In a past column I featured some of the early history of the Indianapolis area when the state capital was moved from Corydon to a more central location in 1824. There was no building to house this new state capital, so in 1825 a two-story brick building was constructed. It was to serve as a multi-use structure for county, state and federal business. It was located at the present corner of Washington Street and Capital Avenue.
This new building was of an unusual style that has been described as a “Parthenon with a dome,” as it was of Greek culture. It had a lot of detractors who said it was built of inferior materials that would not last long, and that ended up being true. It was not long before it started to show its poor condition and had a very shabby appearance. The town that was to surround the capital was in charge of two men, Alexander Ralston and Elias Fordham, who were given the task of making it a show place in what was still more or less a wilderness. Ralston had worked with Pierre Charles L’Enfant who had helped plan the construction of Washington, D.C., our national capital. Indianapolis was to be a grid a mile wide on each side of what was to be a circle. At this central location was to be a new building that would be the governor’s home with a state house, court house, and other state buildings nearby. It thus would look very much like our nation’s capital.
Over the years, as feared, the first state house was becoming a disgrace, so in 1878 a new state capital building began construction. It was not completed until 1888 and cost $2,099,794 in that day’s currency. Think of how much today it would take to build this grand of a building. Grand it is. If you have never had the opportunity to visit our Indiana state house you have really missed something. I had in the past been to see the state house a couple of times for some event, but had really not taken the time to really look it over. My son, Terry, and I recently had been invited to a current event at the capital so we decided to go early and really look over our capital. To say the least it is most impressive.
Its architect was Edwin May, who died in 180 and was succeeded by Adolph Scherrer who continued May’s work. It is of a classic Corinthian-style topped by a 72-foot diameter dome made of copper. Below the dome is a 234-foot high rotunda that is lined by blue-hued stained glass windows that were imported from Germany. This is really something to see and we took several minutes to just stand and take in all the grandeur. On the third floor of the rotunda are eight Italian marble statues while on the main floor are a number of plaques and statues. Among these is a bronze bust of Richard Owen, a noted Hoosier, who was the commander of Camp Morton, which housed a large number of prisoners that were captured during the Civil War. Unlike most prisoners of war on both sides Owen took time to see that these men were given proper food and shelter. Later to honor Owen’s kindness the prisoners took up a collection to have this bust crafted and now has an honored place in our state house.
Also on the third floor is an 85-pound chunk of Indiana limestone, our state stone, which has been used in the construction of many buildings all over the U.S. Inside the state house are Senate and House chambers as well as the Supreme Court chamber. In the House chamber is a chandelier that features 100 lights and a mural by Eugene Savage titled “The Spirit of Indiana.”
There are many other features, busts and memorabilia about our state house and the noted Hoosiers that helped to make such a great state. There are many other buildings and attractions around the capital building that I will have to feature in future columns. You will have to pass through security to enter the state house, but it is open to visitors and indeed a place all Hoosiers should visit and see where our laws are passed.