This is the latest stop in the series 101 Things To Do. Each week through December 2020, we will select one place or activity around the region to highlight.
Visitors to the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul notice immediately that the building is wide open. Anyone entering is free to wander the halls on all floors, though the chambers of the Supreme Court, Senate, and House of Representative are locked.
No problem. Simply go to the information desk just to the right inside the front door and join a free tour to see the chambers as well as the results of the $310 million renovations completed on the building from 2013-17, though much of the renovation is invisible because it replaced the roof and skylights to prevent water leaking into the walls.
The building and its marble columns and vaulted ceilings were designed by Cass Gilbert, according to interpreter Robin Gehl, who has been leading capitol tours for two years. She explained that Gilbert, who designed the Woolworth Building in New York and the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., also commissioned the beautiful artwork adorning the walls throughout the Minnesota State Capitol.
“This building opened in 1905,” Gehl said, “and Gilbert wanted to inspire us, to let us know that something special goes on here. He made the building big enough that all three branches of state government still fit in one building.”
Many of the paintings and murals have significant symbols, representing the farming, industry, and history of the state, Gehl explained.
The rotunda extends from the first floor up into the dome. A circle in the center of the floor encloses a marble star, symbol of “The North Star State.”
One of the outstanding features on the outside of the building is a sculpture of four horses pulling a chariot. The gold-leafed statue is titled “Progress of the State,” but is often referred to as the Quadriga.
When weather allows, visitors can climb a spiral staircase up to the roof for a closer view.
“On summer days it’s worth getting up to the Quadriga,” Gehl said. “That’s a beautiful place.”
Gehl enjoys taking visitors on tours and helping them “respect our Capitol, respect our state government, and recognize what an amazing thing it is to have a beautiful building that has stood the test of time,” she said. “Politicians come and go, but the capitol stays.”
If you go...
Name: Minnesota State Capitol
Address: 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.. St. Paul
Hours: Vary by season so check the website. Tours are daily and leave at the top of the hour and last 45 minutes.