The Capitol Decorations Commission understood the value of first impressions. They commissioned a design for a memorable entrance even before a guest went inside. A 79-step grand staircase climbs slowly from the outside front portico, beginning well beyond the white limestone walls. The stairs are lined with red Tennessee maplewood and lead to an entry hall with more than 9,000 square feet of space. The commission also wanted a building that was functional as well as attractive.
The Missouri Legislature approved funding for a new capitol in 1845. The following year, they hired Philadelphia architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe to design the structure. Latrobe's design was an eclectic mix of French Renaissance style and American architecture. It features large columns on the exterior and interior, as well as domes over the Senate and House chambers. The total cost of the construction project was $3 million ($38.5 million in 2010 dollars). The cornerstone was laid in 1846 and the capitol was completed four years later. It was the largest single expense item in the state budget at that time.
The decorative scheme for the capitol was designed by Charles Bulfinch, who also created designs for New York City's Federal Hall and the Massachusetts State House. Bulfinch used warm tones and textures such as marble and wood to create a feeling of luxury without spending too much money. He also incorporated some modern improvements such as central heating and plumbing.
I recall when you could easily stroll up the steps and inside the capital, but that is no longer the case. Guards and guard rails are present. It's lovely, so simply standing back and admiring it will be pleasurable, but don't expect to come within a block of the capitol.... Actually, don't come at all if you have any kind of medical problem because it's very difficult to escape quickly if something happens.
The whole area is really set up as a living museum with representatives from each state group-ing together to play host to tourists from around the world. There are stores and restaurants where you can buy food like hot dogs and hamburgers, but they don't allow plastic knives or forks. I suppose if you were going to steal something, you would use a knife from one of the many bars nearby. The last thing you want is to get caught with an uneaten burger!
There are also free tours available of various parts of the building, but they fill up fast so make sure to sign up early.
All in all, it's a nice place to visit, especially if you're a history buff. But if you have any mobility issues, think twice before heading out to see the sights.
Visitors are welcome to visit the building through the Capitol Visitor Center, which is located underground on the Capitol's east side. You may start your Capitol experience at the Visitor Center by checking out our temporary exhibitions, browsing our gift shops, or dining in our restaurant. Please go across the U.S. Capitol Building from the White House to find these attractions.
The center offers an orientation film about Congress and the government, a display about the creation of the United States, a gallery of famous faces from American history, an exhibition about freedom and democracy, a video about how Washington, D.C., was built, and more.
The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Dec 25. Guided tours of the Capitol leave from the Visitor Center at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. (recommended for adults only) and last approximately 90 minutes. The cost is $20 per person; free with congressional pass; $5 for children ages 6-17. Children under 6 are not allowed in the Capitol during visiting hours.
For those interested in seeing up close where members of Congress come to work, there are two ways to do this. You can join one of the free, public Open Houses held throughout the year, or you can hire a consultant for $100,000 or more per year.
Washington was greeted at the site of the Capitol by Joseph Clark, Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Maryland. A silver plaque crafted by Georgetown silversmith Caleb Bentley was presented to Washington, who went into the foundation trench and deposited the plaque before lowering the cornerstone. The following day, Congress approved a resolution making the 4th of July the official opening of the new building.
In 1848, while excavating the foundation for the National Mall, workers discovered the remains of the cornerstone. It is now on display in the United States Capitol Visitor Center near the Senate Office Building.
The Capitol was built over several years, from 1792 to 1795. Its original design called for a single large chamber with a domed roof, but due to financial difficulties this was changed to two smaller chambers with flat roofs when Thomas Jefferson became president in 1801. Although not originally planned, the Capitol also has an attic space that can be accessed through small doorways located between some of its floors. This allows air to flow through the building and reduces its energy consumption during hot summers.
The United States Congress voted to declare the first Monday of January as a national day of mourning. This was later changed to the third Monday in January. On the fourth of July, 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed a joint resolution establishing the federal holiday in memory of the men who had died building the Capitol.