I hadn’t formally planned a tour of the Texas State Capitol building when I visited Austin, but while wandering around the grounds, I considered popping my head inside to check on a tour and to steal at least a few minutes of air conditioning on a baking hot afternoon. That air conditioning was needed because I first explored the grounds outside what is a truly beautiful building.
In front of the Capitol, three monuments caught my eye. The Terry’s Texas Rangers Monument (below, top left) commemorates the Eighth Texas Calvary which was part of the provisional army of the Confederate States. The Alamo Memorial (top right) is the oldest monument on the Capitol grounds and commemorates the famous Battle of the Alamo which was central in the formation of the Republic of Texas. The Tejano Monument is the newest monument on the grounds and depicts the forging of modern Texas through its first settlers and the birth of the cattle industry.
Just after stepping into the capitol building, only a few steps past the security checks, is the rotunda. The visually striking rotunda dome, 266 feet above and marked with the star of Texas, looks very similar to the dome in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
Along the walls of the rotunda are pictures of the former governors of the State of Texas and the former presidents of the Republic of Texas. Didn’t take long for me to find one of the more (in)famous ones…
As a tour was starting up when I arrived, I joined a lovely guide and another family for a 45 minute exploration of the building. One of the first stops was the senate chamber. Located on the 2nd floor, this looks much the way it did on original construction, even with 31 of its original walnut desks still in use. The only retrofit to those was replacing the ink well with a microphone and a telephone line.
Overhead in the chambers were two brass chandeliers dating from 1890. With a boldness that is pure Texas, the lights form a star and spell “Texas” as well:
On the walls of the senate chamber are composite photographs of each year’s legislature members. What I found fascinating was the tradition to show pictures of that year’s “mascots” – young children of some of the legislature members. Perhaps that’s a reminder of how the adults acted in this room over the year?
The tour next moved on to the largest room in the building. The Chamber of the House of Representatives is still used today as it was intended back in 1888. This space houses the debates of the 150 member house and has a public viewing gallery that encircles it on the second level.
Another interesting stop on the tour was from the 3rd level high above the floor of the central rotunda where we got this impressive view. The seals on the floor show the history of Texas through the six flags that have flown over the state including showing Texas as a republic with the single white star in the seal in the middle.
I really enjoyed the unplanned tour and learning a bit more about the state and its history. I can’t recommend it enough if you find yourself in Austin.