RING Logo ©
Michigan's Local Electronic Magazine! ©


YOUR STATE CAPITOL: A Walking Tour

Printed with permission from the booklet by Capitol Tour Guide Services

INTRODUCTION

For over 114 years, people have converged on the Capitol in Lansing from all over Michigan. Lawmakers have come to write and debate the laws that govern the state. Tourists have come--at first by carriage, horseback, and train, and later by car and airplane--to see their seat of state government. Others have come to bring important issues to the attention of lawmakers and the people of Michigan as a whole. Today, the Capitol is Michigan's most important historic building.

More than a century of daily use left its mark on this beautiful old building. Weathering eroded the sandstone exterior. Offices became so crowded that, years ago, extra floors were added. Beautiful painted designs on the ceilings and walls disappeared under layers of plain wall paint, and woodwork became scarred and battered. Efforts were made over the years to modernize the Capitol with electricity, telephones, air conditioning and computers without worrying about their effect on the building.

Fortunately, in 1987, lawmakers realized the need to preserve this historic building. They established the Michigan Capitol Committee to oversee its restoration, a highly challenging project successfully completed in the fall of 1992. Paint, plaster, stone, lighting fixtures, furnishings, woodwork, floors, and windows were restored and are as beautiful as they were in 1879, when the building was dedicated.

A WALKING TOUR

Michigan's Three Capitols

Many people do not realize that Lansing was not Michigan's first capital. French fur traders and missionaries traveled the upper Great Lakes as early as the 1660s, and the 1668 Jesuit mission at Sault Ste. Marie was the first permanent European settlement in what is now Michigan. If the region could be said to have had a capital at that time, it was Sault Ste. Marie.

The military post at Michilimackinac was founded a few years later and served for a quarter of a century as the center of French influence on the Great Lakes, until Cadillac convinced the French court that a post on the Detroit River would be more advantageous. Detroit, founded in 1701, remained the most important settlement in the western Great Lakes region, even after the British defeated the French in the 1760s.

After more than a century of French and British rule, the Michigan region, in 1787, was set aside by the United States government as part of the old Northwest Territory. In 1805, Congress created a new territory called the Michigan Territory. Detroit became the capital on July 1, 1805, and General William Hull was chosen to be the first territorial governor. Various locations in Detroit served as the early seats of territorial government, but a territorial courthouse, which was completed in 1823, served as the first Capitol. In 1837, through a provision of the Constitution of 1835, Detroit was selected as the seat of government "until the year eighteen-hundred and forty-seven, when it shall be permanently located by the Legislature."

With Ann Arbor, Jackson, Marshall, and many other cities being suggested and opposed for various reasons, James Seymour, a land speculator with mills in Ingham County, presented a map of the area and drew attention to Lansing Township. After two months of debate in the legislature, on March 16, 1847, the governor signed into law a bill which named Lansing Township in Ingham County as the location for the new state capital.

The next step was to select a name for the site. At first it was called Michigan, Michigan, but after several months the name was changed to Lansing. A temporary statehouse was constructed of wood in 1847. In 1865 a 16-foot addition was added to the structure. By 1871, there was need for additional office space, a fireproof building better able to protect the state's records, and a more dignified seat of state government. Governor Henry P. Baldwin recommended, and the legislature approved, the construction of a new Capitol in Lansing.

A board of building commissioners was named, and a nationwide contest was announced to select an architect for the new structure, with a limit of $1,200,000.00 placed on construction costs. In January of 1872, a plan called "Tuebor" (meaning "I will defend"), submitted by Elijah E. Myers, a Springfield, Illinois, architect, was selected. Myers moved to Michigan to supervise construction.

The cornerstone ceremony of October 2, 1873, was the biggest event to take place in Lansing since the arrival of the legislature a quarter of a century earlier. People thronged to the city in numbers far exceeding its capacity. Private citizens opened their homes and made preparations to feed and shelter the celebrators. Construction proceeded without delay, using Illinois limestone, Ohio sandstone, Vermont marble, tin from Wales, and plate glass from England, in addition to Michigan materials, such as iron and wood. The actual cost totaled $1,427,738.78, surprisingly close to the $1,200,000.00 originally authorized.

The building's dedication on January 1, 1879, gave Michigan an impressive seat of government. One of the first to take as its inspiration the just-remodeled national Capitol in Washington, D.C., Michigan's new statehouse became, in turn, the model for other state capitols. The building incorporated several architectural styles, but it is usually said to be of Renaissance Revival design. Above the ground story are Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. A four-story central pavilion surmounts the central entrance of three arched doorways. A graceful dome soars above the balanced wings of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Although the exterior of the building changed only slightly since its dedication in 1879, the interior was severely affected by crowding, remodeling and neglect.

As well as serving as the center of executive and legislative activities, the Capitol has long served as the focal point of state government for many Michigan citizens. It is the site of many ceremonial functions of state, as well as special events, festivities, speeches by legislators and other officials, public rallies and protests, and the observance of certain holidays.

CAPITOL STATISTICS

  • Height - 267 feet from ground to top of dome
  • Length - 420 feet 2 inches
  • Width - 273 feet 11 inches
  • Perimeter - 1,520 feet
  • Area - 1 1/6 acres
  • Construction Period - 6 years, from summer of 1872 to September 26, 1878.
  • Building Dedicated - January 1, 1879.
  • Restoration Period - 4 years, from 1988 through 1992.
  • Building Re-dedicated - November 19, 1992.

    INSIDE THE CAPITOL

    Stepping inside the building takes one back to a different era-the Victorian era-when wood, plaster, marble, chandeliers, decorative painting, woodgraining, and fine craftsmanship were employed to achieve an aura of elegance.

    Ground Floor As designed by Elijah Myers, the Capitol's architect, the ground floor corridors provided access to rooms designated "Store Rooms" on the original plans, and to an armory in the southwest corner of the south corridor.

    The floor was wood and the walls were plastered and painted to resemble the exterior stone. The walls were buff with brown lines to mimic joint lines in stone, and the ceiling a light blue. Wood wainscot, painted to look like walnut, covered the lower portion of the walls. Most of the doors were arched, with a glass panel in the upper portion and glass side panels to let light into the corridor. The corridor was lit by gas chandeliers and wall sconces. By today's lighting standards, the area was dimly lit.

    The corridors and rotunda have been restored to Elijah Myers' original design with the exception of the floor, which is gray tile instead of wood, and the chandeliers and wall sconces, which for safety reasons are electric instead of gas. During restoration research, an original gas cock was found in the east corridor. It has been incorporated in the design of the replicated chandeliers and wall sconces.

    Standing in the rotunda on the ground floor, you will see that the floor above you is made of glass--976 blocks of glass ranging from five-eighths of an inch to three quarters of an inch thick. The floor is 44 l/2 feet in diameter. It is designed to create an optical illusion: the higher a visitor goes into the dome, the more the center of the floor seems to sink. From the top of the dome, the floor looks like a complete upside-down dome.

    FIRST FLOOR

    Start your tour of the first floor in the east wing by looking out from the impressive two story doors. You can get a view of Michigan Avenue, leading eastward to Michigan State University several miles away. Continuing your tour in the east wing, you will also notice a large grandfather clock on the north wall of the corridor. Over 114 years old, it once was the master clock of the Capitol. It has been repaired several times and today is in excellent working condition. At one time, the Capitol housed all branches of government, including the supreme court, the legislature, the governor, and various state administrators such as the attorney general and the secretary of state. All but the legislature, governor, and other state office buildings.

    Moving into the rotunda, you will notice cases around the walls of the rotunda. These cases contained flags carried by Michigan volunteers in the Civil and Spanish-American Wars. The Capitol Battle Flag collection also includes flags from World War I. The original flags have been removed to the State Historical Museum in order to protect them, while replicas have been placed in the rotunda cases The black and white floors throughout the upper corridors of the Capitol are made of Vermont marble. The original doorknobs, made of bronze, were replaced with fixtures made of a brass and bronze alloy. Unfortunately, over the years most of the original doorknobs were stolen for souvenirs. The present ones are locked on in order to prevent theft. Each doorknob displays the state coat of arms. The door hinges also display the state coat of arms.

    The chandeliers you see throughout the hallways were originally gas-lit and had a special device, rather like an automatic pilot light, which allowed the lamps to be turned on by four keys at the bottom without using a match. The Capitol and chandeliers were wired for electricity in 1899-1900.

    Most of the ceilings in the corridors still boast their original paint, which has been carefully conserved. The walls had been repainted many times over the years, and have been authentically restored to match the original colors and designs.

    SECOND FLOOR

    You can climb the grand staircases in the north or south corridor or take the elevator in the east wing to the second floor. There you will see the Gallery of Governors--portraits of former Michigan governors- in the rotunda galleries on the second and third floors. Each governor chooses the artist and pays for the portrait, which is hung after the governor leaves office. The oldest portrait is then moved to another location in the Capitol.

    If you move around the rotunda to the east wing, you will notice the Office of the Governor. The Governor's Office and Reception Room, among the best documented and most important rooms in the Capitol, have been meticulously restored. Features include a suite of original furnishings manufactured expressly for the Capitol in 1878 by the Feige Brothers Company of Saginaw. Preserved through the efforts of Marie Ferrey, who became the first curator of the Michigan Historical Museum in 1913, the furnishings are a tribute to Michigan's furniture manufacturing heritage.

    Although the House and Senate Chambers are also located on the second floor, we will continue to the third floor in order to view these chambers from the visitors galleries.

    THIRD FLOOR

    The House of Representatives Chamber is located in the north wing. The House is the larger of the two chambers with 110 members. Each Representative is elected to a two-year term from a district of about 85,000 constituents.

    Color is undoubtedly the first thing you will notice about the restored House Chamber: corals, teals, metallic paints, and gold leaf enhance and highlight the architectural features of the chamber.

    The restoration of the chamber was completed in April of 1990. As part of the restoration, the original 1878 walnut desks were refinished and equipped with credenzas featuring electronic voting buttons and telephones designed to meet the needs of a modern legislature. New floor coverings include the unique chamber carpet: the central field is based on a period design, but a House tradition was preserved by incorporating the state coat of arms in the border. The oval cartouche at the entrance to the chamber features the state flower, the apple blossom, and was designed and handwoven by Michigan artist Paul V'Soske.

    Roll call and voting are done electronically in the House. The original system was installed in 1937 and updated over the years with more sophisticated systems. Look for the voting and message boards on either side of the speaker's rostrum at the front of the chamber: they are so carefully designed that they become almost invisible when not in use

    Over the speaker's chair, you will notice a carving of the state coat of arms. On the left is the elk; on the right, the moose. Between them is the national bird, the eagle, and above that the national motto in Latin "E pluribus unum" meaning "From many, one." At the bottom is the Michigan motto, "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice" meaning "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you." The arrows symbolize defense and the olive branch peace. "Tuebor" means "I will defend." The man stands for peace, his gun for defense. The state seal, from which the coat of arms is taken, was designed by General Lewis Cass in 1835. He based the design on the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company's seal. The motto was written before the Upper Peninsula became a part of Michigan.

    Continuing around the rotunda and into the south wing, you will find the Senate Chamber. The Senate is the smaller of the two chambers with 38 members. Each Senator is elected for a four-year term from a district of approximately 245,000 constituents. The president of the Senate is the lieutenant governor. The lieutenant governor presides over sessions from the walnut rostrum which you can see in the front of the Senate Chamber.

    Restoration of the Senate Chamber was completed in January 1990. Although nearly identical architecturally to the House Chamber, the Senate's very different color scheme has rendered each chamber unique. Vibrant blues and golds, elaborately stencilled designs and gold leaf sparkle from walls and ceilings. As in the House, skylights once again allow light to stream into the chamber through beautifully etched glass panels in the coffered ceiling. Shutters grace the thermally efficient windows, which have been hand-grained like the other woodwork in the chamber to resemble walnut. Four magnificent original chandeliers glitter overhead and smaller replicated ones hang from the balcony.

    As in the House Chamber, the walnut desks are original to the building. They were refinished and new side consoles added to house computers, telephones, and voting buttons.

    During the restoration, the Senate Chamber was equipped with a computerized voting system, which includes such functions as voting, requests to speak, and the electronic display of messages.

    In the east wing of the third floor you will find the old Supreme Court Chamber. It is presently used as the Senate Appropriations Committee Room.

    The old Supreme Court Chamber, now used as a meeting room for the Senate Appropriations Committee, retains much of its original appearance. Elijah Myers, the building's architect, paid particular attention to the details of this room and designed not only the walnut judges' bench but also the large bookcase behind it. The elaborately painted ceiling is original and required the attention of a fine arts conservator to save it. Plaster was stabilized, flaking paint reattached, and the whole ceiling carefully cleaned. The carpeting was copied from photos of the original. Restoration of its original decorative paint and lighting was completed in 1992 and the chamber is once again one of the grandest rooms in the Capitol.

    House Appropriations Committee Room (Veterans Room) This room used to be part of the state library and later the law library. The state library was a large room, several stories tall, and open at the top with skylights--very much like the Senate and House Chambers. The bookshelves were on galleries--like balconies--which ran all around the room on several levels. One hundred years ago, there was no floor in the center of the room. The floor was put in later to make more room for offices when the library left the Capitol.

    Since the state and law libraries now occupy their own spaces in new buildings, this area is used as a committee and hearing room by the House of Representatives. The House Appropriations Committee meets here to work on budget issues, in the same way the Senate uses the old Supreme Court Chamber.

    This room is an excellent example of how an old space has been put to a new use while preserving as much of its original appearance as possible. The colors and patterns on the ceiling are authentic, even the ceiling itself is a modern addition, and the carpet was reproduced form the original Senate Chamber carpet. This carpet was brought to the attention of the restoration team by a local resident who believed she had a scrap of the very first 1879 Senate Chamber carpet. Research proved her right and, because she had stored the scrap for many years in an unused chicken coop, it became known as the "chicken coop" carpet.

    OUTSIDE THE CAPITOL

    If you have the time, spend a few more minutes to tour the grounds of the Capitol. You will be treated to its beautiful lawn, rich with verdant grass, a wide variety of trees and shrubs, and statues and monuments evoking events and themes of Michigan's past.