The Virginia State Capitol Building Tour
Take a Virginia Capitol Building Tour
On your next trip to Richmond, Virginia, be sure to make time to take the Virginia Capitol Building Tour. While the Capitol Building Tour will take only about an hour, you will want to spend time exploring the site on your own.
To take a Capitol Building Tour, which is free of charge, go to the newly added public entrance, on Bank Street, between 9th and 10th Streets. In the lobby, make arrangements at the desk for your guided Capitol Building Tour. They are offered Monday through Saturday, every hour, starting at 9:00 am, and the last is offered at 4:00 pm. If you wish to arrive early, the doors open Monday through Saturday at 8:00 am, and they close at 5:00 pm. The Sunday hours for a guided Capitol Building Tour are: the first one begins at 1:00 pm, and the last one is at 4:00 pm. The hours, on Sunday, are 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. If you do not wish to take a guided Capitol Building Tour, you are welcome to explore this historic site on your own. If you know, in advance, when you want to take a Capitol Building Tour, you can call ahead (804-698-1788) to make sure there is room for your party at a particular time.
Parking in downtown Richmond is not easy, but it is doable. There are parking decks, and parking lots, nearby, but there is a charge to park there. On street metered parking is available in the area, but they are mostly limited to two hours. Be sure to bring change. To help you with driving directions, and to get updated information on available parking, you might want to visit the Capitol Building Tour website, (www.virginiacapitol.gov/visitors.php?p=taking_tour).
The Capitol Building Tour begins in the newly added underground area. Our Capitol Building Tour guide was excellent. She was knowledgeable, friendly, and genuinely seemed to enjoy meeting the people in her group.
Moving the Capital to Richmond
During the American Revolutionary War, Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson felt that, for safety reasons, the capital should be moved from Williamsburg to Richmond. So, in 1780, the capital was officially moved to Richmond. The first Legislature met, on May 1, in a structure that had been quickly erected for that purpose, until an appropriate facility could be designed and constructed. Having selected a site, atop Shockoe Hill, and overlooking the James River, all that was needed was a plan, and then construction could begin.
While serving as the Minister to France, in 1785, Thomas Jefferson designed the Capitol based on the Maison Carree, an ancient Roman temple. The columns were changed with the help of an architect, Charles-Louis Clerisseau. In August of 1785, the cornerstone was laid. The first General Assembly meeting, to be held in the new structure, was in October 1792.
In 1870, during a Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals hearing, held on the second floor of the Capitol, a large crowd filled the room and the balcony. This extra weight in the balcony caused it to collapse, and fall onto the floor below. That, in turn, caused the second floor to collapse and it to fall into the House of Delegates Chamber below. In all, 251 people were injured, and 62 people were killed. Even though many called for the structure to be torn down, it was repaired.
In 1904, construction was started to add two wings to the sides of the Capitol that would include a space for a new House of Delegates and a new Senate Chamber.
In 1964, the Capitol needed updating. Modern heating and air conditioning was installed, along with automatic elevators, and other items, to bring it up-to-date.
In 2003, money was authorized for the latest, and the largest, restoration, renovation, and expansion of the Capitol. The work was completed in May of 2007, and it greatly increased the size of the working space. By placing this expansion underground, it did not change the outward appearance of this historic structure.
When you enter through the 'Public Entrance,' on Bank Street, and walk forward, towards the original Capitol, you are walking under the grass hill directly in front of the Capitol.
Your Capitol Building Tour
Once you arrive in the Rotunda, you will see the world-renowned statue of President George Washington, sculptured by Jean-Antoine Houdon. This life-size statue is the only statue for which President Washington actually stood. While President Washington never saw his statue, his friend, the Marquis de Lafayette, did. And when he viewed the statue, Lafayette is said to have said: "it is so life like, I expect him to talk."
There are eight alcoves built into the walls, surrounding the statute of President Washington. Seven of these alcoves hold a bust of a Virginian who was elected, and served, as President of the United States. They are: 3rd President, Thomas Jefferson; 4th President, James Madison; 5th President, James Monroe; 9th President, William Henry Harrison; 10th President, John Tyler; 12th President, Zachary Taylor, and the 28th President, Woodrow Wilson. In the last alcove is the bust of President Washington's friend, Lafayette. Lafayette served under General Washington, during the American Revolutionary War, supporting our new nation as she sought her liberty from Great Britain.
On your guided Capitol Building Tour, you will see both the Old House Chamber and the Old Senate Chamber. You will also visit the Jefferson Room, where you will see the original model of the proposed building, ordered by Jefferson, to help the builders visualize the structure they were constructing. There is also a clock given by Lady Astor, a native Virginian, and the first woman to be seated in Parliament.
As you walk into the Old House Chamber, you will see, just in front of you, the life-size statue of General Robert E. Lee. It is placed on the spot where General Lee stood when he appeared in the Chamber to accept the Command to lead the Armies of Virginia. Also, prominently displayed is the House of Delegates mace. Made from silver, and covered with 24-karat gold, it is a replica of the one presented by the Royal Governor in 1700. This ceremonial piece is taken from its display case and carried into the House of Delegates, signaling the opening of the daily session. Also, in this grand Chamber, are numerous busts depicting many of Virginia's prominent leaders such as: Patrick Henry, John Marshall, Stonewall Jackson, and others.
The Old Senate Chamber was once used as the Supreme Court of Appeals. This Chamber has a remarkable collection of paintings including "The Arrival of the First Permanent English Settlers off Jamestown Island, May 13, 1607." And another grand work of art is the "Storming of a British Redoubt by American Troops at Yorktown."
Your Capitol Building Tour has taken you through the second oldest statehouse in the country, which is still in continuous use today. And it is home to the Virginia General Assembly, the oldest Legislative body in the country. Think about all the prominent founders and leaders of the United States who have walked through these hallowed halls.When you come to Richmond, to take your Capitol Building Tour, spend time walking around the grounds, and be sure to visit the Executive Mansion. Also, bring your camera along on the Capitol Building Tour, and take lots of pictures to remember your visit to this historic landmark.