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Whether you are coming into the Historic Capitol through the east side or from the courtyard on the west side, you will be entering into the first floor rotunda. This is the heart of the original 1845 Capitol, and although little of it is visible, the original oak beams and brick walls are all around you. Standing at the foot of the staircase you can get an idea of the size of the original 1845 building. It extended from the Supreme Court archway on the south to the top of the floor rise in the north hall. The original 1845 rotunda had four open fireplaces with two “rickety staircases” in the front leading upstairs. Frank Milburn redesigned this area in 1902 to be an impressive entrance into the Capitol. With its beautiful stained glass dome, elegant brass light fixtures, mirror-like linoleum floors and grand staircase, it is truly a majestic entrance.
However, the 1923 additions completely changed the interior of the building, including the rotunda. The staircase and art glass dome were removed and the woodwork was replaced with a marble interior. In 1978, after it was decided to save the Historic Capitol, architect Herschel Sheppard based the restoration on extensive research of this building. Aiding in the restoration efforts was a photograph sent in by a local family that showed the original grand staircase. Using this photograph, Sheppard was able to replicate the original 1902 staircase. Research also revealed that the 1902 floors were constructed of linoleum and the light fixtures were dual-source combination lamps, powered by either gas or electricity. Although electric lights were installed in 1902, the Capitol did not have electricity until 1903 when Tallahassee’s first power plant was finally finished and, at first, power was only available for about four hours per day.
While standing at the base of the grand staircase, directly above is the Capitol’s beautiful art glass dome. Originally built in 1902, this art glass dome, which is beneath the outer copper dome, was added to increase light during the day and add a decorative touch. Although removed in the 1920s, during the reconstruction in the 1980s, over 100 pounds of glass from the original dome were found within the walls of the Capitol. They were painstakingly reassembled to discover the original art glass design, which was then used to make the lovely reproduction art glass dome.
Before you leave the rotunda, be sure to visit the Historic Capitol information desk and the Historically Florida Gift Shop. The helpful staff and volunteers at the information desk will provide you with directions and additional information about the exhibits at the Historic Capitol and answer any questions you might have, about the building or exhibits. They can also inform you of any events at the Capitol Complex and around Tallahassee. Proceeds from the Historically Florida Gift Shop support the Historic Capitol and the Museum of Florida History, which is operated by the Florida Department of State. Showcasing Florida authors and artists, the Historically Florida Gift Shop features souvenirs and a multitude of books about the political, environmental and natural history of Florida.