The Ohio Statehouse is situated on a 10-acre parcel of land donated by John Kerr, Lyne Starling, John Johnston and Alexander McLaughlin, four prominent landholders in the Franklinton area on the west side of the Scioto River. At the time there was almost no development of the land on the east side of the Scioto River. All the development had been on the west side of the river where Lucas Sullivant had formed Franklinton. Although the east side of the river was better suited for settlement, that land was reserved for refugees from Nova Scotia. When most of these refugees sold off their interests in the area, Kerr, Starling, Johnston and McLaughlin were able to purchase much of the land in the area. It was there foresight and willingness to sacrifice a small portion of the land for the new Statehouse, that helped Ohio General Assembly to finally decide to build the new Capitol Building here and not some of the other locations being suggested.
The Statehouse began with a contest!
In 1838 the government announced a design competition to decide how the new government building would look. 50 entries from architects and artists around the country were received, and the winner was awarded to Henry Walter of Cincinnati.
Construction actively began on July 4, 1839 with the ceremonial laying of the cornerstone on the northeast corner of the statehouse. The cornerstone contains numerous documents, newspapers and other items of value.
It would take almost 23 years for the structure to be completed in 1861. Prison labor from the Ohio Penitentiary was used to construct the foundation and ground floors of the building. However, objections from skilled tradesmen who felt they were losing out on good-paying jobs, brought about changes in hiring practices for the remainder of the construction. This was just the first of many problems associated with the actual construction.
One of the architects submitted this painting, "The Architect's Dream" by landscape painter Thomas Cole. The architect felt the painting exhibited many of the qualities he would like to see incorporated into the statehouse design. Although architect Ithiel Town's proposal was not accepted, you can still see many of the qualities of the final design in Cole's painting. The original painting hangs in the Toledo Museum of Art. A copy of the painting hangs in the Statehouse.
The Statehouse is built in the Greek Revival style, a type of design based on the buildings of Ancient Greece and very popular in the U.S. during the early and mid-1800s simply because it was a design not association with Great Britain. There was also a strong association between the city-states of Ancient Greece where the birthplace of democracy began. Thus that style had great meaning in the young American nation.
Greek Revival was simple and straightforward and looked nothing like the Gothic Revival buildings popular in Europe and in particular, England, during the same period. The broad horizontal mass of the Statehouse and the even, regular rows of columns resemble such buildings as the Parthenon in Athens.
The statehouse is a masonry building, consisting largely of Columbus limestone on the exterior that is lined with brick on the interior on the exterior walls. The limestone was taken from a quarry on the west banks of the Scioto River. The stone of the Statehouse foundation is more than 18' deep.
Cincinnati's William Henry Powell painting of Perry's Victory commemorating the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812 was the first piece of artwork commissioned for the Statehouse in 1857 and was installed in the Capitol in early 1865. The painting was on display at the time of Lincoln's Funeral.
Commodore Perry is the central figure standing in the row boat and is considered the soul of the picture. With outstretched arm, and resolute and confident look, unconscious of his little brother, who is seen tugging at his brother's coat, or of the deprecating gesture of the helmsman to make him sit down and avoid exposure to enemy fire, Commodore Perry is displayed with courage and leadership that led to the great Victory of Lake Erie.
After seeing Powell's work, the United State Senate commissioned him to create a similar painting for the United State Capitol Rotunda
During the course of the Statehouse's construction, 22 years would pass, but it would not be a period of non-stop work. Construction would cease during the harsh winter months, and as the project would exceed its budget, there would often be halts in construction as new funding was arranged. The longest gap in construction came about when the legislation making Columbus the state capitol was due to expire. There was an 8 year lapse between 1840 and 1848 when no work was done on the Statehouse. The completed basement and foundations were actually filled in with soil and Capitol Square was used as a pasture.
There would be 7 different architects for the building. One of the most notable Statehouse architects was Ohio-born Nathan B. Kelley who lived and worked most of his life in Columbus. In contrast to the simple and straightforward exteriors of the building, Kelley used a great deal of ornamentation and detail on the building's interiors. Kelley took these steps because he felt an important building such as the Statehouse should look and feel imposing as well as impressive. He was fired because the commissioners overseeing the project felt these extra flourishes were both too expensive and too lavish for the original design of the building.
Nathan B. Kelley was responsible for many of the architectural improvements of the Statehouse as well.
One of the features Kelley incorporated was a cistern system used to collect rain water that was stored in massive tanks on the upper floor that was used for sewage removal from the indoor facilities. One of the cisterns is partially visible through the arched doorway shown at left.
It was also Kelley who discovered that the Statehouse had been planned without any heating or ventilation system. He corrected this problem by building brick walls inside the building that he referred to as "air sewers" that would function like ductwork in a modern heating system, moving air throughout the building. The system is based on forced ventilation, which pushes air through the building, a common concept used in modern day construction, but way ahead of its time in Kelley's day. The system was so efficient that attempts of "renovators" to seal off these ventilation ducts would be largely unsuccessful because the covers would eventually blow off.
The Statehouse was opened to legislators and the public in 1857 when legislators began meeting in their respective chambers and the executive offices were being put to use. The Statehouse was finally completed in 1861.
In 1901, the need for additional space resulted in the construction of the building directly east of the Capitol Building. At the time of its construction, this building was known as the Judiciary Annex and it housed Ohio's Supreme Court, the Attorney General's Office, and 4 other state department offices.
The Statehouse has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1978. This honor recognizes the long history of the building and the continued role it will have in the life and lawmaking of the state of Ohio.
During the restoration project in the early 1990s, original graffiti sketched by some of the Ohio Penitentiary prisoners was uncovered. One sketch is a profile of a man's face with the word "Badger" scrawled above it. By searching records at the Ohio Historical Society, the restoration team was able to locate information about Ephraim Badger, who was imprisoned from 1846-1849 for burglary. His record states that he was pardoned in 1849 "for service to the state."
Restoring the grandeur as it was designed to be
As all seven of the architects originally intended, the Ohio Statehouse should not only serve as an edifice of government, but it should also be a showcase of our culture and heritage as Ohioans and Americans.
1945 painting by Howard Chandler Christy of the Treaty of Green Ville that hangs in the Statehouse.
The Capitol Square restoration master plan was released in October 1989. A very important reason to renovate was the mere fact that the buildings on Capitol Square had fallen into a terrible state of disrepair and, in many cases, were unsafe.
Not to Code
Neither the Statehouse nor the Senate Building conformed to 20th-century building codes. In fact, neither building had a fire sprinkler system. Wiring and other mechanical delivery systems were left exposed. The electrical system was inadequate for the demands of modern office equipment and computers. Asbestos was present in the buildings. The roofs leaked. Many rooms lacked safe exit routes, and there were numerous dead-end corridors, in which people could become trapped in the event of an emergency.
In addition, most of the changes that had been made over the years destroyed the historic and aesthetic qualities of the structures. Several two-story spaces were subdivided with intermediate floors. There were as many as 7 floors in the Statehouse where there used to be just 3. Most rooms in the building had over the years been "renovated" with ugly dropped ceilings, which often times hid skylights and other original decorative work. In some rooms, the ceiling had been dropped as many as 3 times.
The Statehouse's steam heating system was inefficient because it was originally designed for the large existing rooms, but had been later partitioned into many smaller rooms. To cool the building in the summer months, there were 96 separate air-conditioning systems in the Statehouse and Senate Building. Occasionally, these units exhausted directly into other rooms, which in turn needed two or more air-conditioning units to keep cool. Over the years, when additional office space was needed, rooms were simply subdivided into smaller and smaller rooms, until a building that was originally designed to hold 53 rooms now contained 317.
The Capitol Square grounds, consisting of a 10-acre public park that surrounded the Statehouse, had also fallen into disrepair and required extensive renovation.
All of these issues were addressed in the 1989 renovation proposal. Over a period of about 7 years, the entire building was restored to its original splendor and functionality. The dropped ceilings were removed. The partitions were removed, the broken windows fixed and the skylights were re-glazed. Today the Statehouse looks much as it did when it first opened to the public in 1861 with the exception of the electric lighting, and even these are similar in style to the kerosene lamps used in the building originally.
The Senate Building
As originally constructed the Senate Building was separate from the Statehouse. Recent renovations added the Atrium in 1993 that connect the Statehouse and the Senate Building. Although the building is referred to as the Senate Building, it was actually the Judiciary Annex and was completed in 1901. This building housed the Supreme Court, Attorney General and 4 state agencies. Today the building houses just the Senate offices. The center hall (pictured left) is called the Grand Stair Hall.
Compared to the Statehouse, the architectural detail is strikingly different.
The Atrium was completed as part of the last major renovation of the Statehouse in 1993. Prior to the addition of the Atrium, there were steps that went down from the east porch of the Capitol Building, and then up to the Senate Building. Now that area has been leveled and enclosed a provides an ideal location for special events.
When visiting the Atrium, note the pigeon perched above the doorway to the Senate Building. It is there as a reminder of what used to be called the Pigeon Run which is what legislative members had to do when crossing from one building to the next to avoid droppings from the 100s of pigeons that inhabited the eaves of both buildings.