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The Old Capitol Museum

The Old Capitol Museum is an architectural symbol for perseverance in our state. The building has seen more than its share of war, riot, and disaster, but also of prosperity, rebuilding, and progress. The building that began as the first formal gathering place of the Mississippi Legislature in 1839 has also been a state office building, Museum of Mississippi History and again will open its doors as a museum honoring the many historical events relative to the Old Capitol Building.

Construction on the State House, as it was originally known, began in 1833. It is situated at the head of Capitol Street and became a focal point of the young city of Jackson, founded in 1822. The State House found its first hardship near its completion when some of the building materials proved defective and a portion of the building had to be torn down. Nevertheless, the Legislature first met in the unfinished building in 1839.

During the Civil War, the Old Capitol survived the siege of Jackson and several burnings of the city that followed, and is today the oldest building in Jackson. In 1870, the building became the location of the election of Hiram Rhodes Revels to the United States Senate, making him the first African American to serve in Congress and marked the beginning of active black participation in the federal legislature. Later, in 1890, the Mississippi Constitution, under which the state is still governed, was adopted at the Old Capitol Building.

After the completion of the new Capitol building, the Old Capitol Building was left vacant for almost two decades in the early 1900’s. The historic building was almost demolished due to its dismal condition from years of neglect. In 1917, it was decided that rather than destroy the building, it should be used as a state office building, for which it was used through 1959.

In 1959, the building began a transformation into the Old Capitol Museum, a museum dedicated to the state’s history. As a public museum, the building was subjected to heavy use by visitors. In addition, changes made to the site during the transformation exacerbated moisture problems that affected the building structurally and cosmetically. The building had long been plagued by rising damp, which made the plaster walls impossible to mount on, and its small rooms made exhibits hard to display due to limited floor space.

In 2005, the museum was rifled by Hurricane Katrina, peeling back the copper roof and damaging not only the building’s interior but also many artifacts housed inside. This led to the immediate closure of the museum. The 2006 Legislature acted promptly and agreed to fund the building’s reconstruction and renovation.

The new Old Capitol Museum, opening in February 2009, will feature exhibits and artifacts that display historical events associated with the Old Capitol Building. The renovation has resurrected the original Greek Revival architecture that distinguished the building in the 1800’s, complete with faux-limestone exterior and custom cast iron fence with large three-part gates centered in front of the building. Like the original, the fence features two lanterns and six eagles atop the gateposts.

The building has escaped many attempts to have it demolished, and in 1990 was declared a National Historic Landmark, preserving it for generations to come.