Richmond, VA

Population: 202,002 [2008 estimate]
Year Designated as State Capital: 1780
Year Current Capitol Building Built: 1788
Date Visited for Project: January 22, 2010

Richmond actually fell into my lap in the same trip as Carson City, enabling me to visit two capitals on opposite sides of the country in the span of three days, something I would have considered nearly unthinkable when I first started looking at the logistics of this project.  Richmond would have been a much better bet to be among the first few capitals I visited anyway, however, due to its relative proximity to Washington, DC (a two-hour drive), where my parents currently live (and in fact my mom drove down, so we were able to tour the Capitol together).

Richmond has been a lot of things in its history - it was officially founded in 1737 by William Byrd, a Virginia landowner, and at the time it was designated the capital of the state, only a few hundred people lived in the city.  But it became the capital anyway, and got its capitol building eight years later - Maryland is the only state with an older Capitol in continuous use.  Richmond has a rich American history - St. John's Church, just east of downtown, was the site of Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in 1775, for just one example - but it also has a rich Confederate history, and doesn't seem any less proud of that fact.

Unfortunately, given how much history there is and how much walking around the downtown I would have liked to do, it rained for most of the day, conveniently only clearing up in the late afternoon once I'd already seen the Capitol and going back would have made no sense.  As such I can't comment too much on the city itself - it did seem fairly busy, though it helps that the state legislature was in session in the morning, which is not always the case.  It's clearly an older city, which has its charm, but also has its drawbacks related to things like parking ($20 for five hours in a deck near the Capitol).  And a cold, rainy day in January isn't the kind of day to endear any city to me.  With that said, the Capitol itself is an amazing building, particularly with all the history inside it.  A visitor from Shanghai who signed the guestbook not long before we did wrote that he would recommend any member of his family to visit - this sounds hilarious, the idea that visitors from China would come to the United States to see some mid-level state capital, but the building itself really is particularly outstanding.  Even if... well, you'll see.

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Dome picture #3, Richmond, Virginia.  Except guess what's missing?  That's right... a dome.  Although I'm calling this the "Capitol Dome Project," not every state capitol building has one - and Richmond is one such.

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It does, however, have an interior dome that simply can't be viewed from outside.

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Thomas Jefferson designed the building, basing its look on a 1st-century Roman temple he saw in Nīmes, France.  An exterior dome would have ruined the look he wanted.

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Nevertheless, Jefferson worked in an interior dome, seen here from the floor of the rotunda.

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Located in the building's Jefferson Room is this original plaster model - now covered in a number of coats of paint - that Jefferson commissioned in 1785.  Worried that the builders would not follow his blueprints - and unable to supervise construction while serving as minister to France - Jefferson had French modelmaker Jean-Pierre Fouquet create a perfect 1:60 scale model of how the building should look.

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The old Virginia Senate chamber, with portraits of John Smith and Pocahontas.

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The Eugene Louis Lami painting "Storming of a British Redoubt at Yorktown by American Troops," which hangs in the old Senate chamber.  Because of its size, the frame was brought into the room in pieces and the canvas came rolled up - according to the tour guide, since first being hung on the wall in 1878, the painting has never left the room.

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This statue of Robert E. Lee - standing heroically in the old House chamber in the spot where Lee returned to assume command of the army of Virginia in 1861 just days after rejecting command of Union armies - is one example of the conflict between American history and Confederate history in the city.  Though I suppose you could make the case that it's merely pro-Virginia - Lee was not a secessionist and returned only because he felt a loyalty to his state even if he disagreed with their decision to secede.

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The Virginia House of Delegates still meets in the Capitol.  The current session had adjourned earlier that morning and was due to resume the following Monday.  Aside from the video screens and updated chairs, the room looks identical to how it did over a century ago.

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This marble statue of George Washington was the only one done from life - its Washington stands 6'2", his actual height, and the face is based on a plaster mask made by the sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon.  The statue stands in the center of the rotunda and is surrounded by busts of the other seven Virginia natives who held the presidency (Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, W.H. Harrison, Tyler, Taylor and Wilson), plus the Marquis de Lafayette.

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The governor's office, on the second floor just off the rotunda.

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There is also a large statue of Washington outside the building, in the center of the driveway that enters Capitol Square at the corner of 9th and Grace.

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Finally, this copy of a painting by B.H. Latrobe depicts the city from the southeast in 1798.  Jefferson's original idea was to have the building be as "a temple on a hill" - in the early days, that clearly was true.  These days the building no longer stands out like this unless you're right up next to it, and is invisible from a block or two away in virtually any direction.  While clearly understandable, this strikes me as a real shame.

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