Michigan State Capitol Building
Location Name: Michigan State Capitol Building (Lansing, Michigan)
Location Type: Government Building (State Capitol)
Year Completed: 1878
Architect(s): Elijah E. Myers
The Michigan State Capitol Building traces its history back to 1872 when construction on Michigan’s new Capitol began. Built to replace the1847 temporary wood-frame building that housed state government offices, the new Capitol was built to endure. Architect Elijah E. Myers’ plan was chosen and the building’s cornerstone was laid on 02 October 1873. With an exterior of Ohio sandstone and topped with a cast-iron dome, the new structure’s design was inspired by the massive United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Perhaps the most impressive part of the magnificent new building, after the sheer size and intricate design, was the length at which builders went to keep construction costs low.
Rather than spending large sums of taxpayers money on the most sought after materials around the world, much of the building is built using cost efficient materials and methods. The black and white tiles that create the checkerboard pattern on the Capitol’s floors are built of Vermont marble and limestone, rather than more expensive Italian marble. The multitude of woodwork is done in native white pine but wood-grained (hand-painted) to give the appearance of costlier walnut. After all was completed, the entire cost of construction was an austere $1,427,738.
Once completed in 1878, the new Capitol was dedicated on 01 January 1879, coinciding with the inauguration of Governor Charles Croswell. The new building became the home of the executive and legislative branches of the state government, and was also built to house all other state agencies at the time. The Neo-classical Italianate building reaches a height of 267 feet from ground level to the tip of the dome’s finial. The interior of the Capitol’s rotunda measures 160 feet from the oculus of the dome to the glass-block floor beneath. The floor beneath the dome is made of up 976 translucent glass blocks about 5/8 of an inch thick. From above, the pattern in the floor creates the illusion of a bowl, as if it sinks below floor level mirroring the concave dome above.
Around the rotunda’s walls hang many portraits in the Gallery of the Governors. State tradition holds that as each Governor completes their term, they pay for the painting of a portrait to be hung inside the Capitol. As the Gallery fills up, the oldest paintings are relocated to other places in the building. At the floor of the rotunda, glass cases were built to display battle flags, used by Michigan soldiers from our nation’s wars. While the originals have been relocated for preservation, replicas still hold their place. Along the halls twenty so-called ‘Michigan chandeliers’ depict an elk and the shield from the state’s coat of arms. Originally lit by gas, these lights have all been electrified.
While the building’s uses have mostly remained unchanged, the state government it serves has become too big for the historic structure. The legislative branches, the House of Representatives and Senate, still maintain their chambers in the building. The executive branch no longer calls the building home, with the exception of the ceremonial offices of the governor, the lieutenant governor, and several state agencies. The Michigan Supreme Court left the Capitol in 1970 for the newly built Michigan Hall of Justice, just a few blocks away.
After undergoing an extensive renovation in the 1990s, the Michigan State Capitol looks much the same as when it was new. The intricate painting has all been restored, as well as correcting much of the changes that were made to the building over the years. In recognition of the Capitol’s historic value, it was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992. Now nearing its sesquicentennial, the seat of Michigan’s government stands proud as Lansing’s crown jewel. While the previous wooden structure it replaced was lost to fire over one hundred years ago, the new building is posed for another century of service and awe-inspiring tourists who come to see the Capitol of the Great Lakes State.
The Michigan State Capitol Building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.Sources