If you get the opportunity and a few free hours, the Ohio Statehouse is a great place to spend an afternoon and see your tax dollars at work. The Ohio Statehouse is open for visitors during regular hours. There's a couple different options for touring the Capitol Building. Free guided tours are offered on the hour by professional tour guides that know the ins and outs of the Statehouse. They'll give you plenty of information and answer most of your questions as long as they're not political in nature. The Guided Tours also provide entrance into the Senate Chambers which are usually locked when the Senate is not in session.
The other option is to take a self-guided tour. At the front desk on the 3rd Street entrance you can pick up a Self-Guided Tour brochure that will give you a map of each floor and a basic explanation of each of the major rooms as well as the Capitol Gardens and statuary on the exterior of the Capitol building. What you don't get to see is the Governor's Office, but you do get to see a photograph of the Governor's Office and how it has been restored to look much as it did a 100 years ago. You also won't get to visit the behind the scenes of the Capitol's Dome. This, however, can sometimes be seen on the Haunted Tour that takes place in the fall. Make arrangements early, though, as spaces fill up very quickly.
Grand Stair Hall is in the center of the Senate Building that was built in 1901
Upon entering the 3rd Street entrance, you'll be greeted by the Information Desk and security. Beyond the Information Desk, you'll see the first level of the Grand Stair Hall and the entrance to the Crypt on the Ground Floor.
Ground Floor: the Crypt
On the Ground Floor (basement of the Statehouse) are many of the exhibits that obviously relate to Ohio's history. This will also be the location of the new Statehouse Museum which should open in 2008. The Ground Floor or more often referred to as the Crypt used to be damp, equipment-filled garage. Originally, there were 2 entrances where horse drawn wagons could enter the building to deliver coal for the furnaces. Legislators sometimes also boarded their horses in the stables while they attended to business upstairs. Since the renovation the crypt has become an information packed part of the Capitol building and is the usual starting point of the tour in the central hallway that is called the Map Room.
The Map Room located in the center of the Crypt
The Map Room aptly named because of the stone inlaid outline of Ohio and all 88 counties. Here you can walk the width and breadth of the state in less than 10 seconds. One of the interesting aspects of the Crypt is being able to see the foundation walls of the Capitol, and see for yourself how each of the hand-cut stones were laid by prisoners from the Ohio State Penitentiary that was once located on Spring Street across the street from North Bank Park. Almost all of the manual labor was performed by prison labor during the 20+ years of construction.
Most of the passages are made up of arches and vaults that support the entire weight of the structure without the use of steel. You'll also note there are several inverted arches made of brick laid into the stonework. These arches are an engineering solution to support the massive exterior columns of the statehouse. If you happen to visit the Kelton House Museum on Town Street, which was built at about the same time as the Statehouse, you'll find these same inverted arch features. They provide a way of equally distributing the weight of the load above over a number of the mortared stone walls thus making it more stable.
Above photo shows guide pointing out the differences in prison workers techniques and skill levels in laying stone..
The square flooring tiles shown in the Lancaster House stagecoach above, came from the demolished state insane asylum. The brick flooring is from the Ohio State Penitentiary.
Located on the northeast corner of the statehouse, well below ground level is the cornerstone. Not normally open to the public, it is part of some of the special tours offered by the Statehouse. When you get to see the actual statehouse cornerstone, it's rather surprising. There is no carving or date inscription. In fact, if you didn't have a knowledgeable guide, you would probably just pass the stone by.
When you see the stone, you're actually seeing only one end of it that is exposed. It is about 30" wide and 24" tall, with a 12" lid. Nicknamed the "coffin" because of it's shape, the cornerstone is about 6' long. Packed inside and sealed since 1839, are a number of important official documents such as a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Charter of the Northwest Territory, and documents relating to the creation of the state. A long list of other items included newspapers of the day, a Bible, some coins, and other items that have been sealed in lead lined glass jars.
The Cupola is the round structure on top of the Capitol Building that sits like a crown. Again, access to this part of the building is through special tours. There is a stone spiral staircase that leads up to the first level and then you take a narrow winding staircase up to the top room that surrounds the Rotunda.
At one time the Cupola was open to visitors to the statehouse. In fact, up until 1927 when the LeVeque tower was built, the statehouse was the tallest building in downtown Columbus and honeymooners would visit the statehouse and spend some quality time in the Cupola looking out over the capital city.
Gift Shop / Cafeteria
Also on the Ground Floor is the Statehouse Gift Shop and Cafeteria. Both of these are open to the public, but are closed on Sundays.
The first floor is the where you would be if you came through the High Street entrance which is now usually closed. This is where the Rotunda is located as well as the refurbished Governor's Office. Your guide will probably point out that the desk is the original Salmon P. Chase's desk used when he occupied the office in 1856.
The Rotunda has a skylight that is about 120' above the floor. At the center is the original seal of Ohio. The entire skylight is 29' wide and the seal is a hand-painted version of the seal that was in use in 1861 when the Statehouse was completed. The seal itself is 32" in diameter and is considerably different from the seal commonly in use today. There are several striking differences as viewed from the floor.
The most obvious difference is the Scioto River is much wider and it has a canal boat in the middle. Also the sheaf of wheat is on the left side and the arrows are on the right (just the opposite of today's version). The hills in the background and both blue and green, while today's seal these are completely green.
The Rotunda's floor is made of about 5,000 hand cut pieces of marble that came from around the world.
The Rotunda also serves many dignitary purposes, the most important of which, was the laying-in-state of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. Over the years many dignitaries were paid their last respects here. Many Ohio governors have been sworn into office in the Rotunda. And today, you can have your wedding in the Rotunda to make it a truly capitol affair.
Grand Stair Hall
One of the truly beautiful features in the Statehouse Complex is the Grand Stair Hall which is in the Senate Building. Completed in 1901, the Grand Stair Hall is a matching pair of staircases that go to the second floor. At the top of the open area is a stained glass State Seal surrounded by murals that depict important Ohio themes: Art, Justice, Agriculture and Manufacturing.
At the time the Senate Building was built, Ohio had just entered the 20th Century. We were just a few years away from the invention of the airplane. Electric lighting was just then being introduced into homes. The Senate Building was wired for electricity as well as having gas lines installed for gas lamps, a popular form of lighting prior to electricity.
Today, much of the Senate Building is devoted to offices and hearing rooms.
The Two Houses of Government
The heart of the Statehouse are the working chambers where State Senators and State Representatives meet to discuss the workings of Ohio government and to enact laws. Both chambers are equal in size to symbolically reflect their equal powers even though the Senate only has 33 members and the House has 99 members.
When the Statehouse was first constructed, the State Senators used their desks in the Senate Chamber as their only office.
The Ohio Statehouse is not only an important historic building, but it is also a working building and a building for the people of Ohio. Everyone should take the time to tour the building to see for themselves the majestic beauty that can be seen in its construction and adornment.