Thursday, August 20, 2015

Montana State Capitol

It's always interesting to me the cities that get chosen as state capitols.  Often it's not the largest nor the most well-known getting the nod.  For example, here in Oregon, our capitol is in Salem instead of the more populous Portland, and in my home state of South Dakota, it's a tiny city named Pierre (which by the way, is pronounced "peer" not "pee-air") winning out over several larger towns.

Montana is like that too.  Instead choosing the big cities of Billings, Bozeman, Missoula, or Butte, it's state capitol is a humble town in the west-central region - lovely Helena.

Capitol bldg back entrance

Already in town for my son's ordination, I was interested in checking out the Montana state capitol building.  It's not everyday you have the opportunity to explore another state's government seat!

Top of the dome

After confirming the building was open on Saturdays, my family and I braved the afternoon's 100 degree heat and headed to the Capitol grounds.  Sitting on a hill overlooking the city, I was surprised to see the Capitol building surrounded by tidy residential neighborhoods.  Driving past it's spacious lawns, we ended up parking near the rear entrance, and entering from the back door.

Lovely flower garden

The grounds were meticulously landscaped with many ornate trees and colorful flower beds.  I couldn't resist a couple shots of these purple beauties.

Entering the building

The Capitol building itself was a stunning sandstone and granite structure with a weathered copper dome crowning the highest point.  A statue depicting lady liberty sat atop this dome.  During the Capitol's construction this statue arrived on a rail car from back east.  Nobody knew what it was for or who had sent it, due to the statue company's records being destroyed in a fire.  The Capitol builders wanted a statue for the dome, so they used this one.

For 100 years the name, origin  and sculptor of this statue remained a mystery.  Not knowing her name, locals nicknamed the statue "Liberty."  In 2006, a descendant of the sculptor contacted the Montana State Historical Society and filled in the missing blanks.  The real name of the statue is "Montana" and it's sculptor Edward J. Van Landeghem.

Loved the interior color scheme

The interior was even better.  Stunning tilework adorned the floors.  The walls were painted in a beautiful color scheme of rose and teal with gold accents.  Ornate marble columns anchored the doorways.

Looking up into the rotunda

My family and I walked into the building's very center and looking upwards, gaped at it's massive rotunda.

Paintings surrounding the rotunda

The rotunda was anchored on four sides with paintings that depicted four types of people from Montana's history.  On one side, a native American.

The trapper

On another, a explorer and fur trapper (thought to be Jim Bridger).  The other two sides held paintings of a gold miner and a cowboy.

Although guided tours were being offered that day (and most of the small handful of visitors present opted to join) my family and I were content to explore on our own.

Southern archway

After lengthy looks around the rotunda, everyone ascended a nearby staircase that took visitors the the second floor.  The building wing above this staircase was referred to as the "southern arch."  A window at the stair's very top was made of colorful stained glass.

Gorgeous stained glass window

The house and senate chambers were on these floors.  I didn't think they would be open on weekends, but when we tried the doors, they opened!  We peeked inside each chamber, but didn't venture far inside.  Later, reading about this capitol building, I learned that a painting by the famous Western artist Charles M Russell resides in the House Chambers, above the speaker's chair.  If I had known that at the time, I would've for sure taken a photo or two!  (That's what I get for not reading the brochure before roaming around with my camera)

Statehood Centennial Bell

Montana gained statehood in 1889.  The Montana State Capitol building was built between 1899 and 1902.  After two design competitions, a winning design was chosen and construction began.  Between 1909 and 1912, additional wings were added to the building.

More rotunda art - the miner

I was amazed by the amount of intricate detail and lovely artwork that adorned the capitol building's walls.  Although it had been years since I'd visited Oregon's capitol building, I didn't recall it being quite as fancy.

"Driving the Golden Spike" artwork

One of the more intriguing paintings (that I actually took a photo of) was a half circular work hanging above the southern arch.  Called "Driving the Golden Spike" this artwork appeared to depict construction of the transcontinental railroad's last link.  The only problem was this happened in Utah, not Montana, so I'm not sure why this event was chosen for Montana's state Capitol building.

The Cowboy

A staircase continued to a third story.  Balconies beside two arched openings gave visitors a grand view of the ornate lobby below.

View looking down from the 3rd floor

Hallways off the main lobby lead to the Governor and Secretary of State's offices on either end.

Descending the staircase (and trying not get into mom's photo!)

Although it was blazing hot outside, I ventured out the Capitol's front doors to get some photos of the magnificent front lawns.  And the impressive statue front and center.

Outdoor statue

This statue of a man on horseback with sword raised depicts Civil War Union General Thomas Francis Meagher.  In 1864, he took over as territorial governor, and wrote an early constitution for Montana, hoping it would be used once Montana became a state.

Front of capitol bldg

Before I ducked back inside to the air conditioning, I took a few final shots of the Capitol's grand entrance.  Although the light was in a bad direction, I managed one halfway decent shot of the stone carvings adorneding the building's exterior (and I'm still puzzling over the "1899" date on front).

I hope you enjoyed this tour of Montana's gorgeous state Capitol building.  A laid-back friendly place, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to wander a good portion of the building and enjoy it's large collection of stunning artwork.  If you ever find yourself in Helena, a stop here is highly recommended. 


  1. This is an impressive building. Thanks for the look round.

  2. Wow! I think that is the neatest capital building interior I have seen (well through your pics) ever!!

  3. That really is a building worthy of being a Capitol building. Loved that stained glass window.

  4. Lovely Helena, indeed! I've been to Montana, but never its capitol. You really captured its beauty, and on such a beautiful day.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Hello Linda, thanks for sharing your visit to Helena. It is great that the Capital Helena is not one of the bigger cities. The capitol building is lovely inside and out. I like the statue too. Wonderful series of photos. Have a happy weekend!

  6. It is a beautiful building isn't it? I have been there many times for 4-H, FFA, and Agriculture functions. Hard to find building with such detail anymore. Glad you enjoyed it.

  7. I enjoyed these photos and descriptions of Montana's state capitol building. I need to go visit our capitol here in Connecticut now. Thank you for the inspiration.

  8. Just lovely! So much amazing colour and detail. That shot you took looking up into the rotunda is spectacular.

  9. The building is stunning inside and out, especially the dome. And the view from the third floor is spectacular. This was a state capitol building worth seeing!

  10. That's a very nice capitol building. We've been in a few of them in our travels (though I have not been to Oregons) and most are quite elaborate and beautifully restored. It always amazes me that the senate and house chambers are open to the visitors if they are not in session!

  11. It's a beautiful place indeed. If I get a chance to visit there, I will, but your photos make me feel like I've seen the best of it. Thank you so much!! :-)

  12. Linda, I absolutely love the gorgeous architectural details, and you have captured them beautifully! Thank you so much for sharing, I really enjoyed this tour!

  13. Hi! Nice collection of the capitol photos. I feel weight of the history. I like the stained glass window very much. Thanks for sharing.

  14. That is one very impressive building. Thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend.

  15. The interior is impressive and I like those paintings inside. Beautiful and meaningful. Whenever I reach a neaw place I also usually visit capitol buildings and churches.

  16. What wonderful architecture and adornments. Wow!

  17. You have provided a grand tour of this stunning building.

  18. Looks an interesting place for a visit.

  19. Love the tiles and the color scheme! Love the shot of the balcony too. Could the 1899 on the building's exterior refer to when construction started on it (10 years after statehood in 1889)?

  20. What a beautiful building! From the outside you would never guess how ornate it is on the inside. Thanks for the tour and the history too. :)

  21. A beautiful old building, like many of those state and provincial capitals. This one seems to have a lot more artwork painted directly on the walls. All the Canadian provincial capitals are in the bigger cities though, not smaller towns.

  22. That does look like an attractive Capitol. I've driven through Montana but didn't have time to explore, I need to do that some day.

  23. Lovely photos, (as always), and a wonderful travelogue as well.

  24. Such wonderful architectural detail, so lacking in today's buildings. Tom The Backroads Traveller

  25. Wow what a grand building that capital building is. Loved the dome and all the shots of the inside decor. Our own town (Walla Walla) could have been the state capital instead of Olympia but we chose the State Pen instead.

  26. Your photographic tour of the capitol building is impressive. I've been in Austin, TX and Olympia, WA capitol buildings as well as ours in OR. Interesting places! Thank you for sharing your journey even in the heat! Have a good week!

  27. All that detail and grandeur really impresses me, too, especially to think of the labor it involved back then.
    Places like these always get the wheels in my head turning. :)


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