July 2, 2022
The first session of the Virginia legislature took place in Jamestown in 1619. The legislature then met in various locations in Jamestown and Williamsburg until 1780 when the capital was moved to Richmond. Lawmakers began meeting in the new Capital in 1788.
The Capitol is brick covered with stucco. The ionic columns on its south portico contain the original pine tree center posts.
Thomas Jefferson was serving as Ambassador to France when he agreed to help design the Capitol. He was inspired by the classical Roman design of the Maison Carée in Nimes and hired Jean-Pierre Fouquat to construct a plaster model of his vision for Virginia’s Capitol.
Fouquat’s plaster of Paris model of Thomas Jefferson’s ideas for the Capitol
The model has been repainted when the Capitol’s color scheme has changed. Its rear wall shows five 19th century paint schemes used before the Capitol was painted white in 1904-06. The model has contained up to 15 layers of paint.
The two-story rotunda is in the center of the Capitol. It is 30 feet in diameter. Jefferson had designed the rotunda with columns. The builder, Samuel Dobie, placed the balcony on brackets instead.
Rotunda skylight. The dome was added in 1794.
Sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon’s life-size marble statue of George Washington was placed in the Rotunda in May 1796.
The sculpture shows that Washington was both civilian and military. The sword and bundles of rods signify power; the walking cane and plow show the civilian side. Soldier, statesman, private citizen.
The Old Hall of the House of Delegates was used by the House of Delegates from 1788 to 1904. It was here that Virginia voted to secede from the Union and where Robert E. Lee accepted command of Virginia state forces.
The Hall is 76 feet wide. Seats are arranged around a speaker’s chair. The room has also been used for community events and church services.
Also in this room “Chief Justice John Marshall presided over the nation’s most celebrated treason trial in which Vice President Aaron Burr was acquitted in 1807” [text from label by statue]. Aaron Burr was an ancestor of Dave’s step-father, Scott Burr.
The first mace was presented to Virginia’s legislature by the royal governor in 1700. It represented English authority. A new mace was acquired in 1722 but was sold after the American revolution. The one pictured here is of silver plated with gold. It was made in England in 1938 and presented to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1974 by the Jamestown Foundation.
The inscription on the mace reads “A mace was presented by Colonel Francis Nicholson H. M. Lieutenant and governor general of H. M. colony and Dominion of Virginia to the House of Burgesses 1700”.
Two rooms, the old Senate Chamber and the Jefferson Room, were created from one larger room when the steps for the Capitol were installed in 1906.
The old Senate Chamber was first a general court room. The portraits on this wall are of Captain John Smith, a leader of the 1607 English settlement of Virginia, and Matoaka, the daughter of Wahunsenacawh who led the Powhatan natives in the area.
The Jefferson Room contains a large, full-length portrait painted by George Catlin, who copied an original portrait by Thomas Sully now on exhibit at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
The eighteenth century English Dial Clock in the Jefferson Room was a gift to the Commonwealth of Virginia by Lady Astor (born Nancy Witcher Langhorne in Danville Virginia) who was the wife of William Waldorf Astor.
In 1919 Lady Astor was the first woman to take a seat in the British house of Commons.
Front steps and wings for the House of Delegates and Senate were added to the Capitol 1904-06.
The House of Delegates is made up of 100 members who are elected for two-year terms.
The Senate is made up of 40 members who are elected to four-year terms. [Construction/repairs are underway.]
The tablet over the podium contains the names of Virginians who signed the Declaration of Independence.
The 2005-07 restoration of the Capitol revealed the metal enclosure of the 1886 steam-powered elevator.
Our tour guide and Dave at the elevator cage
Stairs surround the elevator cage.
The seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia was designed in 1776 and emphasizes Virginia’s independence from Britain. It features the Roman goddess Virtus who represents freedom, valor, and heroism. “Sic Semper Tyrannis” became the state motto and means “Thus always to tyrants”.
The Capitol’s limestone floors contain fossils.
The Federal style Executive Mansion was designed by Boston architect Alexander Paris and was completed in 1813.
We were very taken with City Hall which adjoins the Capitol. It’s under renovation and not accessible.