A Capitol Walk

Linda Burton posting from Pierre, South Dakota – “Are you really going to all 50 capital cities?” I’d parked the Scion under a shade tree at the curb on Nicolette, grabbed the cameras and tripod, and was headed towards the grassy capitol lawn. A group of four was fast-stepping along the sidewalk, sharing an energetic and purposeful walk. The one who asked the question hadn’t slowed, she was hanging with the pack; I gave them all a big thumbs up. “You bet!” I answered back. They called out appropriate congrats and well wishes; then I asked my question. “Could I get your picture here by the capitol?” That slowed their pace; they nodded at each other in agreement, then stepped onto the grass, smiling big. “What a great place to walk,” I commented as I set up the shot. “Sorry to slow you down.” They asked where I’d been so far; where I was headed next. “Be sure to see Capitol Lake,” I was advised; and off they went, continuing their capitol walk.

More walkers continued in a steady stream as I got a few shots of myself by the capitol too, the beautiful building that South Dakotans proudly refer to as “Our Statehouse.” The cornerstone was laid in 1908 and it was completed in 1910; it has served as the symbol of state government for over 100 years. It is an architectural and historic landmark, and a vivid reminder of South Dakota’s history and the history of the city of Pierre as well. It took three votes by the people to finally settle on Pierre as the capital city; the campaigns to win that honor were long and tedious.

After that third vote, many citizens believed that a large, permanent building would end any further relocation efforts. To save money on the project, Bell & Detweiler Architects’ design for the Montana State Capitol was selected to use, with some variations, rather than an original design. The total cost of the building was under one million dollars. I see the results before me today – a handsome copper dome, Corinthian columns, and walls of granite and Bedford limestone. I know from my reading that the granite foundation of this four-story Neoclassical building rests on boulders collected from the surrounding prairie.

As I draw near the building, I see the 1908 cornerstone; I see the state seal; there’s the year of statehood, 1889; there’s the state motto, “Under God the people rule.” I study the picture in the center; sky and hills, the river and a steamboat. On the left bank of the river, smoke rises from a smelting furnace, representing the mining industry; on the right bank a farmer plows a field. Cattle graze in the background; beyond the cattle lies a field of corn.

I continue my walk; now at the front of the building; the flowers are starting their end-of-summer fade; I can smell them in the afternoon heat. Three young boys with backpacks pass by, walking the sidewalks under the capitol’s trees; it’s time to adjust to a new schedule. Georgia Morse Middle School across the street has just let out for the day. A woman approaches me; she has something in her hands. “Look what I found on the ground,” she grins. She has chestnuts; she watched while a squirrel pulled apart the outer, spiny shell, she said. “The squirrels are everywhere,” she told me, “and so are the chestnuts.”

Back past the fading petunia beds at the side of the building; back into the Scion with all my paraphernalia; around the corner and right on Broadway for that drive around Capitol Lake that was suggested earlier. I know the facts – it’s a manmade artesian lake, constructed in 1913; the water temperature stays at 92 degrees and never freezes. I don’t know what it cost to build, but it’s a million-dollar place to walk. A group of athletes in green uniforms go running by, tanned and sweating and breathing hard; a flock of birds lands on the lake. The Flaming Fountain Memorial is here, a perpetually burning flame fed by natural gas; sidewalks meander outward into the lakes waters; on the far side traffic moves along Capitol Avenue, into the heart of town.

A sign at the front of the capitol has these words “The city of Pierre is strongly associated with its capitol. The dome…often serves as a backdrop for city life.”

I’ve seen that today, for sure.

About the capitol http://www.capitol.sd.gov/about/

Watch a squirrel crack open a chestnut http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1R-iq2aYqA