Mississippi's State Capitol
This majestic structure is the official capitol building for the state of Mississippi. While it is the current capitol, one other capitol building still stands, commonly referred to as “the Old Capitol,” and it has turned into a museum that explores the history of the site. The new building was approved for construction in 1900 and construction cost one million dollars. There is a large, gilded eagle that faces South on top of the capitol. The eagle facing this way is very important to Mississippians, because it reminds them of their history of being a Confederate state, which is a point of pride for many of them.
Backstory and Context
When “the United States Congress created the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798 out of land ceded by Spain,” Mississipians chose Natchez as the capital; however, there was no official building built. The General Assembly members held meetings wherever they could, although these meetings were infrequent since they didn’t have a permanent meeting place. The capital did not remain in Natchez for long; it was moved to a community six miles east of Natchez to a city called Washington. This happened in 1802, when the Republican party gained power and wanted to move the capital away from what they viewed as “the corrupt influence of ‘aristocratic’ Natchez.” There wasn’t anything built for regular meetings here, either. After several other moves around the state, it was finally decided to make Jackson, “named in honor of Andrew Jackson,” the seat of the capital permanently. The first actual building was started by John Lawrence in 1844, but the state was upset over his “slow progress and faulty craftsmanship,” and they replaced him with William Nichols a mere year after he started. Nichols finished his building in January of 1839.
The architect who designed the current state capitol is none other than Theodore Link, from St. Louis, Missouri. He was given almost one million dollars, and with this he designed the glorious building Mississippians are proud to call their capitol building. The money to pay for this construction was earned through back taxes owed to the state by the railroad companies. The state capitol building encompasses 171,000 square feet. There are “more than 10 types of marble from other states and countries” throughout the beloved capitol. There are also many stained glass windows, made in Chicago, Illinois, which add to the natural beauty throughout the entire building. Mississippi’s capitol also houses one of the rare replicas of the Liberty Bell, and a monument honoring the women of the Confederacy. The capitol is lit up by 750 original light fixtures and on top of the dome sits the impressive 8 foot tall, 15 foot wide gilded eagle. At one time the capitol hosted all forms of Mississippi’s government, but now only the legislative branch works in the building.
This eagle was recently restored. In 2014, the funds for a major restoration of the capitol were approved, and the eagle was a vital part of the capitol restoration. Mississippi hired a company from Maryland to strip the old gilding off the eagle, and then they used an underwhelming three ounces of gold leaf to completely regild the large bird. The eagle needed to be redone because while UV rays might not harm the gold leaf, bird claws and droppings, as well as hail, can be detrimental to the gilded surface. Most state capitols have eagles or some sort of statue on top of the building, but Mississippi’s eagle is slightly different from all the rest. It’s different because “he usually faces due south- marking Mississippi’s history as a Confederate state… Mississippi is the only state whose eagle faces South. All others face toward Washington, D.C.” This is a clear demonstration that much of Mississippi is proud of its Confederate history. Some Mississippians are constantly watching the eagle to make sure that it continues facing South. “Lobbyist John Sullivan works at the capital and noticed it immediately. He remarked that ‘it’s always [his] habit after a storm to look up at the eagle and see just how bad it was… and, sure enough, he was turned a little to the side.’” On April 30th, 2016, a storm came through and turned the eagle slightly. It was so important to Mississippians that it remained facing South that they hired “the National Guard, using a helicopter, to turn him around.” Mississippi is trying to keep its history preserved, even if it is just a golden bird facing a different direction than the other statues.
The state capitol building will continue to be a vital piece of Mississippi’s history as long as it stands. The state has had a long history of not being able to agree on where to place the capitol and this is one of the rare instances where the leaders of the state were able to compromise and make something beautiful, as well as long standing. The capitol building is a well designed, dazzling piece of art. The work put into this building will not soon be forgotten, as it is an integral piece of Mississippi’s history.
Michael J. Bunn, and Clay Williams. “Capitals and Capitols: The Places and Spaces of Mississippi's Seat of Government.” | Mississippi History Now. Accessed February 6, 2020. http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/76/index.php?s=articles&id=76.
“History of the Capitol.” Mississippi Legislature. Accessed February 6, 2020. http://www.legislature.ms.gov/about-the-capitol/history-of-the-capitol/.
Kendra Smith-Parks, John Fitzhugh, Courtney Ann Jackson, Mike Lacy, Desirae Duncan, and Lindsay Knowles. “Weekend Storm Moves Capitol Eagle.” WLOX, May 3, 2006. https://www.wlox.com/story/4851047/weekend-storm-moves-capitol-eagle/.