Old State House
Little Rock, AR - Events of Tuesday, May 14 to Wednesday, May 15, 2013
After our walk across the Big Dam Bridge that we wrote about in our last post, we headed to downtown Little Rock to see the Old State House Museum.
Little Rock is the capital of Arkansas. Although we have visited a number of state capitol buildings, we have never toured the one in Little Rock. We didn't tour it on this stop either, but we decided to visit the building that once served as the state capitol until 1911 when the current capitol building was completed.
The Old State House is the oldest surviving capitol building west of the Mississippi. It was used for several different purposes following the relocation of the state government to the new building in 1911. In 1947, the building became a museum. The Old State House Museum underwent a three-year restoration that was completed in 1999.
The Old State House has three sections - one for each branch of the government. The center section with its large pediment and four Doric columns was for the legislature, the west section (left) was for the executive branch and the east section was for the judicial branch.
The original design was for a larger structure built from stone, but the design was revised prior to starting construction due to budget limitations. The size was reduced, the stone was replaced by stucco-covered brick, and tin was used for the roof material instead of the copper. Inside, faux graining was used on doors and woodwork and faux marbling was used on mantles. Construction started in 1833 and was well underway when Arkansas became a state in 1836.
In 1885, the building was expanded. The portico and columns on the back side of the center section were removed, and the building was extended 50' to accommodate a larger legislature for the growing population. The rear portico was not replaced following the expansion.
The fountain in front of the State House is a 1998 recast of the original fountain, which was made for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia by a foundry that made cannons for the Confederacy during the Civil War. The original fountain was placed in front of the State House in 1878. It remained dry until the installation of city water in 1880.
Inside the museum is a piece of the original 1876 fountain.
The State house was originally designed as three separate buildings connected by covered walkways as shown in the artist rendering below. The walkways were later enclosed and were eventually extended to the two-story, enclosed hallways that exist today.
Inside the museum are a number of permanent and traveling exhibits that include a section on the history of the building itself plus many historical Arkansas artifacts. Paul thought the old typewriter in the next photo was interesting. Many youngsters today have never even seen a typewriter much less used one.
There are also several period rooms that have been designed and furnished by various civic groups. Unfortunately, although there were signs giving credit to the group that was responsible for each room, we couldn't find any information about what periods the rooms represented or why they were significant.
A good bit of the second floor is dedicated to the first families of Arkansas. There were exhibits of memorabilia from some of the more well-known Arkansas governors including Orval Faubus who was governor during the 1957 desegregation crisis in Little Rock that we learned about when we visited the Central High School National Historic Site a few days prior.
Governor Mike Huckabee, who was once a presidential candidate, was also represented in the museum.
There were also some cardboard cutouts of past governors. We don't know who the ones are to the left, but Bill Clinton with his saxophone to the right was certainly recognizable. Bill Clinton is probably one of the best-known governors of Arkansas. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library is located in Little Rock, and you can click here to read about our 2009 visit to his library.
There was also a fairly large display of Arkansas first ladies' ball gowns; but unfortunately, the lighting, which is kept low to avoid fading, was too dim for photos.
Also on the second floor are two legislative chambers. The smaller one is furnished the way it would have been around 1836 when Arkansas first became a state. After the 1885 expansion of the building, the legislature moved across the hall to a larger chamber in the newly added wing. Today, the larger chamber is used to display various plaques and photos detailing the history of the Arkansas.
After we finished our tour of the Old State House, we stopped for a late lunch at Cotham's in the City. Cotham's in the City is the sister restaurant to Cotham's Mercantile that we have gone to in the past. Cotham's Mercantile is located in an old general store in Scott, AR about 10 or 12 miles to the east of Little Rock. Cotham's in the City is located only a few blocks away from the Old State House, so it made sense to go there instead of driving all the way to Scott.
Cotham's is the home of the Hubcap Burger. The Hubcap Burger is huge - about 8" diameter - so we split one. The burger comes with regular fries for $10; but we substituted an order of sweet potato fries at a nominal upcharge for Paul, and we added an order of onion rings for Margery.
The burger is not only large, but it is also thick. The extra thickness helps keep the burger nice and juicy during cooking. The bun is also big, but it's not too thick. That makes for more meat and less bun, which gives the burger plenty of good, beefy flavor.
We decided to share a piece of Mississippi Mud Pie for dessert. Cotham's version has a layer of vanilla ice cream between two layers of dense, chocolate cake. The whole thing is smothered in hot fudge and topped off with a couple of dollops of whipped cream. We shared a piece the first time we went to Cotham's Mercantile several years ago, and we remembered it was yummy. We were planning to share a whole piece this time, but our waitress warned us a whole portion was huge and advised us the half portion size was plenty for two. She was right. Even the half portion was big.
Since the new Arkansas Capitol is only about two blocks from Cotham's, we decided it was only fitting we should at least drive past to take a quick photo since we weren't planning on touring it this time in Little Rock. On the way there, we passed three horsemen traveling down the road. When we first saw them from a distance, we thought they were cowboys, and we had been somehow transported to Texas. As we got close, however, we realized they were mounted police.
After driving past the capitol, we headed back to the motor home for an evening of TV. The next day (Wednesday), we mixed relaxation with a few chores in preparation for our departure on Thursday. We'll tell you where we went in our next post.