Montana State Capitol

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by btwood2 on October 7, 2007

After 25 years as a territory, Montana became the 41st state in 1889. Though Helena had been the territorial capital, there was bitter contention between copper kings in Anaconda and Helena about which of those two cities would gain title to state capital. Helena won, and the attractive Greek neoclassical capitol building was constructed between 1899 and 1902. Its Montana sandstone exterior is topped by a massive copper dome.

A bronze statue of Lady Liberty stands atop the dome. Directly in front of the capitol stands a statue of a man on horseback, waving a sword high in the air. This is Thomas Francis Meagher, a fighting Irish revolutionary, exiled from his motherland to Tanzania as a young man. Finding his way to the Americas, he soon became major of a Union Irish brigade in the Civil War. After the war, he was appointed governor of Montana Territory. He drowned in the Missouri River under suspicious circumstances at age 43.

Moving inside, the Rotunda is gleaming and spacious, with tall scagliola columns and frescoed dome typical of Renaissance style. Four circular paintings depict images of frontier Montana: Indian, cowboy, prospector, and trapper. We arrived too late for the last organized hourly tour, but we were encouraged to take the self-guided tour, and we were given a paper that explained step-by-step where to go and what to see.

Two sculptures can be seen standing together on the third-floor balcony. Montana Democrat Senator Mike Mansfield, longest serving majority leader (1961-1977), and U.S. ambassador to Japan (1977-1988), holds a pipe in his hand, while his wife, Maureen, stands by his side. College-educated Maureen persuaded Mike, a high school dropout and underground copper miner, to further his education and go into politics. Mike Mansfield was a strong supporter of diplomatic and economic means of conflict resolution. He died a month after 9/11, at age 98.

The capitol is a veritable art museum, with other statues, busts, and original Charlie Russell and Edgar Paxson paintings on display in the Old Supreme Court, Senate, and House of Representatives wings. One notable statue, found on the second floor landing, depicts Jeanette Rankin, teacher, suffragette, and first woman elected to U.S. Congress (1916), a Republican pacifist in the House of Representatives.

Ascending the grand stairway and turning left will lead you to the Old Supreme Court, which became a committee hearing room in 1983. It contains wonderful original paintings and stained glass ceiling. On the right side of the Rotunda, upstairs is the Senate, which convenes every other year for 90 days. Continue on down the hallway to the House lobby and chambers. The painting above the House rostrum is by many considered to be one of Charlie Russell's finest: Lewis and Clark Meeting the Indians at Ross Hole.

Location: 1301 East Sixth Avenue
Phone: (406) 444-4789
Montana State Capitol
1301 East Sixth Avenue
Helena, Montana

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