Central Ohio IFMA Chapter Tours Statehouse


     In the 178 years since prisoners from the nearby Ohio Penitentiary laid the foundation for the Ohio Statehouse in downtown Columbus, the building and its grounds have undergone numerous transformations.

     The Statehouse is situated on a 10-acre parcel of land and was built in the Greek Revival style of architecture, a type of design based on the buildings of Ancient Greece and very popular in the U.S. during the early and mid-1800s.

     Because the city-states of Ancient Greece were the birthplace of democracy, the style had great meaning in the young American nation.

     Today, the building stands majestically in downtown Columbus on Capital Square, a symbol of democracy and an architectural landmark visited by thousands every year.   It was added to the NationalRegister of Historic Places in 1972 and named a National Historic Landmark in 1977.

     On Thursday, March 9, some three dozen members of the Central Ohio IFMA Chapter visited Ohio’s hub of democracy, admiring its beauty but wondering how it has been able to keep up with today’s demands on structural efficiency and environmental compatibility.

   Although one might never imagine it, the Statehouse began with a contest. The Statehouse Act of 1838 created a three-member commission to conduct a national competition to select a design for a new Ohio Capitol in Columbus. Nearly 60 submissions were considered by the commission with first place awarded to Cincinnati architect Henry Walter; second place to New Yorker Martin E. Thompson; and third prize to landscape painter Thomas Cole.

     But the three winning plans were so similar with balanced wings containing the legislative chambers, porticos and domes, the commission decided to incorporate the best features of all three winning submissions.

     One of the most breath-taking stops along the tour is the Statehouse Rotunda. Looking upward, Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members were able to see one of the Statehouse's most distinctive exterior features -- its low, conical roof atop the two-story cupola, positioned where most viewers expect to see a dome. The crown jewel in the Rotunda's dome is its 29-foot-wide skylight. The center circle of the skylight is a hand-painted Great Seal of Ohio (which also appears in many other places throughout the Statehouse) and is a reproduction of the Seal that was in use in 1861 when the Rotunda was completed. Interestingly enough, the restoration of the skylight was funded by schoolchildren across the state in a penny-collection campaign, spearheaded by Bob Evans Farms. It just goes to show that a penny can still go a long way.

     The floor of the Rotunda consists of nearly 5,000 pieces of hand-cut marble from around the world. The salmon stones are from Portugal; the black and green marble is from Vermont; and the white marble is from Italy. In one of the building’s most iconic moments in history, President Abraham Lincoln laid in state following his assassination in the Nation’s Capital, attracting thousands of mourners from across the state of Ohio. Lincoln died in the early morning hours of Saturday, April 15, 1865 after being shot, nine hours earlier, by assassin John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln’s body traveled 1,700 miles by train from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, where he was put to rest May 4, 1865. Along the way, state funerals were conducted in 12 cities. Columbus was the ninth stop along the way. The doors to the Ohio Statehouse opened April 29, 1865 shortly after 9 a.m. And by 6 p.m. that same day, more than 50,000 people had filed through the Statehouse Rotunda to see the President’s coffin.

     Commemorative artwork is displayed both in and around the Rotunda, including a bust of Lincoln and a giant depiction of the Battle of Lake Erie. Just outside of the Rotunda hangs another original piece of art. The Signing of the Treaty of Greeneville, by Howard Chandler Christy, depicts the negotiations between representatives of the U.S. government and Native Americans that led to the eventual United States control of the Northwest Territories (which includes renderings of Lewis and Clark who were not part of the treaty). This painting was completed in 1945 and hangs above the east stairs.

   A stop at the House Chamber left Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members awestruck with its grandeur and beauty. Central Ohio IFMA Chapter members admired the glistening chandeliers in the House Chambers, which interestingly enough are modeled after lighting which hangs in the Vermont Statehouse. When renovations were underway locally, original chandeliers were found in Vermont that matched the House’s original lighting. Ohio offered to take the giant lights down, clean them and refurbish them if the Vermont folks agreed to let Ohio use them to make their own renditions. And a deal was struck.  

     Other tour highlights included views of the sweeping grand staircase of the Senate Building which was modeled after the Paris Opera House and restored to its original grandeur in 1996; the Atrium, which prior to renovation was open to the elements (also known as Pigeon Run because of the number of nuisance birds that often perched there); and the Senate Chamber where the viewing balcony was removed in the early part of the 20th century as part of a renovation project.