Jefferson City shows off Missouri’s history with state capitol

Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City
The Missouri state capitol in Jefferson City.

As Missouri leaders sought the right spot for its state capitol upon its admission as the 24th state in 1821, St. Charles on the eastern edge of the state served that role. The city, which was the launching pad for the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, served as the territorial capitol, so it remained the state capitol until 1826.

State leaders thought the capitol should be centrally located along the Missouri River, which was the main transportation route. Jefferson City won the lottery because it had the best view of the river from the bluffs.

The capitol building was completed in 1917. It’s the third building to serve as the capitol in Jefferson City. The first two buildings were destroyed by fire. The site of the second capitol in Jefferson City now serves as the governor’s mansion. The current capitol cost $3 million to build. Organizers raised $4.5 million for its construction. State leaders wanted to use the additional money for the state budget. However, the governor refused to give them the funds. He wanted to use it for the state’s residents, so he formed a committee to create art for the capitol and its grounds. Today, you can see several statues and monuments around the capitol grounds.

Visit the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City
A law enforcement memorial is located on the state capitol grounds.

The Lewis and Clark expedition is recognized with a beautiful sculpture at the Lewis and Clark Trailhead Plaza, which is located between the capitol and the Jefferson Landing Historic Site (considered the original location of Jefferson City).

Lewis and Clark sculpture at Missouri Capitol building
Lewis and Clark expedition is recognized with a sculpture at the Trailhead Plaza near the capitol.

The capitol was designed based on the national capitol in Washington, DC. Most states’ capitols are designed with domes. The Missouri dome is 238 feet high.

Missouri State Capitol Dome at Capitol building in Jefferson City
The Missouri capitol dome is 238 feet high with a statue atop it.

Paintings in the rotunda are based on nature and Missouri resources, such as earth, wind, fire, water, Missouri agriculture and industry.

Tour the Missouri State Capitol building
The rotunda has beautiful artwork.

The capitol’s first floor is home to the Missouri State Museum. It offers a look at Missourians through military service, as well as the natural and cultural resources that built the state.  The military gallery has an impressive exhibit that tracks the state’s involvement in World War I.

Missouri State Museum in State Capitol
The cannon was used during the Spanish-American War.

The resource gallery looks at the state’s history through the eyes of its residents, from the Native Americans who once roamed the state to the pioneers who settled the state. The natural resources are viewed by the state’s sections, from glacial land in the north to the swamps of southeast Missouri.

Important people in Missouri's history at Missouri State Museum
Faces of Missouri.

The capitol houses the executive and legislative branches of the state government. The governor’s office is on the second floor.

Missouri General Assembly consists of two chambers – the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House has 163 members, each elected to two-year terms. The Senate has 34 members, elected to four-year terms. State legislators are restricted by law to eight years in office.

View the Missouri House of Representatives Chambers
The Missouri House of Representatives.

The House Lounge is used for press conferences and public hearings. The room is decorated with a series of murals that highlight Missouri history. Thomas P. Benton was hired to create the murals. He traveled around the state to watch people in their daily lives.

Murals in the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City
Thomas P. Benton painted murals on each wall of the House Lounge.

Each face on the mural belongs to a Missourian he saw during his travels. A painting of an Osage Indian involved using a tribal member as a model.

Benton designed the murals based on he thought was the backbone of the state’s history. He also paid tribute to famous of significant people, including Kansas City’s political boss Tom Pendergast. The murals include the good and bad sides of state history, including slavery, Jesse James’ gang, steamboats, agriculture, as well as the Pony Express.

Mural in the House Lounge in Missouri Capitol Building
Pony Express painting.

Near the House chambers, almost 50 residents are honored with busts in the Hall of Famous Missourians. The names include President Harry S Truman, Dred Scott, Betty Grable, “Buck” O’Neil, Edwin Hubble, Walter Cronkite, Josephine Baker, Walt Disney, JC Penney and Stan Musial.

Hall of Missourians at the Missouri State Capitol Building
“Buck” O’Neil bust.

The state offers free public tours daily (with holiday exceptions). Missouri was our ninth state capitol tour. We met a woman who was visiting her 33rd capitol. We find guided tours can provide historical information we may not learn on our own. We recommend visiting state capitols.

For more information on the Missouri state capitol, please visit the state parks website.