The Georgia State Capitol building stands in Atlanta, a strong presence and a picture of elegance and history. To many, it would seem the building was always meant to be there. However, Atlanta's designation as Georgia's capital was complicated and has a history that goes back to the post-Civil War era.
Milledgeville, Ga., was the original capital of Georgia and was established in 1803. However, in 1867, after the Civil War, Georgia was one of the states under military authority when Congress took over Reconstruction in the South and came under the command of Maj. Gen. John Pope. Pope soon took up his duties in Atlanta and called for Georgia's new constitutional convention to meet in Atlanta because black delegates reportedly would be prohibited by innkeepers from entering Milledgeville inns.
During the convention in Atlanta from January to March 1868, the city's officials made a bid for Atlanta to be designated Georgia's capital, citing the city's population growth and industrialization as advantages. If the capital was moved to Atlanta, the city would provide government buildings, including the legislature, for 10 years at no charge. It also offered a 25-acre fairground or any unoccupied 10 acres in the city for a state capitol building. The offer was accepted, and Atlanta was designated Georgia's capital.
However, the decision was temporary. When Reconstruction ended in 1877, some political figures wanted to return Georgia's capital to Milledgeville. A constitutional convention met in Atlanta and again addressed the location of Georgia's capital. It was decided that at the next general election, voters would decide the capital's location.
What ensued was a fevered competition between the cities involving newspapers, circulars and speeches arguing each side. Milledgeville supporters said Atlanta held too many temptations for legislature members and pointed out that Milledgeville already had a state capitol building. Atlanta supporters said Atlanta was becoming more important for Georgia and also noted its superior rail facilities.
On Dec. 5, 1877, Atlanta was deemed the capital of Georgia by a vote of 99,147 to 55,201. The state said it would pay for a new capitol building if Atlanta paid $55,625 (the decided value of the old capitol building in Milledgeville) to the state and pay off a $60,000 mortgage on Atlanta's Kimball Opera House, which served as a temporary capitol building.
The city agreed; however, for financial reasons, the state was not able to appropriate the $1 million for construction of the building until September 1883. Once the state was ready to build, architectural firm Edbrooke and Burnham, Chicago, was chosen to design the building.
Although it was assumed the building would be constructed from marble or granite, adequate supply and excessive costs were a concern. Therefore, Miles and Horn, Toledo, Ohio, with an $862,756.75 bid was the construction firm chosen to build the new capitol and proposed using Indiana oolitic limestone. But other materials still were used, including marble for the cornerstone, some walls, and all interior floors and steps, and granite for the building's foundation. Interestingly, the marble used for the building cost $12,000 more than all of the limestone used for the entire capitol.
Construction began Nov. 13, 1884, and continued for about 4 1/2 years with about 250 workmen. The building was completed March 20, 1889, with the total cost being $999,881.57.
The building was designed to resemble the U.S. Capitol building's Renaissance-style architecture. At the time it was built, the Georgia State Capitol was the tallest building in Atlanta at 272 feet and 4 1/2 inches from the ground. It now ranks 12th in height for U.S. capitol buildings.
The building has a 75-foot-diameter gilded dome, which originally was made from terra cotta and covered with tin. On top of the dome is a 1,800-pound copper statue of Miss Freedom, who holds a torch in her right hand in remembrance of Georgia's war dead and a sword in her left hand to symbolize military protection of the state. A light bulb is placed in her arm to allow the torch in her hand to light up at night.
The building features Corinthian columns, classical pilasters and oak paneling. It also was one of the first buildings to have elevators, central steam heat, and combination gas and electric lights.
The Georgia State Capitol building was considered a symbol of the "Capital of the New South," which is what Atlanta was called after Reconstruction. It has been named a National Historic Landmark and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.
In 1889, the year the building was completed, the office of Georgia's state geologist was revived, and the geologist was told to collect minerals, plants and soils, which would show Georgia's scientific and economic resources, as well as its natural and cultural history. In 1890, a part of the Capitol building was chosen to temporarily house a museum for these collections.
The Georgia State Museum of Science and Industry was created in 1955 as a new division in the Office of Secretary of State. Improvements were made during the years, and the museum was officially renamed the Georgia Capitol Museum in 1997. The change led to a new design, including the addition of the Hall of Valor, which displays Georgia's collection of historical battle flags. The museum continues to collect and display artifacts relating to the Georgia Capitol and events that occurred there.
For more information about the Georgia State Capitol, visit www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/atlanta/geo.htm, sos.georgia.gov or www.cviog.uga.edu/Projects/gainfo/capital.htm.