Travel

Capitol building in Frankfort full of history, beauty

The Senate Chambers at the Kentucky State Capitol underwent renovations on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015.  Photo by Erin McLaughlin | StaffThe Senate Chambers at the Kentucky State Capitol underwent renovations on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015.  Photo by Erin McLaughlin | Staff
The Senate Chambers at the Kentucky State Capitol underwent renovations on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Photo by Erin McLaughlin | StaffThe Senate Chambers at the Kentucky State Capitol underwent renovations on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Photo by Erin McLaughlin | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — Since 1980, Annie Denny has been giving tours of perhaps the most beautiful, historic building in Kentucky — the Capitol.

Sitting on a rise near the Kentucky River in south Frankfort, the Capitol has been the active seat of state government since it was dedicated on June 2, 1910, after six years of construction at a cost of about $1.8 million.

The Capitol's august exterior of Indiana limestone and interior composed of white Georgia marble, gray Tennessee marble and dark green Vermont marble with grand corridors featuring 36 columns of Vermont granite and delicate art glass skylights and murals make it a place of beauty.

Its events like the 1911 unveiling of the large Abraham Lincoln statue in the Rotunda by President William Howard Taft and civil rights march by Martin Luther King in 1964 make the structure also rich with history.

The Capitol is open free to visitors Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays during the summer from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. It is fully accessible.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour at their own pace, but it's fun to experience the Capitol on an hour-long tour with a professional guide like Denny. They are scheduled at the tour desk at the front entrance of the building between 8:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The tours begin on the first floor in the rotunda of Kentucky's fourth permanent capitol building since statehood in 1792. It is the multi-purpose room of the Capitol, serving as the site of public rallies, news conferences and inaugural balls since 1922.

Denny informs visitors that the Capitol was designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews in the neoclassical Beaux-Arts style. The rotunda contained no statues until Abraham Lincoln's was placed there. It now has five. The others are statesman Henry Clay, frontier surgeon Ephraim McDowell, former vice president Alben Barkley and the controversial Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Highlighting the rotunda is the dome, the apex of which is 180 feet — or about 18 stories — from the floor. The dome was inspired by the one that rises above Napoleon's tomb in the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, France.

Also on the first floor of the Capitol, which is home to the executive branch of government, is the governor's office. It moved from the second floor in 1955.

A few feet from the governor's office is an exhibit of miniature figures displaying the inaugural gowns of Kentucky's first ladies.

The second floor is home to the judicial branch. On its east end is the Supreme Court room with its Honduran mahogany paneling and Dutch metal-leafed ceiling lacquered to resemble bronze.

In the center of the second floor on the north side of the Capitol is the most elegant room in the Capitol, the state Reception Room. It was intended as a place for special events and as the reception area for the governor's office, which originally was next door.

Inspired by grand salons in European palaces, the room has Louis XVI-style Circassian walnut furniture and a center table covered in Italian marble.

Denny's tour then take the west steps (or an elevator) to the Senate chamber on the third floor, the site of the legislative branch.

There are desks for 38 senators, who also have individual offices in the Capitol Annex behind the Capitol. At the other end of the building is the 100-member House of Representatives.

Both chambers have spectator galleries, but the rooms are undergoing renovation. The work is expected to be completed in November.

Throughout the Capitol are busts or plaques in honor of notable Kentuckians, from Col. Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame to former Gov. A.B. "Happy" Chandler.

If time permits, visitors are urged to take a walking tour of the Capitol grounds to see such sights as the giant Kentucky Floral Clock that is 34 feet across and the Rose Garden with about 500 rosebushes representing about 22 varieties of roses.

On the east end of the Capitol grounds is the 1914 Executive Mansion, home of Kentucky's governors while they are in office. It is open for free tours on most Tuesday and Thursday mornings between 9 and 11.

Tour guide Denny's goal: To have every Kentuckian and tourist soak in the beautiful and historic richness of the Capitol and its campus.

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