Salt Lake City, UT, Part V: State Capitol
Salt Lake City is the capital of Utah. We enjoyed our visit to the capitol building in Austin, TX, so we decided to head downtown again to visit the Utah State Capitol building.
The Utah State Capitol is located on a hill overlooking the city. There is plenty of free parking all around the building, and since the legislature wasn't in session, we had no trouble finding a spot.
Guided tours are available on weekdays on the hour. Unfortunately, we arrived between tours. You can do a self-guided tour, but access to some of the rooms is restricted unless you're with a guide. Since we arrived between tours, we were planning to do a self-guided tour; but one of the guides graciously offered to do a special tour just for us. It would be shortened somewhat because she had to be done in time to lead the next regularly-scheduled tour, but we would be able to see the rooms that would have been closed had we not been with a guide.
Utah was admitted to statehood in 1896 and was the 45th state. The Salt Lake City and County Building was used as the capitol until the present building was completed in 1917. The quartz monzonite (a type of granite) that was used for the exterior is the same stone used for the Temple. The 286-foot high dome is covered with copper mined in Utah.
The first floor has a number of glass-enclosed display cases containing artifacts and photos about the history of Utah. You can also read about the extensive renovations to the building that were begun in 2004. Part of those renovations included the installation of 265 base isolators in the basement to help protect the building from seismic activity. The isolators weigh 5,000 pounds each and consist of layers of rubber and mesh with a lead core to absorb vibrations.
As we reached the top of the steps to the second floor, we could see the main hall of the capitol lined with marble from Georgia. The 24 one-piece columns that line the hall weigh about 25,000 pounds each.
On the second floor visitors get their first glimpse of the rotunda. The dome is 165 feet above the floor and has a 6,000 pound chandelier supported by a 7,000 pound chain.
The rotunda was left unfinished for 20 years until the WPA completed the impressive murals that depict 19th-century Utah life.
The murals at each end of the main hall were the first works of art commissioned for the capitol. The one at the western end depicts the arrival of the first Mormon pioneers in 1847.
On the second floor is also the State Reception Room. Nicknamed the Gold Room for its lavish use of gold leaf decoration, the room was intended for formal functions.
The Utah government is divided into three branches - executive, legislative and judicial - and their legislature has two branches much like the federal government. The offices and chambers for the three branches of the state government are located on the third floor. Although the executive suite was closed to the public, we got to see the chambers for the other two branches.
The Utah State Supreme Court currently tries cases at the courthouse downtown, but their original chamber, which is shown in the next photo, is sometimes still used for important announcements and photos.
Although the House and Senate chambers are also on the third floor, you can get a better view from the galleries that are on the fourth floor. The public can sit in on sessions if there is room, and if they are quiet. The photo below shows the Utah State Senate Chamber...
...and the next photo shows the larger House Chamber.
We would have missed the Supreme Court Chamber and the views of the Senate and House Chambers from the galleries had we done a self-guided tour. We're glad the guide offered to take us on the special tour.
It was still a little before noon when we finished our visit to the capitol, so we had plenty of time for a little family research. The LDS Church maintains the largest family history library in the world, and their research centers are open to anyone. We're not into genealogy, but we were both curious about great grandparents and where they came from. Margery knew a lot about her Swiss roots on her mother's side, but she didn't know much about her great grandparents on her father's side. Paul knew his family on his father's side came from Germany, but he didn't know when they immigrated. We thought we would spend a few hours to see what we could find out.
The Family History Library is a 145,000 square foot facility that provides computer access to census, birth, death, marriage, property, probate and cemetery records - and more. Other documents are available on microfilm. For privacy reasons, only census information for 1930 and before and personal records for people who are deceased are available. If you're trying to connect with your former college roommate, a long-lost cousin or your old high school flame whom you think is still alive, this isn't the place to look. Try Facebook.
For first-time users and/or for initial, relatively simple searches, using the Family Search Center in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building located a few blocks away from the main Family History Library is recommended. Since we were first-time users and we were doing initial searches, we went to the Family Search Center.
We found a free, on-street parking space the same place we did the last time we went downtown to see Temple Square, which is where the Family Search Center is located. It was a walk of only about three blocks.
The first thing we learned is searching for your family roots isn't an exact science. There are people at the center to show you how to use the computers and to guide you in your search, so that helps. The next photo shows Paul searching family history records.
We were advised a good place to start is with census records. We both found family information in the census records, but there were some discrepancies. Immigrants didn't always speak very much English, so information that was conveyed verbally like answers to immigration and census questions may not have been recorded accurately. Not only that, but a lot of vital statistics weren't recorded back then as accurately as they are today. Many births took place at home, so a lot of birthdays are listed as approximate.
In the end, we both found some useful information about our great grandparents. Some of the information was inconclusive, but we have a good starting point if we ever decide we want to dig deeper.The LDS Church has Family Search Centers all over the country. They're free, and they're open to the public. There are also online search sites that are available for a fee.
We headed back to the car and back to the motor home. We had one more sightseeing outing planned in the Salt Lake City area, so look for our next post.