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Welcome to the Historic Capitol, part of Florida’s Capitol Complex located in downtown Tallahassee, Florida. The Historic Capitol, with its graceful copper dome, and distinctive red and white striped awnings, sits directly in front of the new Capitol building which is the official Capitol of the State of Florida. These two buildings, along with the House and Senate Office buildings, and the Knott building comprise the Capitol Complex.
In 1821, the United States acquired Florida from Spain. Under Spain, Florida was divided into two colonies; East Florida with its capital in St. Augustine and West Florida with its capital in Pensacola. In 1822, the United States combined the two separate governments into the Territory of Florida, but left the two capitals. Soon this became impractical and two commissioners were selected to choose a site for a new capital that would be roughly equal distance between St. Augustine and Pensacola.
In 1824 they chose Tallahassee as the site for Florida’s new capital city. The first Capitol building in Tallahassee was a log cabin. This was followed by a small brick two-story Territorial Capitol. Today’s Historic Capitol was started in 1839, and finished in 1845 just as Florida became the 27th state in the United States.
Throughout the 1800s, very little was changed or added to this building. However, the twentieth century bought tremendous growth and change, both to Florida and its Capitol. In 1900, Florida was one of the smallest states in population with roughly half a million residents. By the year 2000, Florida had grown to 16 million people, fourth largest in the country. This meant that the Capitol building was always growing and changing through constant additions and renovations.
The first major addition was in 1902 when Governor William Jennings received $75,000 from the State Legislature to renovate the outgrown building. Jennings hired a young architect named Frank Millburn, who proceeded to enlarge, modernize and redecorate the building. Millburn enlarged the building by adding two new wings, effectively doubling the working area and adding much needed office space. Modern conveniences like steam heat, electric lights, linoleum floors and telephones were welcomed additions. Millburn’s goal in redecorating the Capitol was to make it look more impressive. On the exterior he added a large copper dome topped with a cupola, granite stone steps in the front and a metal relief of the State Seal. On the interior, decorative touches included the grand staircase, new woodwork and paint and a beautiful art glass dome.
By 1923, more room was needed and architect Henry Klutho from Jacksonville was brought in, to again, enlarge and modernize the building. Two additional wings were added; an east wing extended almost to Monroe Street and included a new Senate Chamber, while the west wing extended into what is now the courtyard and included a new Chamber for the House of Representatives. Klutho also replaced the woodwork with a beautiful marble interior. After Klutho’s additions, in 1936 a north wing was added. That was followed by a south wing in 1947. In the early 1970s, it was apparent that even more space was needed, and it was decided to build a new Capitol.
In 1972, a tower Capitol, designed by Edward Durel Stone, a prominent national architect, was approved and construction started. Finished in 1977, Stone’s 22-story tower design included demolishing the Historic Capitol and replacing it with a landscaped area. Public outcry to preserve the Historic Capitol kept it from being torn down. However, the new and old Capitols were now too close together. The buildings almost touched in some areas. In order to make more room between the two buildings it was decided to restore the Historic Capitol to its 1902 version. This meant removing the east, west, north and south wings. The restoration of the Historic Capitol started in 1978 and was completed in 1982 at a cost of $7 million dollars. The Historic Capitol now serves as a historic site and a museum on Florida’s political history.