A visit to Austin would not be complete without a tour of the State Capitol Building. It sits on a high point of ground in the northern part of Downtown Austin and its magnificent dome can be seen from most spots of the city.
The current state capitol building is Texas’ third one. The first was an unattractive wooden building. The second state capitol building was a Greek Revival style finished in 1853. Plans were already underway to build third capitol building, when the second one burnt down in 1881.
The current building is considered one of the nation’s grandest state capitols. The design was chosen by a national contest in 1881. Elijah E. Myers, who also designed the Colorado and Michigan capitols was the winning architect.
Myers designed the building in Renaissance Revival Style. It has the largest square footage of any state capitol building and its dome is fifteen feet taller than that of the National Capitol.
The building was begun in February 1882 and completed in 1888. The plan was to use limestone for the exterior, but after being quarried the limestone became streaked. This incident delayed the construction by two years as the state legislature debated what other material should be used. Finally, it was decided that “Sunset Red” granite from a quarry in Marble Falls would be suitable; the quarry’s owners donated the stone. A thousand convicts were put to work quarrying the donated granite, but in 1885 the granite cutter’s union protested the use of convict labor and boycotted the project. The contractors then brought in stonecutters from Scotland to hone the convict-quarried stone.
Interestingly, the contractors were paid in land rather than money. They received three million acres in the Texas Panhandle in return for their work.
Excitement among Austin residents grew as the massive building neared completion. The Goddess of Liberty statue, the famed dome ornament, was set in place in February 1888. Elijah Meyers designed the statue, but there are conflicting reports about its origins. It is thought that John C. McFarland, the subcontractor for other zinc and iron work on the building, is responsible for statue’s construction. Today, you can see the original Goddess of Liberty Statue on display at the Bob Bullock State History Museum; it was replaced with a replica during renovation of the building’s exterior in 1995.
The State Capitol building finally opened ceremoniously to the public on San Jacinto Day, April 21, 1888. Week-long festivities to celebrate the opening were held that May.
When you visit the Texas State Capitol you can now see many of the three hundred plus rooms the way in they originally looked in 1888, thanks to the restoration work completed in the 1990s. You can tour the complex on your own and thirty to forty-five minute guided tours are also available: Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm, Saturday 9:30 am to 3:30pm, and Sunday noon to 3:30pm.
The building opens at 7 am on weekdays and 9 am on weekends. You can view interactive exhibits at the Visitor’s Center on the southeast corner of the grounds. Visitors are also welcome to go on self-guided tours through the lovely, park-like grounds which feature several monuments. A helpful guide booklet in several languages is available from the Capitol Information and Guide Service.
For more information and for reserved group tours (ten or more) you can call: 512-305-8400