For any visitor coming into Charleston on Interstate 64, a sure sign you’ve arrived is the unmistakable and awe-inspiring sight of the gold domed capitol building. Easily one of the most recognizable buildings in the city, the Capitol building is the home of the the office of the governor and the state legislature. Believe it or not, it is the third building to house these offices since 1885.
Designed in 1921 as a replacement for the original Capitol that burned down, the capitol building shares roots with the state seat of Minnesota, the Detroit Public Library, and the Woolworth Building in New York. Architect Cass Gilbert conceived of the building as a limestone structure, and cost somewhere on the order of ten million dollars. Gilbert’s style can be seen in the neo-Greek style that is seen in major buildings of Washington, DC and numerous other government buildings around the country. Architects throughout the years have thought of America as a natural heir to Greek democracy, so many government buildings share a basic similarity.
The outside of the building is unmistakably opulent. Some 700 car loads of limestone from Indiana cover the steel skeleton. The dome sits 293 feet high, which is just slightly higher than the US Capitol building, and is gilded in gold. The gilding job was undertaken by a Massachusetts based restoration firm in 1988, and took nearly three years to complete. Inside the dome hangs a massive chandelier, made from nearly two tons of imported Slovakian crystal. The chandelier hangs from a 50 foot golden chain, and is cleaned once every four years, to celebrate the election of a new governor.
Visitors enter through a pair of heavy brass and copper doors to see the white polished Vermont marble floors. These floors cover an interior area of well over 500,000 square feet. The building and well cared for grounds cover a total of about 16 acres on the Northern Bank of the Kanawah River.
Aside from housing the legislature and the governor’s office, the capitol building also is home to the West Virginia State Archives. Genealogies, deed records, and other historical archives are available to the public here.
With its austere appearance, classical styling, and grand scale, the Charleston Capitol Building is a lasting symbol of strength and stability in government. The history of the building makes it a great place to begin exploring West Virginia’s storied past.