Capitol celebrated as historic landmark

Published 9:30 pm Thursday, May 4, 2017

JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi officials are celebrating the designation of the state Capitol as a National Historic Landmark.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and others took part in a ceremony Thursday inside the structure that is still a working statehouse.

The Capitol cost only $1 million when it was built between 1901 and 1903. It has undergone multiple restoration efforts, including current work to make the dome waterproof.

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The National Park Service announced last fall that the Capitol would join more than 2,500 other sites in the U.S. with landmark status.

The building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969. Elbert Hilliard, director emeritus of the state Department of Archives and History, said gaining landmark status is “the top level of distinction.”

More than 100 people attended the ceremony, including descendants of Gov. Andrew Houston Longino, who was in office when the Capitol was built.

House Speaker Philip Gunn, a Republican from Clinton, read aloud from an 1897 Mississippi House journal that one of his friends bought at an antique store in North Carolina. The slim volume included state officials’ notes about the need for a new Capitol to replace the deteriorating structure that was just a few blocks away in downtown Jackson.

Some of the ideas from 1897 came to fruition, but many did not. One proposal said the new Capitol would face west, but it was built with main entrances facing north and south. The journal said the new building would need a waterproof basement to store books, stationery and coal, and that each room would need a fireplace. The basement is now used for offices and a legislative reference bureau. With electrical heating and cooling, there’s no need for coal or fireplaces.

Senate President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, a Republican from Newton, recalled the solemn responsibility he felt the first time he walked into the Capitol after being elected in 1991. He said that feeling hasn’t diminished:  “That awe strikes me every day when I walk in here. It’s a beautiful building. It’s a great place to come to work.”