Virginia State Capitol: A Guide To The Architecture And History

The Virginia State Capitol survived a fire, a structural disaster, and more than 200 years of wear and tear. But it continues to be one of the great architectural pieces in American history.

The Virginia State Capitol is categorized as one of the great pieces of architecture in the United States. It survived fires, and structural disasters, and continues to stand more than 200 years after being built. In 1780, the Virginia Legislature voted to move the state capitol to Richmond, Virginia""the third city in the history of the state to house the Capitol. Immediately after the move, the state summoned the work of Thomas Jefferson to design and built the structure. Jefferson was working as the American Ambassador to France, and was a great fan of the French architect, Charles-Louis Clérisseau. In fact, the main portion of the building is modeled after another French structure, the Maison Carree in Nimes.

The first block was laid in August of 1785. Three years later, the General Assembly met in the building for the first time. The original building was red brick, but 15 years later the brick was covered with Stucco and continues to stand that way today.

During the Civil War, the capitol housed not only Virginia State officials, but also the Confederacy. Just before the war ended, some members of the Confederate Army set fire to the City of Richmond to keep the Union Army from seeking the military technology Richmond had. While most of the city burned, some people stayed behind, to make sure the Capitol building remained upright. But the Capitol was not so lucky in April of 1870. While the Supreme Court of Appeals was hearing a case about a mayoral election in Richmond, the gallery collapsed, killing 62 people and injuring more than 250. The structure of the building had been weakened after some recent remodeling. Residents talked about tearing the structure down and building from scratch, but in the end, a member of the House of Delegates named T. Ballard Edwards took it upon himself to save the Capitol from the wrecking ball.



In 1906, major changes took place to the Capitol. Two wings and the front steps were added. These would be the last major changes to the building, as it still looks the way it did back in the early 1900's. Today, the building still houses the legislative bodies of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The capitol building no longer dominates the skyline of the City of Richmond like it once did, but it is still considered a masterpiece in American architecture.

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