Jefferson City, Missouri is one of two state capitals not served by the Interstate system and is a relatively uneventfully small town (in sharp contrast to major metropolitan state capitals such as Salt Lake City in Utah or Nashville, Tennessee). But something about the river town is special, and it’s not just from it being the capital of my home state. Neither its quirky (and moderately frustrating) road layout nor its proximity to the beautiful Missouri river quite lives up to the treasure that is the Capitol.
The building was completed in 1917 and is the third residence of the government in Jefferson City, which has been serving as the state’s centrally located since the legislature first met in 1826. It was designed by a New York architecture firm with design elements based on the nation’s Capitol as well as Classical temples (which makes the heart of this Classics major very happy). It features a symmetrical layout alongside beautiful gardens and statuary and the materials of the building are nearly exclusively Missourian (only 12 columns in the House Chamber are from elsewhere). The building holds not only the state Senate and House, the offices for all of the representatives, the offices of governor and other executive positions, and some administrative offices, but it also holds the State Museum on its first floor.
To reference back to the statuary, two of the most accessible pieces still remaining outside since the closure of the main steps include renditions of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, the two most important waterways of the state. Both strike poses as Romanesque gods as if attempting to match the beauty of Ceres, goddess of agriculture (you may equate her approximately with Demeter), who tops the dome of the Capitol, and enhance the experience of the architecture.
Perhaps the most interesting feature about the interior of the building (despite many outstanding features to choose from) is the House Lounge on the third floor. This lounge is of particular interest to both art and history nerds alike because its primary feature is not the beautiful river-facing windows that illuminate the room. Giant murals, collectively called A Social History of the State of Missouri, created and later repaired by Missouri-born artist Thomas Hart Benton cover the walls in the room and showcase life in the state from its origins as a territory through the creation of the paintings in 1936.
However, this is not some overly glossy version of the state as many of those who had commissioned him would have liked to see. Instead, we see the faces of the folk heroes Jesse and Frank James- outlaws that dared to take on the corrupt trains. There are scenes of lynchings, Mormon abuse, a mother changing the diaper of her infant son, a single bedroom household, and important political and economic figures in the company of noted political boss Thomas J “Boss Tom” Pendergast. In short, it shows the reality of things.
Perhaps even more realistically, Benton used actual people in the faces and bodies of every person painted. The guide on my most recent visit’s favorite is the old janitor who was asked to sit for Companion Jim in a scene from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and even some members of the artists’ family make an appearance (his nephews are seen fighting over a watermelon).
Jefferson City is a beautiful little town in the middle of Missouri and well worth the trip for the Capitol alone, especially should you find yourself in the area. The Capitol building is located at 201 W Capitol Ave, Jefferson City, Missouri and is open daily, year-round, from 8 am-5 pm, excepting New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Information about tours can be found on Missouri State Parks website. The Missouri State Legislative Session for 2016 runs until May 13th, should you like to pay a visit to your local representative (scheduling ahead is highly helpful in this instance).