The State Capitol was built by the City of Montgomery in 1847 (it burned two years later and was rebuilt from the same plans) to house the fledging State government, then only 27 years old. What a rich history it has! The Succession Convention of 1860; the organization of the Confederacy; the inauguration of Jefferson Davis: the Constitutional Convention of 1900; the destination of the Selma March.
The early sketch at right was probably made around 1850, and while significant wings have been added, the original structure looks exactly like it does today. The edifice is located at the head of Dexter Avenue, on as imposing a site as is any state capitol in the nation, on land selected for that purpose by developer Andrew Dexter 30 years before Montgomery was even selected as the state capital.
At left is a view of the rear of our State Capitol on a sunny October day. This back end was renovated around 1992 in a process to accommodate the pedestrian tunnel under Union Street, and which connects the Capitol to the Statehouse. Before that, this view featured the coal fired boiler house that served the Capitol; compare this picture with the one below. It is my understanding that the grand tunnel under Union Street is now closed because it floods.
Jefferson Davis . . . Perhaps the most noteworthy statue in our city is this one, which stands at the place of honor in front of our State Capitol. It was placed there by the UDC in 1940. The giant Sycamore Tree in the background was taken from the battlefields of Virginia, and was planted in 1893 by then Gov Thomas Goode Jones. Jones carried one of the flags of truce at Appomattox.
Beyond the “Battlefield Sycamore” above is the North Wing of the Capitol. I read somewhere that Montgomery’s renowned architect of the early 1900s, Frank Lockwood, designed both the North and South Wings; his name appears on many pages of this tome.
At left you see the main portico of the State Capitol, at the very spot where Jefferson Davis stood to take the oath 148 years ago. I tried to get a clear shot of the inauguration star, but this young fella’ (my grandson) kept getting in the picture.
Dr. James Marion Sims . . . Standing in front of our state capitol building, right opposite the grand likeness of Jefferson Davis, is this larger-than-life bronze of J. Marion Sims, 1813-1883, founder of the medical field of gynecology. Dr. Sims was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame in 1953, but this statue was erected by the Alabama Medical Association in 1939. Sims was born and raised in South Carolina, went to medical school in Philadelphia, and set up his practice in Montgomery. There he achieved success in his field and founded a private women’s hospital in 1845. Sims was a member of the First Presbyterian Church. In 1853 the pioneering doctor moved to New York where he founded the Woman’s Hospital that exists there today.
Another bronze statue of him stands in New York’s Central Park opposite the New York Academy of Medicine. During the Civil War he practiced in Europe, where for his work he was decorated by the Emperor of France, and the kings of Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Finally, it must be admitted that Sims has his detractors, even today, who claim he butchered slave women with un-necessary operations as he perfected his procedures, and that, later, he turned many women patients into opium addicts (My own genealogical research identified shirttail female ancestors, who as a result of medical procedures became “opium eaters” and died in disgrace). Dr Sims’ little 8-bed hospital stood on South Perry at the very site that later became the office of the famous Dr Luther Hill who performed the world’s first successful open-heart surgery.
One of the most elaborate Confederate Memorials in the entire South, situated on the North end of our Capitol. The drive to build it was led by Sophia Gilmer Bibb, sister of the Governor of Georgia, and sister-in-law to Alabama’s first two governors. Montgomery Mayor Warren Reese was the primary fund raiser. Jefferson Davis laid the cornerstone in 1886 and later spoke at its dedication. The monument honors veterans of the entire CFA, not just those from Alabama.
Albert Patterson . . . Standing in the shadow of our State Capital. Albert was elected State attorney general in 1953 on a platform to clean up Phoenix City, an Alabama den of sin and inequity that served Ft Benning, Georgia, the huge Army base just across the river from PC. The Phoenix City mob assassinated him before he could even take office. Albert’s son John took his place, brought in the National Guard, and did clean up. John Patterson later served as governor, and was the only man ever to beat George Wallace in an election. As a student in nearby Auburn, I visited Ma Beeche’s place in Phoenix City a coupla’ times in ’50 and ’51 — but didn’t inhale.
The South end of the Capitol features several interesting displays. The figure in the foreground is entitled Duty Called and it is a memorial to Alabama’s fallen law enforcement officers. The tall flag pole behind the statue was placed in 1918 and honors fallen soldiers. Surprisingly, the pole was placed mainly in honor of the 25,000 man Ohio Buckeye Division which trained at Camp Sheridan in North Montgomery, went to France, and suffered 5,000 casualties in WW I. Just beyond the flagpole is a replica of the famous Liberty Bell, and on the near side of the pole is a bronze bust of Lister Hill, long time US Senator from Alabama.
When you approach the Capitol via the grand steps that lead up from Dexter Avenue, you find the larger-than-life statue of CSA President Jefferson Davis on your left, and standing across from Davis, on your right, is this bronze of Dr. John Allan Wyeth. . . 1845 – 1922. Wyeth was born in Marshall County, Alabama, and as a teenager fought in the Civil War as a member of the renowned Morgan’s Confederate Raiders. After the war he earned a medical degree in New York and from there won acclaim as the “Master Surgeon” of New York. In 1882, suffering frustration at the paucity of anatomical knowledge available to doctors, he founded the nation’s first postgraduate school of medicine. Wyeth went on to be a prolific writer, and today is remembered as a Soldier, Surgeon, Educator, Author and Poet.
Dr Wyeth married Florence Nightingale Sims, who was daughter of the Dr James Marion Sims whose statue also stands in front of our Capitol, 50-feet South of this one. The couple met in New York, Doctor Sims having moved there from Montgomery in 1853.
This Aerial View of the Capitol Complex . . . taken circa 1975, was the prize possession of Judge Joe Phelps, and is included here to provide an understanding of the Complex. The numbers were added to the Phelps photo.
- The State Capitol Building; the Confederate Memorial can be seen on the North (left) end.
- The Archives and History Building is South (right) of the Capitol, just beyond the picture.
- The Public Safety Building, formerly Highway Department; now the Attorney General’s Offices.
- The Lurleen Wallace Office Building.
- The Industrial Relations Building, backs up to Madison Avenue.
- The Rice-Semples House, which was moved in 1992 to make way for the RSA Union.
- The Folsom Building.
- The Alabama Statehouse; previously the Highway Department.
- The Water Tank which was the lynchpin of Montgomery’s 1886 water system, was 105’ high.
- Cramton Bowl, soon to undergo renovations, is pictured on Page 48.
- The Masonic Temple which served as our Supreme Court building for many years, is now engulfed by the latest, highly controversial, RSA office endeavor.