Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tennessee’s State Capitol has a unique history

Here at TSLA, we recently embarked on a fascinating research project. In close coordination with others in the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office, TSLA staff members have pulled together vast amounts of material in preparation for the production of a new video featuring the history of our State Capitol Building. We’re very excited to have a role in this important project because it allows us to help the public learn more about our state’s history, and gives us one more opportunity to showcase our rich and diverse collection.

Tennessee’s premier historic building and architectural jewel, the State Capitol Building is located on the highest point in the city of Nashville, on a hill once known as Cedar Knob. The cornerstone for the building was laid on July 4, 1845, and construction was completed in 1859. Designed by renowned architect William Strickland, the Tennessee State Capitol’s Greek Revival style embodies Strickland’s vision for a building that reflected Tennessee’s virtues. William Strickland died five years prior to the completion of his work, and was entombed in its northeast wall. British architect Harvey Ackroyd was hired to supervise the final stages of Capitol construction, from 1858 to 1859. Strickland’s son, Francis W. Strickland, completed work on the tower and lantern feature of the structure, which now stands as a testament to Tennessee’s prominence and historic importance as our nation’s sixteenth state.

There are so many stories to be told about the Capitol Building that one blog post would simply not do this building justice. Yet, it has been said that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” so we offer you a few images from TSLA’s collections that help tell the story of our State Capitol.

This image depicts the Tennessee State Capitol Building as it appeared during Union occupation of the city of Nashville during the Civil War. Tennessee’s State Capitol became the first in the Confederacy to fall to the Union Army in February 1862. The building was pressed into service as a hospital following the Battle of Stones River, a barracks and, later, as a fortress. In December 1864, military governor Andrew Johnson watched the Battle of Nashville from the Capitol’s tower. Johnson actually had a plan to dynamite the Capitol if the Confederates threatened the city.

In the Tennessee State Capitol’s House Chamber, this illustration depicts the beautiful and ornate chandelier as it appeared after its first Illumination in 1855. On October 10, 1855, The Nashville True Whig newspaper reported, “The illuminating apparatus throughout elicited unbounded admiration,” and was “said to be the largest in diameter in the United States” gilded with “ornaments, Indian figures, Buffalos, Corn, Tobacco, and Cotton.”

Tennessee’s Capitol Building provides us with a prism through which to tell Tennessee’s history. The Capitol has been the site of historic occasions, and unique events. The event depicted in this photograph certainly qualifies as unique. In a display of driving skill and endurance, this 1911 image shows a stuntman driving a Ford Model T up the Capitol steps. A huge crowd gathered for this impressive exhibition. The driver would eventually take the Model T to the top of the steps, into the Capitol, and through to the other side of the building.

Here at TSLA, our favorite space in the State Capitol is this beautifully ornate room with book cases and a spiral staircase, which was once home to the Tennessee State Library for 100 years until 1953 when the library was moved to our current location right next door, immediately west of the State Capitol Building. This room now serves as a lounge and meeting area for legislators, but members of TSLA’s staff still roam the halls of state government as part of our legislative history and recording program. In 1955, Tennessee became the first state in the country to record the proceedings of both chambers of its General Assembly. The legislative recording staff has the sole responsibility of audio recording meetings and creating a log sheet guide to the recordings of Tennessee’s legislature.

Production on the video tour of the State Capitol is underway, so look for an update on this project in the weeks to come. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about our State Capitol and its unique history, we invite you to visit us in person, and also browse our online resources for further information.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the blog. I'm writing a book in which the main character travels through Nashville in 1859 and I wanted to correctly depict the Tennessee Capital building. You've helped me immensely!