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Alabama State Capitol

Coordinates: 32°22′40″N 86°18′2″W / 32.37778°N 86.30056°W / 32.37778; -86.30056
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First Confederate Capitol
The Alabama State Capitol in 2016
Alabama State Capitol is located in Alabama
Alabama State Capitol
LocationMontgomery, Alabama
Coordinates32°22′40″N 86°18′2″W / 32.37778°N 86.30056°W / 32.37778; -86.30056
Architectural styleGreek Revival
NRHP reference No.66000152
Significant dates
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966[2]
Designated NHLDecember 19, 1960[1]

The Alabama State Capitol, listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the First Confederate Capitol, is the state capitol building for Alabama. Located on Capitol Hill, originally Goat Hill, in Montgomery, it was declared a National Historic Landmark on December 19, 1960.[1][3] Unlike every other state capitol, the Alabama Legislature does not meet there, but at the Alabama State House. The Capitol has the governor's office and otherwise functions as a museum.[4]

Alabama has had five political capitals and four purpose-built capitol buildings during its history since it was designated as a territory of the United States. The first was the territorial capital in St. Stephens in 1817; the state organizing convention was held in Huntsville in 1819, and the first permanent capital was designated in 1820 as Cahaba. The legislature moved the capital to Tuscaloosa in 1826, where it was housed in a new three-story building. The 1826 State House in Tuscaloosa was later used as Alabama Central Female College. After it burned in 1923, the ruins were retained within Capitol Park.

Finally, in 1846, the capital was moved again, when Montgomery was designated. The first capitol building in Montgomery, located where the current building stands, burned after two years. The current building was completed in 1851, and additional wings were added over the course of the following 140 years.[5] These changes followed population growth in the state as many slave-holding European-American settlers arrived. Large parts of the state were subsequently developed for cotton cultivation.

The current capitol building temporarily served as the Confederate Capitol while Montgomery served as the first political capital of the Confederate States of America in 1861, before Richmond, Virginia was designated as the capital. Delegates meeting as the Montgomery Convention in the Senate Chamber drew up the Provisional Constitution of the Confederate States on February 4, 1861. The convention also adopted the Permanent Constitution here on March 11, 1861.[6][7]

In 1965, more than one hundred years later, the third (and final) Selma to Montgomery march ended at the front marble staircase of the Capitol, with the protests and events surrounding them directly leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.[7]


Architecturally, the building is Greek Revival in style with some Beaux-Arts influences. The central core of the building and the east wing to the structure's rear, is three stories built over a below-grade basement. The north and south wings are two-stories over a raised basement.[8][9] The current front facade is approximately 350 feet (110 m) wide and 119 feet (36 m) tall from ground level to the top of the lantern on the dome.[10]


First capitol building[edit]

The first Montgomery capitol building, destroyed by fire in 1849.

The first capitol building to be built in Montgomery was designed by Stephen Decatur Button of Philadelphia. Andrew Dexter, one of Montgomery's founders, kept a prime piece of property empty in anticipation of the capital eventually being moved to Montgomery from Tuscaloosa. This property, atop what was then known as Goat Hill due to its use as a pasture, was chosen as the site for the new capitol building. Construction began in 1846, with the new building presented to the state on December 6, 1847.[5] Button credited much of his architectural inspiration to Minard Lafever's Beauties of Modern Architecture.[11]

Button's building was stuccoed brick, with two full stories set over a rusticated raised basement. A two-story monumental portico with six Composite columns, topped by a broad pediment, was centered on the middle five bays of the front elevation. A central dome, 40 feet (12 m) in diameter, sat directly on a supporting ring at the main roof level behind the portico. The dome was crowned with an elaborate lantern patterned after the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. This first capitol building burned on December 14, 1849, little more than two years after its completion.[5] The ruins were cleared by March 1850, with a new building soon to follow.[11]

Current capitol building[edit]

The capitol building and confederate monument in 1906, prior to erection of north and south side-wings.

The current capitol building was built from 1850 to 1851, with Barachias Holt as supervising architect.[5][8][9] Holt, originally from Exeter, Maine, was a master mechanic by trade. Following his work on the capitol, he created a successful sash, door, and blind factory in Montgomery.[11]

The new building used the brick foundations and general layout of Button's previous structure, with modifications by Holt. The modifications included a full three-story building over a basement and a three-story front portico, this time without a pediment. Holt's dome was a departure from the previous work also; his wood and cast iron dome was supported on a ring of Corinthian columns and topped with a simple twelve-sided glazed lantern. John P. Figh and James D. Randolph were the principal contractors. Figh had previously completed extensive brickwork on the William Nichols-designed campus for the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa. Randolph was in charge of the carpentry work, which was likely accomplished by subcontractors.[11] Nimrod E. Benson and Judson Wyman were the building supervisors.[5][8][9]

The new capitol building was first occupied by the Alabama Legislature on October 1, 1851. The clock over the portico was installed in February 1852. The clock, along with a bell, was purchased by the City of Montgomery and presented to the state in 1852. In proportion to the capitol building, the clock appears as a square white box with black dials and crowned with a gabled roof. The dials are 10 feet (3.0 m) in diameter with 4-foot (1.2 m) minute hands and a 3-foot (0.91 m) hour hands. It has been criticized as architecturally inappropriate on various occasions since its initial installation.

Inauguration of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederate States of America on the steps of the capitol building on February 18, 1861.

With the secession of Alabama and six other Deep South states and subsequent formation of the Confederacy in February 1861, the building served as its first capitol until May 22, 1861.[1] A commemorative brass marker in the shape of a six-pointed star is set into the marble floor of the front portico at the precise location where Jefferson Davis stood on February 18, 1861, to take his oath of office as the only President of the Confederate States of America.[8]

In 1901 delegates met at the Capitol to draft the Constitution of Alabama. Convention chair John B. Knox said they were there to end "the menace of negro domination."[4] The new constitution enshrined "White Supremacy by Law" and consolidated power at the Capitol and away from local governments.[4]

In 1961 Governor John Patterson flew a seven-starred version of the Stars and Bars over the capitol for several days in celebration of the centennial of the Civil War. His successor, George Wallace, raised the Confederate Battle Flag over the dome on April 25, 1963, as a symbol of defiance to the federal government; this was the date of his meeting with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to discuss desegregation of the University of Alabama .[12][13]

The flag continued to be flown over the capitol for almost 30 years. Several African American legislators and members of the state chapter of the NAACP were arrested in 1988 after attempting to remove the flag.[14] In 1991 the flag was removed during renovations to the dome, and its return was barred by a 1993 state court decision. It ruled that an 1895 state statute allows only the national and state flags to be flown over the capitol building.[15][16]

The building served as home to the Alabama Legislature until 1985, when it moved to the new Alabama State House. Officially, this move was temporary, since the Alabama Constitution requires that the Legislature meet in the capitol. In 1984, a constitutional amendment was passed that allowed the Legislature to move to another building if the capitol were to be renovated. The renovation started in 1985 and was completed in 1992 by the architecture group Holmes and Holmes. When the capitol was reopened, the Governor of Alabama and numerous other state offices moved back into the building, but the legislature remained at the State House.[17]

On May 7, 2009, the legislature reconvened in the capitol building for the first time since September 20, 1985, due to flooding in the State House. This required some adapting, as the capitol did not have desks in the House chamber, and those in the Senate chamber were 1861 replicas. Neither chamber has a computerized voting system. The capitol building's heating and air conditioning is supplied from the State House. Because the electricity had been turned off in the State House due to the flooding, there was no air conditioning in the capitol.[18]

The building[edit]

The exterior[edit]

View of the west (front) portico, dome, and a portion of the south wing.

The original core of the building, as well as the subsequent additions, is essentially Greek Revival in style. The 1851 three-story core of the building features bays delineated by Doric pilasters and a monumental three-story hexastyle portico utilizing the Composite order. The original core of the building is 150 by 70 feet (46 m × 21 m), with an original central rear judiciary wing measuring 40 by 50 feet (12 m × 15 m). The first extension to the rear added another 70 by 50 feet (21 m × 15 m). Each side-wing is 100 by 92 feet (30 m × 28 m).[8][9][10]

The additions started with an extension to the east wing on the building's rear facade in 1885. Then a south wing with Beaux-Arts influences was added in 1906. An externally identical north wing was completed in 1912. The matching side-wings were designed by Montgomery architect Frank Lockwood, in consultation with Charles Follen McKim of McKim, Mead & White.[8] The symmetrical north and south side-wings are each joined to the 1851 structure with a hyphen. Each hyphen features a recessed two-story Ionic portico on the west facade. Both of the adjoining side-wings feature two-story hexastyle Ionic entrance porticoes on their north and south elevations, respectively. The west and east facades of these wings also feature decorative two-story hexastyle pseudo-porticoes with engaged Ionic columns. A new east wing addition with a new three-story tetrastyle portico was built during the 1985–92 restoration. The new portico includes columns that match the Composite order originals of the main entrance portico on the 1851 west elevation.[5][8]

The interior[edit]

View on second floor of one of the cantilevered spiral staircases designed by Horace King.

Upon entering the ground floor of the capitol building, one enters the main stair-hall. It is the location of cantilevered stairways that spiral up to the third floor. The twin cantilevered spiral staircases are among the building's finest original architectural features.[3] They were designed and built by architect Horace King, a former slave who was freed in 1846.[19] Due to his renown in Alabama and surrounding states as a bridge builder, the Alabama Legislature passed a special law that exempted him from the state's manumission laws, which normally required that freed slaves leave the state within one year of gaining their freedom. During the post-war Reconstruction Era he served two terms in the Alabama House of Representatives, in the building that he had helped to design and build.[19]

Immediately east of the stair-hall is the ground floor of the rotunda.[20] The ground floor of the rotunda, not physically open to the upper rotunda floors, contains the memorial sculpture Lurleen Burns Wallace (1968) by F. R. Schoenfeld. Wallace was Alabama's first female governor and died while in office in 1968.[21] From there, hallways leading to offices branch off into the north and south wings. The next major room on the ground floor is the old Supreme Court Chamber, part of the original capitol plan. Located in the east (rear) wing, it is the only portion of the wing dating back to 1851. It is a large rectangular room, one story high, with a concave entry wall and two robust Ionic columns visually dividing the space near the center of the room. Later east wing expansions continue on eastward from this room.[20]

The second floor is accessed via the main stairhall. From there the open rotunda is accessed to the east. The rotunda leads to the east wing offices, the old Senate Chamber to the north and the old House of Representatives Chamber to the south.[20]

The dome interior as seen from the floor of the rotunda.

The interior of the capitol building is centered on the axial rotunda, which is topped by a large dome. The rotunda is open from the second floor and through the third floor to the top of the dome.[20] The dome interior is decorated with eight painted murals by Roderick MacKenzie, a Scottish-born artist who relocated to Alabama. The murals illustrate MacKenzie's artistic interpretation of the history of Alabama. They were executed on canvas from 1926 to 1930 at his Mobile studio and then shipped to Montgomery by railroad for installation in July 1930.[9]

The murals depict the hostile meeting of Hernando de Soto and Tuskaloosa in 1540, the establishment of the colonial French capital of Mobile by Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville from 1702 to 1711, the surrender of William Weatherford to Andrew Jackson in 1814, pioneers settling the Alabama wilderness in 1816, the drafting of the Constitution of Alabama in 1818, wealth and leisure during the antebellum era from 1840 to 1860, the inauguration of Confederate President Jefferson Davis on the capitol steps in 1861, and, finally, prosperity following the development of resources from 1874 to 1930.[22]

The restored House Chamber in 2016.

Both legislative chambers date to the original 1851 construction. Both of them are rectangular in shape and extend upward through the third floor, with a mezzanine gallery on that level. The galleries in both chambers are supported by Corinthian columns. Those in the old Senate Chamber are gilded, while those in the old House of Representatives Chamber are simply painted. The old Senate Chamber is the smaller of the two legislative chambers, with a mezzanine in a circular pattern stretching around all four sides of the room, broken only above lectern platform. The old House Chamber is larger, with a curvilinear mezzanine on three walls that merges into each side wall before reaching the lectern platform wall.[20]

The Old Senate Chamber was the site of several events leading to the Civil War. The Alabama Secession Convention met here on January 11, 1861, and voted to withdraw from the Union. Then, the Confederate States of America was organized here via a provisional constitution on February 4, 1861, Jefferson Davis was elected as its first president on February 9, 1861, and finally the permanent Confederate constitution brought into effect on March 11, 1861.[3]

The grounds[edit]

The capitol building in 1906. Note the original steps leading up to the portico and the iron fence.

The landscape plan for Capitol Hill surrounding the capitol building was originally designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted in 1889.[23] The grounds of Capitol Hill were surrounded by a cast iron fence from the 19th century into the first decades of the 20th. It was later removed and reused to enclose the Old Augusta Cemetery on Wares Ferry Road. The grounds still contain many trees and scrubs from the Olmsted design, in addition to numerous monuments.[3] Other major features of the grounds include the marble steps leading to the front portico, the Confederate Memorial Monument and the Avenue of Flags. Statuary on the capitol grounds includes Albert Patterson (1961), depicting an assassinated attorney; Duty Called (1986) by Branko Medenica; James Marion Sims (1939) by Biancio Melarango, depicting a gynecologist who experimented on enslaved black women without anesthesia; Jefferson Davis (1940) by Frederick Cleveland Hibbard, depicting the president of the Confederacy; John Allan Wyeth (1920s) by Gutzon Borglum; and Joseph Lister Hill (1969) by Gualberto Rocchi, depicting a senator.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] These statues are protected by the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.[4]

The main steps[edit]

The principal access to the capitol building was originally via a long flight of steps leading to the front portico. These were much narrower than those in place today. They were replaced by new steps fabricated from Georgia marble in 1949. The modern steps are the same width as the portico and are edged with raised marble planters.

It was here that the third Selma to Montgomery march ended on March 25, 1965, with 25,000 protesters at the foot of the capitol steps on Dexter Avenue. Prominent protesters included Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy, Coretta Scott King, Ralph Bunche, Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte, and Joan Baez.[31] A delegation from the protestors attempted to see Governor George Wallace to give him a petition that asked for an end to racial discrimination in Alabama. The governor had sent word that he would see the delegation, but they were denied entry to the capitol grounds twice and told no one would be let through. State police surrounded the capitol and prevented the marchers' delegation entry to the grounds. Martin Luther King Jr. then gave an impassioned speech at the base of the steps:[31]

We are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us.

— Martin Luther King Jr.
The Selma to Montgomery marchers arrive in Montgomery. At center are Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, with Ralph Abernathy's three children.

The delegation was later let through into the capitol, but were told that Wallace's office was closed for the day. The delegation later left, without having been able to give their petition to anyone. It read:[31]

We have come not only five days and fifty miles but we have come from three centuries of suffering and hardship. We have come to you, the Governor of Alabama, to declare that we must have our freedom now. We must have the right to vote; we must have equal protection of the law and an end to police brutality.

— Selma to Montgomery marchers petition

These steps remain as they were in 1965, although repairs were made during the 1992 renovation of the building. The steps have continued to be the rallying point for civil demonstrations over the succeeding years. Memorial Selma to Montgomery marches have ended at the steps on several occasions. The most recent, in honor of what would have been King's 83rd birthday, was held on January 15, 2012. On this occasion the marchers were greeted by Governor Robert J. Bentley.[32]

The steps have seen protests by LGBT groups and immigration groups in recent years as well. The annual Vigil for Victims of Hate and Violence, sponsored by Equality Alabama, took place on the capitol steps on February 20, 2011, to heighten awareness of the lack of hate crime legislation to protect LGBT people in the state.[33][34] Hundreds of protesters converged at the steps on December 17, 2011, to protest the passage of Alabama's strict new immigration law, Alabama HB 56.[35]

Confederate Memorial Monument[edit]

Avenue of Flags[edit]

The Avenue of Flags is another major feature of the Alabama State Capitol grounds. It is a grouping of the flags of the U.S. states, with a native stone from each state, engraved with its name, set at the base of each flagpole. The flagpoles are arranged in a semi-circle between the Ionic portico of the capitol building's south wing and Washington Avenue. It was completed during the term of Governor Albert Brewer, being officially dedicated on April 6, 1968.[36]


The areas that are open for tourists are the entry stairhall, the old Governor's Office, the old State Supreme Court, the old Supreme Court Library, the rotunda, the old House of Representatives, and the old Senate Chamber. Its buildings and grounds are maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "First Confederate Capitol". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Archived from the original on January 11, 2008. Retrieved October 28, 2007.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 15, 2006.
  3. ^ a b c d Blanche Higgins Schroer (September 29, 1975) National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Confederate Capitol / Alabama State Capitol, National Park Service and Accompanying 3 photos, 1 aerial and 2 exterior views, undated.
  4. ^ a b c d "Alabama's capitol is a crime scene. The cover-up has lasted 120 years". al. January 12, 2022. Retrieved February 3, 2022.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Capitals of Alabama". Alabama Department of Archives and History. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  6. ^ "Background of the Confederate States Constitution". Civil War Home. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  7. ^ a b c "Alabama State Capitol". Alabama Historical Commission. www.preserveala.org. Archived from the original on March 8, 2011. Retrieved July 8, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Gamble, Robert (1987). The Alabama Catalog: A Guide to the Early Architecture of the State. University, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 144, 323–324. ISBN 0-8173-0148-8.
  9. ^ a b c d e Bowsher, Alice Meriwether (2001). Alabama Architecture. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press. pp. 90–91. ISBN 0-8173-1081-9.
  10. ^ a b Daniel, Jean Houston; Daniel, Price (1969). Executive Mansions and Capitols of America. Waukesha, Wisconsin: Country Beautiful. p. 145.
  11. ^ a b c d Lane, Mills (1989). Architecture of the Old South: Alabama and Mississippi. Savannah, Georgia: The Beehive Press. pp. 88–93. ISBN 0-88322-038-5.
  12. ^ "14 Black Legislators on Trial For Protest Over Rebel Flag". The New York Times. Associated Press. November 3, 1988. Retrieved January 1, 2009.
  13. ^ Coski, John (2005). The Confederate Battle Flag: America's Most Embattled Emblem. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. p. 238. ISBN 978-0674019836.
  14. ^ "14 Arrested at Alabama Capitol In Bid to Remove Confederate Flag". The New York Times. Associated Press. February 3, 1988. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  15. ^ Dedman IV, James M. (Fall 2001). "At Daggers Drawn: The Confederate Flag and the School Classroom - A Case Study of a Broken First Amendment Formula". Baylor Law Review. 53: 877, 884.
  16. ^ Coski, Confederate Battle Flag, pp. 241-43.
  17. ^ "Visitor's Guide to the Alabama Legislature". State of Alabama. Archived from the original on January 27, 2013. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  18. ^ "In Pictures: Flooded Out Legislature Meets in Alabama Capitol". The Birmingham News. May 7, 2009. Archived from the original on May 10, 2009. Retrieved May 7, 2009.
  19. ^ a b Lupold, John S.; French, Thomas L. (2004). Bridging Deep South Rivers: The Life and Legend of Horace King (1807–1885). Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. pp. 123–130. ISBN 0-8203-2626-7.
  20. ^ a b c d e "Alabama State Capitol, Dexter Avenue, Montgomery, Montgomery County, AL". Historic American Buildings Survey. Library of Congress. Retrieved January 30, 2012.
  21. ^ "Lurleen Burns Wallace (1928–1968), (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  22. ^ "The Murals Beneath the Dome". AlabamaStuff.net. Archived from the original on May 9, 2009. Retrieved March 8, 2009.
  23. ^ Tom Dolan. "Historic Summary of Old Cloverdale". The Old Cloverdale Associate. Archived from the original on July 27, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.
  24. ^ "Albert Patterson, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  25. ^ "Duty Called, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  26. ^ "James Marion Sims - Father of Modern Gynecology, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  27. ^ "Jefferson Davis, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  28. ^ "John Allan Wyeth, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  29. ^ "Bronze statue of Dr. John Allan Wyeth on the grounds of the State Capitol in Montgomery, Alabama". ADAH Digital Archives. Alabama Department of Archives and History. Retrieved February 2, 2012.
  30. ^ "Joseph Lister Hill, (sculpture)". Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture. Smithsonian American Art Museum.
  31. ^ a b c Roy Reed (March 25, 1965). "25,000 Go to Alabama's Capitol; Wallace Rebuffs Petitioners; White Rights Worker is Slain". The New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  32. ^ Bob Johnson (January 16, 2012). "King remembered as several thousand march to Alabama Capitol in honor of King birthday". The Republic. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  33. ^ Joe Openshaw (February 6, 2011). "Insight: Equality Alabama announces legislative agenda". Press-Register. Retrieved February 5, 2012.
  34. ^ "Anti-Violence". Equality Alabama. Archived from the original on November 21, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2012.
  35. ^ Kim Chandler (December 17, 2011). "Hundreds protest Alabama immigration law at Montgomery rally". The Birmingham News. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  36. ^ "Avenue of Flags". Alabama Stuff. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved August 6, 2011.

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