It’s the green glazed terra cotta tile dome catching my eye upon spotting the Pennsylvania State Capitol building. The huge dome sits atop the grand building and is a focal point of downtown Harrisburg.
Dedicated in 1906 and designed by Joseph Huston, in the American Renaissance style, the massive building is the seat of state government. Equally important, it’s an artistic, architectural, and historical gem.
As a history buff, this is exactly the type of attraction I seek out. Therefore, I feel fortunate Jill Fetter, Director, Capitol Visitor Services is treating us to a personalized tour of this “Palace of Art.”
- Although this visit was hosted by Visit Hershey & Harrisburg, all opinions are honest and my own.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol Tour Begins
The Capitol Rotunda
Knowing where to look first is the biggest challenge when entering The Capitol Rotunda. The sweeping grand staircase, large murals, statues, and gorgeous dome draw our eyes in all directions.
The Capitol Rotunda is a favored gathering place. It’s often utilized for press conferences, bill signings, and rallies. Furthermore, it’s a tribute to the state’s history inasmuch as its design components, artwork, and accents highlight Pennsylvania’s story. From the colorful Moravian tile work on the floor to the poignant William Penn quotation wrapping around the Rotunda, Pennsylvania’s narrative is on display.
It’s also here we meet Jill Fetter to begin touring. Fetter’s knowledge and love for this building are evident as she cheerfully provides us with the background of the Pennsylvania State Capitol.
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The Pennsylvania State Capitol is one of only a few in the country housing all branches of state government. Thus, we’re treated to views of the house, senate, judicial, and exterior of the executive branches.
Our first stop is the Pennsylvania State Senate. Located on the north side of the building, the lavishly decorated chamber is where 50 state senators gather to discuss and vote on legislation.
Gazing down from the gallery, the view of this historic chamber is impressive. Beautiful Belize mahogany desks, Irish Connemara marble, large paintings, and palatial chandeliers are just a few of the ornate details.
Fetter fills us in on some of the finer points and particulars. One fun fact she shares is that the Pennsylvania Senate carries on the time-honored tradition of voice-voting. Senators forgo modern technology by declaring “aye” or “nay” when casting their votes.
The House of Representatives
Moving onto the south side of the building, we find the House Chamber. 203 members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives work in this space.
Adorned with stained glass windows, murals, mahogany desks, and six crystal chandeliers weighing between two and four tons each, the expansive room is brimming with breathtaking design elements. However, it’s the painting, “Apotheosis,” by artist, Edwin Austin Abbey, behind the Speaker’s podium captivating my attention.
The considerable canvas extending 35-square feet portrays influential Pennsylvanians throughout history. A favorite of mine, Ben Franklin, is seen in a prominent position beside state founder, William Penn, in this artistic treasure.
The State Supreme Court
The Harrisburg Chamber of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is situated on the fourth floor.
The story the chamber tells is intricately woven into the artwork and details. Most impressive is how the theme of justice, so important to William Penn, is deftly interspersed within the paintings by Violet Oakley, the ornate light fixtures, and the stained glass dome designed by Alfred Godwin. This chamber is both thought-provoking and moving.
Beauty In The Details
While touring the Pennsylvania State Capitol, it’s not solely the significance of this symbol of democracy and freedom capturing my imagination. Moreover, it’s the exquisite artistry in the décor and architecture creating an all-encompassing awareness this building is consequential.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol building is one of if not the most beautiful state capitol buildings I’ve visited.
There’s a distinct feeling of being in an art gallery or museum rather than a government building. Most impressive is how well it honors and highlights the ideals and accomplishments of the Commonwealth’s founder, William Penn. Additionally, through art, architecture, and design, the capitol serves as an encapsulation of Pennsylvania’s rich history.
Finally, the building’s beauty, splendor, and awe-inspiring conception make it clear why Theodore Roosevelt, while attending the building’s dedication in 1906, proclaimed, “This is the handsomest building I ever saw.”
Plan Your Visit
- Pennsylvania State Capitol – 501 N. 3rd Street Harrisburg, PA
- Wheelchair Accessibility – Weekdays, the East Wing entrance, weekends pre-arranged by calling the tour office.
- Guided Tours are offered Monday through Friday every half hour, 8:30 am to 4:00 pm. Weekends 9:00, 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00
Tell me, what’s the most beautiful state capitol building you’ve visited?
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