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Pillars of Power

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    Early, hand-colored postcard of the Old State House, ca. 1907


The Old State House - A Historical Landmark of Arkansas

"The capitol should be near, and if practicable, in view of the river. A State House, built with taste and elegance, near the fine river which passes by this town, would command the admiration and respect of the passing stranger …"
- John Pope, Territorial Governor, 1831

Dating back to 1836, the Old State House Museum building is one of the most notable historical landmarks of Arkansas, as it once served as the seat of the Arkansas state government.

Arkansas became a state in 1836. Although the building was not finished, the State House was temporarily fitted-up for the first session of the General Assembly on September 12, 1836. From the beginning, the State House demanded constant maintenance. Repairs on the West Wing continued into the 1840s. Inadequate heating necessitated the revamping of fireplaces in the 1850s. By the end of that decade, the West Wing again needed repair, but efforts were halted during the Civil War.

After the Civil War, the building again was the seat of state government and probably the most prominent Arkansas landmark of the time. It was here that the present Arkansas Constitution was ratified in 1874. The building is a fine example of the classic Greek Revival style, popular during the early 1800s. Originally, the State House was three separate buildings: the west wing for the executive branch, the central block for the legislative branch, and the east wing for the judicial officials. Exterior Greek Revival elements include the massive columns, porticos, and triangular pediment. The inside also reflected Greek Revival elements: the patera on the door corners, faux graining of the wood, and faux marbling of the fireplaces. The three separate buildings were connected by covered walkways, then single-story hyphens, then finally in 1885, the two-story hyphens that remain today. In 1885, the building was revamped in the then-popular Victorian style. Not only were the two-story hyphens made permanent, but wrought iron work was added to the balconies. Inside, the central staircase (believed to have been straight) was torn out for the current stairs, which curve up in a spiral. Wooden flooring was replaced on the second floor, skylights were added, and stairway balustrade rails were replaced with more ornate spindles.

Work on the present capitol building began in 1899. Twelve years later, state government moved to the building on Capitol Avenue, itself now recognized as one of  Arkansas's most notable landmarks.

Also learn about Arkansas politics at the exhibit titled On the Stump: Arkansas Politics, 1819 - 1919.

See also History of a Landmark and the Arkansas News issue Fall 1992: "The Old State House and History."