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Missouri Architecture: Building Interest

Capitol Landmarks

Jefferson City

Rising as a domed sentinel above Jefferson City, Missouri’s Capitol was rebuilt for the third time in 1917 after two fires. Tours start at the state seal below the soaring three-story dome. When the legislature is not in session, groups can step inside the House of Representatives chamber. Inside the chamber, one of the largest single canvas paintings in existence pays tribute to the World War I veterans of Missouri’s 35th Division.

At construction, a $1 million bond overage funded commissioned artwork by some of the era’s best artists, including Thomas Hart Benton. In the House Lounge, Benton’s 14-foot-tall mural covers all four walls. Colorful scenes chronicle Missouri’s history, from the French settlers of the 1730s through the Industrial Revolution two centuries later. Benton spent nine months on the project. Elsewhere, visitors can also view 41 half-moon paintings depicting Missouri’s history and resources.

Across from the Capitol stands the brick Supreme Court building, site of the famous Dred-Scott Case. A design contest among St. Louis architects determined the building’s French Renaissance style. Money from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair funded construction. Marble columns, black cast-iron railings, massive oak doors and intricate plasterwork grace every floor. More than 80 donated portraits of former judges line the hallways, with additional paintings by George Caleb Bingham and watercolorist Paul Jackson.

While in town, groups won’t want to miss touring the Missouri State Penitentiary. Known as The Walls, it was constructed from native white stone. In operation from 1836 to 2004, it served as the state’s primary maximum security institution. Philadelphia architect John Haviland was credited with the prison’s design, but this has never been conclusively proven.

“The two-hour penitentiary tour takes in three housing units and the gas chamber,” said Diane Gillespie, executive director of the Jefferson City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Also very popular are the evening paranormal tours.” 


National Churchill Museum


Few political figures rival Sir Winston Churchill, and the National Churchill Museum honors this British statesman. As prime minister, Churchill rallied Britain and the world during World War II to defeat the Axis powers. Located on the Westminster College campus, the museum commemorates Churchill’s leadership and legacy.

Also on-site is a historic English church — the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Aldermanbury — which was transported from London to Missouri block by block in the 1960s. This architectural masterpiece was designed by Sir Christopher Wren in 1677 to replace the church destroyed in the 1666 Great Fire of London. Later, it was partially destroyed in the blitzes of World War II.

Inside, an original 17th-century Wren pulpit recently replaced the reproduction that came over with the church. An unusual circular staircase leads from the organ loft to the bell tower. As the oldest part of the church, it dates back to the medieval period — sometime before 1500.

“The staircase survived the Great Fire and was incorporated into the London church,” said executive director Jim Williams. “Originally, it probably served as the stairway down to the crypt. Today, it connects the organ loft to the bell tower where, during tours, an organist can be scheduled to play.”

According to Williams, the church is a historical paradox. As the state’s oldest constructed building, it incorporates the youngest stone of any Missouri building. Its brilliant white stone blocks were quarried from the Isle of Portland on England’s Wessex Coast. Those stones are geologically younger than stone found in Missouri.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.