Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Pictorial History of the Old State House: Celebrating 175 Years

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Pictorial History of the Old State House: Celebrating 175 Years

Article excerpt

A Pictorial History of the Old State House: Celebrating 175 Years. By Mary Kwas. (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2011. Pp. xix, 235. Foreword by Bill Gatewood, acknowledgments, introduction, illustrations, references, index. $49.95.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., referred to the law as a magic mirror; but architecture is more, for it contains elements of magic that emanate from stone, wood, steel, or brick, and produces concrete beings, not things seen darkly in reflection. All buildings carry some message, some sad and pathetic, some hopeful and triumphant. In the case of the Old State House in Little Rock, the message is nothing less than a physical affirmation of the history and culture of Arkansas. This book rises far beyond a mere souvenir item into a detailed account of how the building has stood at the very center of the state's political life. Since the building was bora in controversy, and contention has surrounded its life and uses until recently, it also reflects less pleasant aspects of Arkansas life, not the least of which was the killing in 1837 of state representative Joseph J. Anthony on the floor of the House of Representatives by Speaker John Wilson.

Author Mary L. Kwas of the Arkansas Archeological Survey learned the building firsthand during the ongoing repairs that preceded it being declared a National Historic Landmark in 1997. The book is divided into four sections. The first covers the designing of the building, in which Gov. John Pope played a major role. However, with the loss of the original plans as well as much other vital evidence, Gideon Shryock's "splendid plan" may have been only hinted at in the final version. Still, the building did stand firmly rooted in the Greek Revival style deemed appropriate for a republican form of government.

The second section treats the history of the building from 1833 to the present. Construction problems were compounded by supervising architect George Weigart dying and Pope being removed from office. A major expansion took place in 1885-1886, thus giving the building its current, more Victorian, appearance. …

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