As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Lisa and I have started visiting state capitals whenever we can. We prefer guided tours, because they offer more information and, often, access to areas the general public would not have access to on a self-guided tour.
Since Madison is a short drive from Milwaukee, we decided to visit the Wisconsin state capitol.
We actually made it in time for the final tour of the day. However, we had just under an hour until the tour started.
The visitor’s desk clerk suggested we visit the observation deck for a 360 degree view of the Madison area.
What a suggestion! The observation deck was a perfect way to spend the time. The view from above Madison was beautiful.
Madison has two large lakes nearby – Monona and Mendora. There are other smaller lakes in the city, as well.
We looked out from the observation deck onto Lake Monona. It looked quite large from our location. The Madison area looked like a nice, clean city.
Once we were ready for the tour, our guide did a great job.
She showed us the entrance to the Governor’s office. Rather than get a look inside, she took us to his conference room. The room was elegantly decorated. A mural of American forefathers stood out on the main wall. Windows had beautifully manicured drapes.
We made our way to the Wisconsin state Supreme Court. An interesting note I took away was that of the seven justices, four are women – including the chief justice.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has seen its share of controversy over the past few years. The current governor and republican-led legislature have initiated controversial laws regarding unions and women’s health issues that have drawn a lot of national attention. To say the justices have earned their salaries may be an understatement.
The Supreme Court has paintings of historical importance, including the Magna Carta.
Moving along, we visited the state Senate chambers. The senate has 33 members. They are elected to four-year terms.
We were allowed to sit in senators’ chairs. This legislative chamber conducts itself in a formal manner – members are expected to wear business suits and allow members to speak without interruption.
The Senate chamber is decorated with historical paintings highlighting legislative actions.
Our next stop was the state Assembly (aka House of Representatives in many states). The Assembly consists of 99 members, elected to two-year terms.
This chamber conducts itself in a more relaxed environment. Members can walk around during speeches and talk with others. Some Assembly members may verbally disagree with the speaker during their time at the microphone. The dress code is relaxed.
So, we thought it odd that the public are not allowed to sit in the desk chairs during tours. Just saying.
The state motto is “Forward.” People with strong political beliefs may get a chuckle out of the motto, based on their political beliefs.
An interesting story of historical lore involved Old Abe the Eagle.
In 1860, a young eagle was injured. It was owned by a Native American. A fur trader later traded for the bird. As the Civil War started, Wisconsin fought for the Union. The eagle was given to the 8th Infantry of Wisconsin as a mascot.
At the end of the war, Old Abe was presented to the State of Wisconsin. For 15 years he lived in the “Eagle Department” in the basement of the Capitol, attracting thousands of visitors, according to the Wisconsin Historical Society:
In 1881, the eagle died as a result of injuries in a fire. His remains were stuffed and he was eventually donated to the state capitol.
Those remains were destroyed in another fire.
Now, a newer “Old Abe” sits behind the Speaker’s chair in the Assembly.
After the tour ended, Lisa and I realized we had not eaten lunch. It was nearing the dinner hour, so we decided to combine both meals. The tour guide suggested eating at “Pisano’s” along Lake Monona. Dinner was delicious.
After dinner, we walked along the lake front to the Lake Monona Terrace.
The convention center was originally the vision of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He had envisioned this center in 1938. He wanted a curvilinear building that would connect the lake with the state capitol. It took years to realize this goal. Wright was long passed before the convention center was completed.
Atop the convention center is a beautiful terrace. Flowers and plants are scattered throughout. Standing at the edge of the terrace, you can see for miles, beyond Lake Monona. Down the street is the Capitol building. A water fountain shoots water high into the air, giving a hazy look to the capitol from some spots.
As with every other state capitol we’ve visited, it was worth the couple of hours we invested. You can get an insight on some of the state’s history and a look at historical design.
Wisconsin state capitol: