Checking Out a Capitol

Wednesday, November 13, 2013 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Denver, CO to Cheyenne, WY

Leaving Denver (pop. 600,158) this morning, we drove 100 miles north on I-25 to the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne (pop 59,446).  Ease of access was significantly improved with the drastic reduction in size, but in both cities, we were able to park easily across the street from the state capitol.  When we arrived, a small electric lift was parked in front of the entrance, obviously in the process of hanging holiday decorations on the building's exterior (pictured above).

Skirting the cherry picker, we walked up the main stairs, fully expecting to find them locked with a sign posted indicating where we should enter.  No sign, and the doors were unlocked, so we walked in, finding ourselves in the capitol rotunda.  With no security personnel to check us out, we eyeballed each other, declared us safe, and proceeded to the information desk.   Personnel who previously manned the desk had been replaced with a sign indicating that lack of funding had reduced staff in that area.  However, a self-guided tour brochure was prominently displayed, along with other printed material offered free of charge.

Directly across from this desk was a State Trooper workstation, where two of Wyoming's finest were on duty.  Though our gawking at the dome and beeline movement toward the information desk could tip off even a rookie detective that we were tourists, the troopers found chatting with each other far more important and interesting than greeting visitors to their state capitol.  This turned out to be a pattern for the duration of our visit.  Not a single employee of the Wyoming capitol initiated an interaction with us, as we wandered through their statehouse, obvious tourists.

Checkers, anyone?
One of the most striking, and immediately apparent, features of the Wyoming statehouse is the flooring.   Black and white marble native to the state was used effectively to create a memorable appearance.  A close inspection reveals numerous fossils in the black tiles.

Gallery of Wyoming governors
The east wing of the first floor is home to the typical governor's portrait gallery.  With the adopted nickname of the Equality State, Wyoming is proud of its claim as the first known government to grant women's suffrage.  When women were given the right to vote in Wyoming Territory in 1869, there was speculation that the measure was an attempt to attract more women to the territory.  In 1925, Wyoming voters elected Nellie Tayloe Ross the first woman governor of a U.S. state, putting to rest the conjecture that women's suffrage had been just a marketing ploy.

House chamber
The legislative chambers are on opposite wings of the second floor.  These wings were added to the 1888 statehouse in 1917.  The state legislature has 60 representatives and 30 senators, who hold 40-day general legislative sessions only in odd-numbered years.  In even-numbered years, budget sessions begin in February and last for 20 days.  In 2001, the army-issued metal desks in both chambers were replaced with Wyoming-manufactured oak desks with granite desktops from a state quarry.

Skylight in Senate chamber
The ceilings in both legislative chambers feature Tiffany-style stained glass skylights inlaid with the Wyoming State Seal.  A three-year total restoration of the stained glass ceilings was completed in 2004.  Each panel was taken apart, cleaned and re-leaded, a daunting task involving more than 20,000 individual pieces of glass.

Interior dome
Visible from the central rotunda, the capitol's interior dome also features a stained glass skylight imported from England.  The state seal is painted on the surrounding panels.

Upside-down spindle
As in the South Dakota State Capitol, one of the balusters on a staircase of the capitol was intentionally inverted.  During the era when both buildings were constructed, this was apparently a common practice, meant to symbolize the belief that no person—or law—is perfect.

It has been said that the repetitive pattern of the floor, coupled with the banisters and railings, can generate a visual over-stimulation that results in vertigo when peering off a balcony from the upper floor.  We can't verify or dispute that, but there are some interesting optical illusions created by all those squares.  Moreover, the unusually low 30" height of the railings around the balconies (all carrying a "Caution" sign) is enough to give one pause by itself.

The state is currently conducting studies to guide a major renovation and restoration of the capitol with an estimated budget of $80 to $100 million.  Numerous issues will be addressed to bring the building up to modern standards, including a fire sprinkler system, improved handicapped accessibility, asbestos removal, and replacement of outdated electrical wiring.  The most recent partial renovation was completed in the 1970s.  In an interesting twist, the restoration task force has invited the public to participate in the project by sharing historic photos of the capitol interior to help in the identification of historic features and finishes which may have been covered up in earlier renovations.  Photos from 1886  to 1980 are sought to help the team identify what interior finishes looked like in different historical periods.

At only 100,000 square feet, the Wyoming State Capitol took us less than our typical two hours to tour.  Though we found the capitol attractive, there seems to be something of a mismatch between the Renaissance Revival exterior and the interior with its preponderance of marble checkerboard tiles and cherry wood finishes.  Perhaps the incongruity resulted from a previous renovation.  The restoration project when completed will tell the tale.

Wyoming Capitol Stats:
  • Architect:  David Gibbs
  • Exterior:  Wyoming sandstone
  • Dome:  24-carat gold leaf
  • Height:  146 feet
  • Construction:  1886-88; Wings:  1917
  • Occupied:  1888
  • Original cost:  $131,275 (not including wings)
  • Size:  100,000 square feet

Chief Washakie bronze statue near entrance
Interior dome
Taxidermy on first floor
Senate chamber