored the historic Alabama State Capitol. Built prior to the Civil War, what it lacks in size and stature it more than makes up for in historical significance. In 1861, it temporarily served as the first Capitol of the Confederacy... where the first Confederate Congress met, formed a government, and wrote a constitution... where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as the first President of the Confederacy. Later in 1861 they moved the Capital to Richmond Virginia.

Not large by any means, the building was built in the traditional style with a central dome and rotunda flanked by two wings that originally contained the legislature... the House on one side, Senate on the other. It's among the oldest Capitols in the United States (the 11th oldest), having been built in 1850.

While the building is still the official Capitol and does house the Governor's and a few other departmental offices, it's now mostly a museum. In 1940, the Supreme Court vacated the old building and moved to it's own digs in the same neighborhood. And during an extensive Capitol renovation project in the 1980s, both houses of the Legislature moved to a large building across the street now known as the Alabama State House. That move was supposed to be temporary but as the sands of time slip through the government hourglass it's beginning to look more and more like it was permanent. I think they got used to their plushy surroundings, private offices, and modern conveniences. In deference to the law and to the old Capitol building, they do open the legislative session each year in the old chambers.

Historic Senate Chamber. The Confederate Government was formed here.

We were able to wander through much of the old Capitol during our visit, except for the Governor's Office which was strictly off-limits.

The central core of the building is three stories above a below-grade basement, as is the East Wing addition added in the 1880s. The North Wing and South Wing additions, added in the early 1900s are each two stories above a raised basement. From the outside it presents itself well as the State Capitol. Inside, although bordering on spartan, it's been nicely restored to the elegance of an earlier time.

House and Senate are buried deep in the upper floors of this office building.

During our usual visit to a State Capitol we get onto the floor of the House and Senate Chambers. Since they hadn't moved back into the renovated Capitol yet, we had to trudge across the street, to the so-called State House, take an elevator to the 5th floor, and beg our way onto the floor of the House Chamber. From there we had to take another elevator to the 7th floor where more pleading got us into the Senate Chambers. Both were business-like spaces that resembled an office building auditorium. I wonder, with all the current glorification of all-things-business and the corresponding shunning of all-things-government, if we were looking at the future. I mean... just think what the real estate those old Capitol buildings are sitting on is worth?  Just imagine what a developer could do with condos and strip malls and trendy restaurants right in the middle of town... why, it boggles the mind!

Across another street from the Old Capitol was the historic First White House of the Confederacy. We stopped by and did a self-guided tour of the nicely restored large old home. It served as the residence of Jefferson Davis for only a few months, but the local First White House Association has made it their life's work to preserve it.  More photos in our online photo album from today.

The Intrepid Explorers on Jeff Davis' front porch.