Capitol Lost: North Carolina's Gubernatorial Office & Museum

Friday, June 28, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

RALEIGH, North Carolina— In our quest to visit state capitol buildings, we arrived in the planned city of Raleigh seeking the North Carolina state house.  What we found is, there really isn't one.  The Greek Revival style structure completed in 1840 on Union Square that once served as the seat of state government today houses the offices of governor and lieutenant governor and their "immediate staffs" on the first floor.  The remainder of the building serves as a museum.

The North Carolina governor's office and museum
Visitors to the building are informed that the capitol (it still bears that moniker) has been changed less in appearance, inside and out, than any other major American civic building constructed in the early 1800s.  According to the self-guided tour brochure, "from 1990 to 2000, the capitol was meticulously restored to its 1840-1865 appearance, based on extensive physical and documentary research."  Quite impressive!  If the statehouse had air conditioning, electricity and modern plumbing during that period, it was significantly ahead of its time.

North Carolina's historic House Chamber
The building's second floor houses the rooms which served as the legislative chambers from 1840 until 1963, when state lawmakers abandoned their historic home and moved to the North Carolina State Legislative Building a block north. 

Gee, the state library recreated to its 1856 appearance!
On the third floor, North Carolina has created replicas of the state library room as it appeared in 1856 and the state geologist's office circa 1858.  Had we been yearning to visit the North Carolina historical museum, we probably would have found these mildly interesting. 

But we were in search of the North Carolina state capitol, the site of the active business of the state government.  North Carolina ranks in the top ten states in terms of population and the vibrancy of its economy.  This tired, yawn-inducing facility did not reflect our impression of the state.  There was no busy activity level reflective of today's North Carolina, just a few sleepy employees at the tour desk.

Lots of private offices in this public building
In the areas where state bureaucrats still occupy the "North Carolina Capitol," there was no evidence of democratic government at work.  All was concealed behind closed doors.  Every wing of the first floor, where current government offices are located, is blocked off.  Visitors, even citizens of the state, are clearly not welcome.  Although access to the sacred domain of the North Carolina governor is forbidden, His Honor was kind enough to offer a little ego exhibit of photographs of himself with President Obama, Billy Graham, and other dignitaries at the desk blocking the unwashed public from the hallway leading to his office.

Third floor corridor
With the exception of the first floor rotunda where a few plaques and busts honor the state's signers of the Declaration of Independence and other famous people and events in state history, most of the building is plain and unadorned.

The most surprising feature we found was an odd statue of George Washington in the rotunda.  Actually this is a 1970 copy of  a work commissioned by the state in 1816 and executed by an Italian sculptor who had never seen Washington.  The original was destroyed in an 1831 fire.

Giorgio Washington as Antonio Canova imagined him
With no concept of his intended subject and only a bust to work from, the sculptor relied on allegory.  The first President is depicted as a Roman general with a tunic and short cape.  In his hand is a stylus, with which he has presumably written the first few words of his farewell speech on a tablet—in Italian, a language Washington neither spoke nor understood. 

The three Presidents who were born in North Carolina were given a more realistic treatment.  Near the main entrance to the building is a bronze statue honoring Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Andrew Johnson.  In an interesting footnote, all three of these native North Carolinians were residing in Tennessee when they were elected to the presidency.

President Truman spoke at the 1948 unveiling of this monument
With so little going on at this government center, metered parking across the street was easily obtained.  The security screening was by far the oddest we have experienced anywhere.  Ever.  Before walking through the metal detector, the guard had us remove any suspicious objects from our pockets and place them on a table or in whatever bag we might be carrying.  The bag was also placed on the table (not screened) for us to retrieve after the guard had ensured we had nothing dangerous on our person.  Apparently what we carried in our bag was our own business.

Even though we checked it off our list, we harbor no illusion that we saw the seat of the North Carolina government.

More Photos from the North Carolina Capitol 

NC Capitol Dome
Corinthian columns in the old House Chamber, a rare decorative touch
Senate chamber
Main entrance to the building