The history of Texas's legislative center is as turbulent and dramatic as that of the state itself. The current capitol, erected in 1888, replaced a limestone statehouse that burned down in 1881. A land-rich but otherwise impecunious Texas government traded 3 million acres of public lands to finance its construction. Gleaming pink granite was donated to the cause, but a railroad had to be built to transport the material some 75 miles from Granite Mountain, near the present-day town of Marble Falls. Texas convicts labored on the project alongside 62 stonecutters brought in from Scotland.
It is the largest state capitol in the country, covering 3 acres, and is second in size only to the U.S. capitol -- but still, in typical Texas style, measuring 7 feet taller. The cornerstone alone weighs 16,000 pounds, and the total length of the wooden wainscoting runs approximately 7 miles. A splendid rotunda and dome lie at the intersection of the main corridors. The House and Senate chambers are located at opposite ends of the second level. Go up to the third-floor visitors' gallery during the legislative sessions if you want see how politics are conducted Texas-style.
The building had become dingy and its offices warrenlike over the past century, but a massive renovation and expansion in the 1990s restored its grandeur. The expansion project was fascinating in its own right: Almost 700,000 tons of rock were chiseled from the ground to create an underground annex (often called the "inside-out, upside-down capitol"). It was constructed with similar materials and connected to the capitol and four other state buildings by tunnels. You can either opt for a 30- to 45-minute free guided tour or walk around on your own using self-guided tour pamphlets (you might want to use a pamphlet for the capitol grounds, but do take the guided tour of the building). Include the Capitol Visitors Center, and figure on spending a minimum of 2 hours here. Wear comfortable shoes; you'll be doing a lot of walking.
- © Frommer's 2013
- Highly Recommended 2010
- visit website
- tel: 512/463-0063
- 11th and Congress Sts
- Austin, TX 78701
- Mon-Fri 7am-10pm; Sat-Sun 9am-8pm; hours extended during legislative sessions (held in odd years, starting in Jan, for 140 straight calendar days). Free guided tours Mon-Fri 8:30am-4:30pm; Sat 9:30am-3:30pm; Sun noon-3:30
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