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.
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.
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.
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.
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.