The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.
The structure that previously occupied the current Capitol's location was destroyed in a fire. Construction of the present building took six years and was completed in 1888. The unique color of the building comes from the use of sunset red granite (more later about the red granite). In 1990 there was a major restoration and renovation project, which included an underground extension where visitors can have a bite in the cafeteria and shop in the gift store.
The Senate chamber is beautiful and stately and houses some of the most important art in the Capitol. There are 31 original walnut desks created by A.H. Andrews Company in Chicago and purchased in 1880 that are still in use. They've only been slightly modified to install microphones and telephones. Visitors can sit in the House and Senate galleries and witness lawmaking in action!
In addition to the portraits of political leaders, there are two large canvasses in the back of the chamber. They were painted by Henry McArdle, an Irishman who moved to Texas after the Civil War, and depict two of the most important battles in Texas history, the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto.
"Remember the Alamo" is a famous Texas saying that originates with the Battle of the Alamo. McArdle's painting is an artistic depiction of the event, meaning it may not be completely historically accurate, although it's known that McArdle did extensive research on the event. The Battle of the Alamo was a fight for important cross-border territory in Texas between Mexican Troops and Texans in 1836. The Texans held the fort at the Alamo for 10 days despite being incredibly outnumbered by the Mexican troops. The battle stands as a source of inspiration to Texans and a reminder to stand strong under seemingly unbeatable odds. McArdle's painting is called "Dawn at the Alamo."
The second of McArdle's paintings depicts the Battle of San Jacinto. The artist conducted numerous interviews and even walked the battlefield with surviving veterans during his research. The resulting painting is a heart-wrenching depiction of an event that helped define Texas. On April 21, 1836, Texans defeated the Mexican soldiers in the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution. The entire battle only lasted 18 minutes.
The House of Representatives is the largest room in the capitol building and reflects the adage that "everything's bigger in Texas." One hundred and thirty politicians gather there, each accommodated by a stately oak desk. Like the desks in the Senate Chamber, these were also made by A.H. Andrews Company. Each desk is complemented by a grand, brown leather chair custom made in 1941.
The chandeliers, at first glance, look like nice, old-fashioned fixtures and nothing more. However, if you look closely, you'll see that the bulbs spell out Texas. A bit of fun in an otherwise, serious, stately chamber.
The Capitol building commission held a design competition in 1880, and the following year they chose a renaissance revival style design by Elijah E. Meyers of Detroit. Controversy arose between the team in charge of building over what materials to use. Some thought it would be okay to source foreign materials, but the overwhelming majority wanted to use native stone. Traditionally, limestone was used in similar projects, and Abner Taylor, the chief contractor, suggested they obtain materials from Indiana. However, the governor, John Ireland wanted to use red granite.
They finally struck a deal with landowners who donated the red granite that now gives the building its unique pink look. Initially, the stone was quarried by convict labor, but because of difficulties with the criminals, the builders decided to hire labor from Scotland. This decision directly violated The Contract Labor Act of 1885 and caused further problems in completing construction. Despite all of the building challenges, it was completed in six years. Even in the late 1800s, Texans knew how to party! There was a HUGE celebration to commemorate the completion of the building from May 14 to May 19, 1888.
Cover Photo: Front View of the Texas State Capitol by J. Stephen Conn via Flickr.