Welcome to Florida's Historic Capitol. This Historic site and museum has two floors of exhibits and restored areas focusing on Florida's political history. Originally completed in 1845, the building is restored to its 1902 appearance.
The museum includes audio and video experiences, photographs, objects and descriptions interpreting all three branches of Florida's government: executive, legislative and judicial.
Visit the reception desk for current information on events and exhibits. Also, peruse our gift shop, "Historically Florida."
In 1902, architect Frank Milburn designed this grand staircase to impress first-time visitors. This beautiful reproduction was based on a 1912 photograph of Secretary of Agriculture Benjamin McLin lying in state at the foot of the staircase.
Welcome to the Historic Capitol Theater. "Florida in the Balance" is an award winning eight minute documentary highlighting the rich and unique heritage that is Florida. Learn how state government and its leaders serve citizens through programs that meet their diverse needs and interests.
This film is shown on three screens, each with separate images. In 2003, the film won a Telly Award, which honors the very best in multimedia.
In 1902, this suite of four rooms consisted of a staff office, a reception room, the cabinet meeting room and the governors' private office.
This reception room, with period reproduction furniture and carpet, was where Governor William Sherman Jennings preferred to receive visitors. On the walls is a gallery of governor's portraits. These photographs of the original paintings include all of Florida's Governors from Andrew Jackson to our current Governor.
By 1978, this room had been radically altered. During the restoration, workers were surprised to discover the two doorways behind the paint and wallpaper. Inside the doorways they found the original 1902 sliding doors with their original brass handles.
William Sherman Jennings served as Florida's Governor from 1901 to 1905 assisted by his wife, May Mann Jennings, once called "the Governor's right hand man". Together they brought about many reforms in education, labor and conservation. The roll top desk, made of Honduras mahogany, is Jennings' original desk.
This original table was once used for meetings between the Governor and the Cabinet. Other items include steam radiators, tobacco spittoons, law book cases and the Fleming collection of early governor's portraits. These portraits, dating from 1889, were rescued from a trash bin.
This was the office room for the entire governor's staff; a secretary, Mr. Charles Dickinson of Madison, Florida, and a stenographer, Grace Irene Marietta Mann, sister-in-law to the Governor.
The large document file cabinet was in the room after 1902 and is almost completely original. Some of the original labels can still be seen, "W. S. Jennings Private" and "Bank Pardons."
In this divided room you will find information about executive campaigning, inaugurations and the Office of the Governor. The exhibit includes memorabilia and photos from gubernatorial campaigns and the parades, speeches and parties that were part of inauguration day.
Lawton Chiles made headlines in 1970 by campaigning for the U.S. Senate while walking 1,033 miles from Florida's Panhandle to the Keys. His worn-out shoes are on display.
This room was the original Governor's Office from 1845 until 1902. In 1869, Lt. Governor William Gleason became the acting Governor when impeachment charges were filed against Governor Reed. However, Reed, with the help of the Leon County Sheriff, forcibly took back the Governor's Office and stationed armed guards around the clock in the hallway.
Florida has had many forms of government each reflecting the people who lived here. Learn how Florida was governed by the Native Americans, as a Spanish and British colony, a United States territory and then as the 27th state of the Union. Artifacts representing Florida's historical periods include prehistoric arrowheads, Native American pottery and an authentic carpet bag.
Also featured is one of the earliest United States presidential campaign ribbons. This 1840 election ribbon promotes William Henry Harrison for President. Harrison was known as the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe. You may recall the slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler, too."
The Supreme Court of Florida met for ten years in this Chamber from 1903 until 1913 when they relocated to their own building. The restored Chamber includes many original furnishings: the twenty-four foot long Supreme Court bench, made of golden oak at a cost of $350 in 1902; both of the attorney's tables; most of the railing and the charcoal-over-photograph portraits on the walls.
Using original furniture, this room was restord based on a 1911 photograph. In that photograph, the blinds were closed probably because they are on the west wall and the afternoon sun came in over the heads of Justices, blinding the participants and spectators.
Florida was the setting of important civil rights legal actions. National leaders, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King, Jr., both played a role in Florida's struggle. Photographs from the 1950s and 1960s show civil rights demonstrators demanding an end to laws that provided for different treatment for minorities, especially African Americans.
The large photographs on the windows and wall murals were taken in Tallahassee during civil rights demonstrations in the 1960s.
In the 1960s, Florida was known as the most malapportioned state of the United States. About 13 percent of Florida voters could elect 50 percent of the State Senate. Less populated rural counties in Florida had more senators than counties with larger populations.
A coalition of northern Senators, nicknamed the "Pork-Chop Gang" had effective control of the Florida Senate and successfully resisted apportionment reform. Then in 1962, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling changed everything. Swann v. Adams tells the story of how Floridians achieved "one person, one vote."
Today, if you are accused of a criminal offense for which you may be incarcerated, you have the right to a court-appointed attorney.
This is the story of how one poor Florida man, Clarence Gideon, impacted and changed the entire legal system in the United States. Based on Gideon v. Wainwright, we now have the right to a court-appointed attorney to represent us.
Gideon v. Wainright is considered one of the landmark cases in United States judicial history. In the 1980 television movie Gideon's Trumpet, based on a book about this case, actor Henry Fonda portrayed Clarence Gideon.
After November 7, 2000, Florida stood alone at the epicenter of a battle for the Presidency of the United States that riveted the world's attention for thirty-six days. Decisions from the Florida Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court played a crucial role in the outcome. Placards, newspapers, T-shirts and a famous butterfly ballot from the election are on display.
During the 2000 election, curators from the Historic Capitol collected many of the signs and placards you see in this exhibit. The Historic Capitol was at the very center of news broadcasts from Tallahassee during the controversy. It was surrounded by television trucks and miles of wires. Television crews even lit the Capitol at night in case of a breaking news story.
This exhibit, entitled "Great Events at the Historic Capitol" covers many significant events from 1845 to 1977.
The four main topics in the exhibit are:
Highlights of the room are the Mountain Howitzer that stood in front of the Historic Capitol for over seventy years and a 1917 Russian rifle found buried on the Capitol grounds.
On May 20, 1865, Union forces officially took control of the government of Florida. In this room is a six foot by nine foot replica of the Flag raised at this Capitol during that transfer ceremony.
The Gallery at the Historic Capitol, located on the lower level, is one of the Museum’s temporary exhibit and rental spaces.
The lower level at the Historic Capitol has always been referred to as the basement. Over the years it has housed offices, vaults, archives, storage areas, maintenance facilities, coal bunkers—even an armory. It was reported that soldiers were bunked there during the Civil War.
Follow the history of the Capitol building from the Florida Territory's first 1824 log cabin to the State's modern skyscraper Capitol. In 1978, a "Save the Old Capitol" movement kept the building from being demolished. Following an exhaustive research study that examined everything from the type of plaster used on the walls to the furniture present in each room, the restoration of the Historic Capitol was completed in 1982.
This second floor rotunda area is a perfect place to pause and appreciate the beauty of the restored Capitol. Above is the lovely art glass sub-dome, while below is the magnificent Grand Staircase. Notice the crown molding at the top of the twenty-two foot high ceilings and the long connecting hallways between the House and Senate chambers. The windows provide a scenic view of the Capitol grounds and Apalachee Parkway.
View the restored artglass dome. Added in 1902, it almost immediately started leaking, and by 1923, it was removed and replaced with a frosted glass skylight. During the restoration of the building, one hundred pounds of stained glass used in the original art glass dome was discovered inside one of the walls.
Florida's public education system dates from the first state legislative session in 1845. Over the years, equitable education suffered from segregation, inadequate funding and little teacher training. Since the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education in the early 1970s, reforms have focused on learning standards, funding issues—and more local input from parents and teachers. The school bench is over one hundred years old and from a one room African-American school house. The bench and the school were built by a former slave, Mr. Andrew Jackson.
It's interesting to watch children react when they learn that the wooden bench was actually used as school furniture over a century ago.
Florida has a diverse history of immigrants. Native Americans migrated here as early as twelve thousand years ago. Europeans came in the 1500s. Later, escaped slaves founded communities here. Planters from southern states crossed into Florida before statehood in 1845. Many veterans of World War II had trained in Florida and settled in the state after the war. Afterwards, prosperity and the Social Security system allowed many older Americans to retire to Florida's warmer climate.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Freedom Tower in Miami served as the leading gateway for 400,000 Cuban refugees.
The four rooms on the second floor dealing with political issues in Florida all have an informative and colorful short video presentation. Please take time to watch the five-minute video on immigration. Part of it was filmed at the Historic Capitol.
Welcome to the restored 1902 House Chamber with its high ceilings, pastel colors and classical details. Standing in the entryway, to your left are some original furnishings that date from 1903, including an original representative's desk, the page boy's bench, and a hall tree. The wooden rail separates the public gallery from the actual "House Chamber" with its 68 reproduction desks, original Clerk’s desk and Speaker’s rostrum.
The plasma screens are part of "Issues in the House," our interactive voting program. In this program one experiences debating and voting on a legislative issue that was once considered by the Florida House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives makes up one half of the legislative branch. This room highlights what the House of Representatives does and profiles some notable House Members and legislation. Learn about notable Speakers of the House, impeachments, African-American Representatives after the Civil War, the first woman Representative and some interesting election campaigns.
In 1902, this was the Office of the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives and has one door that leads directly to the House Chamber. The large mural in the northeast corner is the House of Representatives after they moved to the New Capitol in 1978.
These two rooms highlight some of the ethnic, community and interest groups in Florida's political process. African Americans, Native Americans, Cuban Americans and Women have struggled to become involved in the political process. Explore their historic and political legacy and the story of their struggle for equality in Florida and America. Find out about the Seminole Wars, Jim Crow laws, Florida's suffragists—and Cuban political exiles.
In these two rooms you can view some of our most interesting artifacts. On display are handmade dolls and other items donated by the Seminole Indians, a restroom door used during segregation and poll tax records from that period. There are also some items from the Tampa Cigar Industry and a T-shirt with a familiar female comic strip character proclaiming "Someday a woman will be PRESIDENT!"
Welcome to the restored 1902 Senate Chamber, furnished with thirty-two desks, dividing rail, clock, clerk's desk and Senate President's bench. In 1902 an original desk and chair cost a total of $27.50. In the 1990s these reproduction desks and chairs cost $750 apiece. On the front of each desk is a plaque with the name of the group or individual that donated funds for the desks.
The lovely Senate Chamber with its soft pastel red, white and blue colors, classical architectural details, twenty-two foot ceilings and beautiful reproduction oak furnishings is available for meetings and receptions.
This room highlights how the Senate functions and features profiles of some notable Senate Members and legislation. The Florida legislature is not a "full-time" legislature. The Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, maintains its identity as the "citizen" branch of state government. Almost all of the senators and representatives are occupied in a business or profession when they are not carrying out their legislative duties.
The current exhibit features some election items from Senate campaigns such as handbills, bumper stickers and campaign buttons. In 1902, this room was used as the Office of the Secretary of the Senate.
Florida's varied native ecosystems from the Keys to the Perdido River represent some of America's most valued natural treasures, including the Everglades. These irreplaceable natural resources have been seriously compromised by the State's rapid growth and development since the 1920s. Water management, Everglades restoration, offshore drilling and pollution are some of the major environmental issues in Florida.
In the early 1900s, this room was the main office of the Adjutant General who was in charge of the State militia, now known as the National Guard. Since the Adjutant General had to quickly communicate with the State's military units, this was one of the first rooms in the building to have a telephone.
Lawmakers constantly wrestle with growth management and development issues in Florida. In the twentieth century Florida's population grew rapidly from about 528,000 in 1900 to over 16 million by the year 2000. Florida's 20th century development brought both improvements and problems in transportation, housing, economic development, tourism, utilities and the telecommunications industry.
As you enter this room, the text panel to your right mentions how important air conditioning was to Florida's development. The background photo is of a Florida theater advertising air conditioning. The use of modern air conditioning after World War II spurred development and growth in Florida. Some Florida historians have joked that "nobody lived here before air conditioning."
This exhibit room includes a cozy reading corner where young visitors and families can curl up with a Florida book.