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Re-opening of the Mississippi

The people’s building

In the 1830’s Jackson, and Mississippi, saw the creation of its first capitol building. The architect, William Nickels, labored over building this enormous structure to represent the growth that was hoped to take place in Mississippi, and its capitol, Jackson. The building remained the capitol until around 1903 when the new capitol was built. At this point the old capitol was turned into the state office building that housed sections of the state’s government like the Department of Health, and Department of Education. In the 1950’s the building was abandoned again, unoccupied until 1961 when it was turned into the state history museum, and kept this title until 2005. Although discussions of refurbishing the building had been brought to front, it wasn’t until hurricane Katrina ripped the roof off of the south side of the building that made this project eminent. Now, almost three and a half years later, the Old Capitol Museum is presenting a new face to the public.

With about $16 million in funds, the Old Capitol Museum offers many changes. The years of laborious tasks, co-ordination and problems to be solved results many new information and exhibits as well as the general look of the building. The exterior has seen a new layer of scored stucco crafted to mirror limestone. This innovation was a part of the building from the 1840’s to the 1960’s when the stucco was removed to reveal the brick underneath. Many will wonder why now, in 2009, the building only has three sides of stucco. Like many things, this idea mimics the attempt to get as close to historically correct as possible, as in the 1840’s there was nothing but the Pearl River behind the capitol, leaving it unimportant as to whether it featured the same aspects as the front and sides.

Some other new innovations and restorations to the Old Capitol Museum will be the rod iron fence. This, too, will mimic the original aspect of the building that lasted from 1846-1910. It is hoped that the fence will set aside the capitol green, giving it a place of importance. The interior, though, has seen the most changes. They range from the obvious, like the senate room’s ceiling design completely revamped, to the smaller details such as paint color and drape choices. Either way, , the capitol presents a whole new experience, though the goal was to reach the “most accurate restoration to date.”

The museum itself will feature new exhibits with interactive features that will help educate the public not only on the building itself, but also on issues of government that may not have been sought after or interesting for individuals previously. The exhibit offers flip panels, tickets that, when scanned, offer further information, movies, video presentations, lightshows and even displays of materials used and lost in the creation and different levels of rebuilding the old capitol. Through these features, the museum staff is anxious to bring people who had past memories with the museum, as well as introduce a new museum to them. Old Capitol Museum director Clay Williams said, “If we don’t have 100,000 visitors within the first year, I’ll be disappointed,” leaving it to be said that the museum opens its doors with high expectations, but the right ingredients to please. Visitors may come to the museum for hours, learning, exploring and enjoying what it offers, and all for free. Williams said, “There’s not many places you can take the family today and spend a couple of hours without having to spend a dime.”

The museum opens its doors Feb. 7, but already has rave reviews from selected individuals that were presented with the opportunity to have a sneak peak inside. Williams explained that around 97 percent of all the feedback he has received has been good. Which is a hard goal to reach when taking something traditional and having to create a new representation featuring the same roots. Upon opening, the museum has a schedule of events to bring people in and celebrate. Details of these can be found at the Old Capitol Museum’s web site, www.oldcapitolmuseum.com.

Contact MBJ staff writer Leslie Galloway at leslie.galloway@msbusiness.com .

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