Mississippi State Capitol Tour

Part 2. The Interior Art and Architecture

David Smitherman
11 min readApr 27, 2024

The Mississippi State Capitol layout is symmetrical and grand, reflecting the beauty of the buildings exterior facade. It features a Rotunda in the center with the Governor’s Office over the south facing front entrance and a Grand Staircase on the north side. At each end are the House and Senate Chambers, with offices and meeting rooms along the connecting corridors.

Second Floor Plan, now called the Third Floor.

The floor levels have changed from the original plans, such that the second floor in the original plan above is called the Third Floor today. It includes the main entrances to the House Chamber, Governor’s Office, and Senate Chamber. In 1903 the first level was called the Basement on the architects plans, but has since been upgraded as the First Floor for the main visitors entrance. This upgrade was made in 1982, and includes a public entrance that met accessibility requirements, security check points, a visitor reception area, gift shop, and the Hall of Governors.

The visitor reception area features an information desk under the central stair where guided tours are available several times throughout the day. Historical information is available on the building, along with self guided tour information, along with historical photographs of the building construction from the Theodore Link Collection.

Visitors desk under the first level stair from the rotunda, and elevator details.

The central stair provides access to the Rotunda and upper floors, as does an original electric elevator, also updated in 1982, and displaying beautiful Art Nouveau detailing.

Hall of Governors, 1st Floor

On the first floor from the central entrance, are long hallways known as the Hall of Governors, leading to offices and meeting rooms along its length to the east and west ends of the building. On display along the hall are portraits of all the former governors of Mississippi and the Mississippi Territory since 1798.

Hall of Governors, and stair to the Rotunda.

The columns supporting the Rotunda above use a black Belgian marble and an art marble called scagliola. Up one level is the Rotunda under the central dome of the Capitol.

Rotunda, 2nd Floor

The Rotunda is open from the 2nd Floor to the 4th Floor and the dome above. The main entrance on the south side is closed to the public, but can be used for special events. The north side features the Grand Staircase leading to the upper levels, and behind the stair another entrance to the north side of the building, also reserved for special events.

Original entrance on 2nd level, and the Grand Staircase to the 3rd and 4th levels.

The Rotunda features finishes in Italian white marble trimmed with black Belgian marble, cast iron balustrades, and columns designed in the classic Five Orders of Architecture, primarily Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, but also including elements of Tuscan and Composite. In addition, there is an abundant use of a man made art marble called scagliola, in a variety of tones, that has been in common use since the 17th century. In all, there are ten different types of marble utilized throughout the building, including marble from Tennessee, Georgia, Vermont, Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy.

Rotunda as seen from the second floor level.

The interior color scheme was white until 1934, when a new color scheme was designed by architect A. Hays Town, as part of the Civil Works Administration painting project. The Dome, Grand Staircase, and legislative Chambers best exemplify his work to brighten and enhance the interior architecture.

Dome interior above the rotunda.

A Hays Town, 1903 to 2005, was born in Crowley Louisiana, and studied engineering at the Southwestern Louisiana Institute, and architecture at Tulane University in New Orleans Louisiana. Town became a noted Modernist architect for state and commercial buildings, but he was also a noted residential architect developing his own style influenced by the Spanish, French, and Creole history of Louisiana. Many of the homes he designed and built included his interior designs for colors and furnishings.

Below the Dome near the top of the Rotunda are four medallions portraying scenes from Mississippi’s history.

Murals of Native Americans, and Colonists.

These scenes, by an unknown artist, represent Native Americans, European Colonists, Confederate Generals, and Mother Mississippi.

Confederate General, and Mother Mississippi.

At the top of each arch around the Rotunda is a relief medallion of Lady Justice, also by an unknown artist, and at the base of each arch are statuary niches that are not being utilized for sculptures as are normally found in many capitol rotundas.

Rotunda from fourth level, and Blind Justice or Lady Justice sculptural relief.

The Rotunda, in particular, exemplifies the use of electric lighting that is original to the building. In 1903, electric lighting was a new technology, as were the electric elevators that were original to the building design. There are about 750 original light fixtures in the Rotunda, and another 4000 throughout the building.

The State Library and the Supreme Court, 2nd Floor

The State Library and the Supreme Court chamber are located at opposite ends of the building, and are no longer in use for those purposes. Both functions have relocated to larger facilities in downtown Jackson.

Entrances to the State Library, and Supreme Court.

Today the old State Library is utilized as offices and meeting rooms for the House representatives and staff, which is not accessible to the public. The Supreme Court chamber is used by the Senate for committee meetings, and is accessible when not in use. It features the original layout and furnishings from 1903. Note the letters in the signage for the Supreme Court. The architect selected the Latin alphabet for lettering, which does not have a U, so the letter V was used instead.

The Supreme Court chamber includes the only bust found in the building. It is that of of Evelyn Gandy who was the first woman in several elected offices in Mississippi, including serving as Lieutenant Governor from 1976 to 1980. As Lieutenant Governor she presided over the Senate. The sculpture is by Sam Gore, 2010.

Former Supreme Court chamber entrance, and sculpture of Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Gandy by Sam Gore, 2010.

Samuel Marshall Gore, 1927 to 2019, was born in Coolidge Texas, and studied at Mississippi College in Clinton Mississippi, where he became the founder of the Mississippi College Art Department in the 1950s.

Grand Staircase, 2nd to 4th Floors

The Grand Staircase features a variety of marble colors and decorative details that form a beautiful ascent up the interior of the Rotunda. The stair does not have handrails, which does not meet code, as was asked on our tour. Instead, it is preserved in its original design, which did not have the same code requirements as we have today. But elevators are available, and there are fire exits that meet current codes, located off the main corridors that span the length of the building on each floor.

Grand Staircase landing from the third to fourth floors.

Of note at the top of the stair in particular, is the elaborate color scheme added by the architect A Hays Town as part of the Civil Works Administration painting project of 1933.

Grand Staircase fourth floor, and the circular Art Nouveau window.

The art glass and leaded glass panels, included in many areas throughout the capitol, are the work of Louis Millet Company of Chicago. They are noticeable in particular at the Grand Staircase windows, the domes and walls of Senate and House Chambers, the Governor’s Office reception windows, and the ceilings of the third and fourth floor corridors.

The landing between the second and third floors of the Grand Staircase feature three stained glass windows depicting a Native American, Mother Mississippi, and a Pioneer Settler.

Native American, Mother Mississippi, Pioneer Settler, by Louis Millet.

Louis Millet, 1856 to 1923, studied in Paris and taught at the Art Institute in Chicago. He formed a partnership in 1879 with George Healy, a portraitist, who likely assisted with the design of these panels above.

Governor’s Office, 3rd Floor

The Governor’s legislative session offices are located in the Capitol, but the Governor’s main office is located in another building. The space is not accessible to the public, but is utilized during legislative sessions and for ceremonial events.

Governor’s office.

Included in the Governor’s office is a reception room that spans the width of the upper level of the front portico, and is noticeable by the leaded glass windows that are visible from the exterior below the Pediment.

Also on the third floor are the entrances to the Senate and House Chambers at opposite ends of the building, with public balconies to each, accessible from the fourth floor.

Senate Chamber, 3rd and 4th Floors

The main entrance to the Senate Chamber is on the third floor, which is only for Senate members, 52 in all, and their staff. Visitors can access the chamber and view sessions from the balconies on the fourth floor.

Senate Chamber entrance on the third level.

Meetings were in progress, and access even to the public galleries on the fourth floor was restricted. So these interior photographs were made through the entrance windows on the fourth floor.

Senate Chamber interior as seen from the Gallery entrance windows on the fourth level.

The interior of the Senate Chamber features and elaborate display of color and form, with marble faced balconies and Corinthian columns, a beautiful dome with art glass skylights, and elaborate painted details including that of a Native American blended into the design. An inscription around the oculus of the dome reads …

THE PEOPLES GOVERNMENT, MADE FOR THE PEOPLE, MADE BY THE PEOPLE, AND ANSWERABLE TO THE PEOPLE.

House of Representatives Chamber, 3rd and 4th levels

The main entrance to the House Chamber is also on the third floor at the opposite end of the building from the Senate Chamber. There are 122 members, and like the Senate, this entrance is restricted to House members and staff.

House Chamber entrance on third level.

The House Gallery entrance on the fourth floor was open, and photography was permitted since there meeting had closed for the day. The interior is as beautiful and elaborate as the Senate Chamber, and features the original furnishings from 1903. Millet’s Art Nouveau stained glass dome, scagliola marble over a black Belgium marble, and the elaborate details in bright colors render a beautiful composition. Included in the unique details is the Mississippi coat of arms above each of the arches around the room.

House Chamber and Mississippi Coat of Arms as seen from the Public Gallery on the fourth floor.

Skylight System

An elaborate natural lighting plan was put in place by the architect, Theodore Link, for the third and fourth floor corridors leading to the House and Senate Chambers and public galleries. This scheme was the suggestion of Bernard Green, the civil engineer that selected Link’s design from the original State House design competition.

Skylight above fourth floor and fourth floor corridor to the House Gallery.

Link added more skylights on the roof to illuminate the fourth floor, and glass block in the floor of the fourth floor to illuminate the third floor, and Millet provide the beautiful art glass panels in both ceilings to enhance the beauty of the natural light coming through.

The Mississippi State Capitol is a remarkable work of architecture that presents a grand, well organized, and beautiful presentation fitting for a government that is by the people. Most state capitols use the grounds and interior galleries to provide historical context to how their state and its governance came about. That is lacking at the Mississippi capitol, but could easily be remedied through more sculpture and artistic displays depicting important figures from state history, including more on Native Americans, European Colonialism, Slavery, Women, and African Americans.

I plan to write more about the history of the Capitols with the Old Capitol Museum tour, which I also visited while in Jackson earlier this year. So stay tuned.

Travel Notes

A guided tour from the visitors desk on the first floor is provided several times a day, and well worth the time. I recommend you check in there first for the next tour, or check out the latest schedule online at https://www.legislature.ms.gov/about-the-capitol/tour-information/.

Travel map, and the author.

Jackson is southeast of my home in Huntsville Alabama, and was my home as a kid, growing up there from 1965 to 1970. The capitol grounds and surrounding areas are beautiful, but sadly, my old neighborhood, which is not to far away, looks like a war zone, with many abandoned houses and vacant lots.

Traveling by electric car is getting easier, with several new charging stations now available. Along this route my options included Tesla Superchargers in Huntsville, several in the Birmingham area, one near Tuscaloosa, Merridian, and Jackson, plus the overnight charger I used at the Holiday Inn.

Notes and References

Story and photographs by David Smitherman, with data collected from onsite inscriptions and brochures, Wikipedia, and Google Maps. Site visits were made in January 2020 and March 2024.

On line video, “Experience the Mississippi State Capitol, A National Historic Landmark,” produced by the Mississippi Public Broadcasting, 2021. Available at their Virtual Tour, https://www.legislature.ms.gov/about-the-capitol/virtual-tour/.

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David Smitherman

Retired architect and space architect from NASA. Married with a growing family. Currently into travel, historical architecture, photography and genealogy.