Thursday, March 1, 2012
Anyone else get that sense of Texas Pride when driving up Congress Ave. towards the State Capitol? It is such a beautiful building, I always catch my breath when I see it (maybe that means I don't go downtown into Austin enough though?). Regardless, deep in the Heart of Texas sits a treasure - the Texas State Capitol.
Most people don't think of the Capitol as a destination to take their families - I hope to convince you otherwise - it is a fantastic place to learn about our state history and teach the kids about Texas politics. And the best part of it all? It's absolutely FREE!
Here comes your history lesson: Austin became the capital city in 1839. The capital was later moved to Houston in 1842, then Washington-on-the-Brazos before returning to Austin in 1845. The Texas Constitution, adopted in February 1876, authorized the sale of public land to finance a new state capitol in Austin.
Here is where it gets interesting: The builders of our capitol accepted 3 million acres of land in the Texas Panhandle as payment for the building. This land became the famous XIT Ranch (which has a story of its own).
Originally, the building was to be built with Texas Limestone, but concerns were raised about the uniformity of it. Good thing they didn't go with it - it would not be nearly as beautiful as it is. The owners of Granite Mountain in Marble Falls (about one hour west of Austin) offered building stone for free to the state. And our capitol was built using the beautiful Sunset Red Texas Granite.
At the time of it's completion, in May 1888, it was the seventh-largest building in the world, proving that yes, we build everything bigger here in Texas. And we are all very proud that our capitol is taller than the Capitol in Washington, D. C.
The Capitol rotunda is a beautiful site to see as well. It is a whispering gallery - a really fun thing to do with your kids! And peer real close at the star at the top - it spells out something near and dear to my heart.
The Capitol offers tours that feature the Capitol, Texas history, and the Texas legislature. This free 45-minute tour begins in the Capitol South Foyer. You can also roam about and take in the pubic access areas, including the House Chamber. I just loved the historical look to it all - the wooden desks were magnificent.
The Capitol Visitors Center is a wonderful museum on the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds. Free to the public, its 2 stories provide excellent, hands-on exhibits for every age. We enjoyed dressing up like a Texan and creating our own "ranch brand". The Visitors Center also offers a wonderful gift shop as well.
Also, take some time to visit any of the 17 monuments that surround the building. Our favorite was the Heroes of the Alamo. Can you find it?
The Capitol is a great half-day adventure in Downtown Austin. It's a great pairing with the Bob Bullock Museum, a tour of the UT Campus, or a romp in Zilker Park.
Texas Travel Facts on the State Capitol:
Location: 1100 Congress Ave. Austin, TX
Hours: Capitol - Mon - Fri (7 a.m. - 10 p.m.) / Weekends (9 a.m. - 8 p.m.)
Capitol Visitors Center - Mon - Sat (9 a.m. - 5 p.m.) / Sun ( Noon - 5 p.m.)
Recommended Time: 2- 3 hours
Good to know: All ages welcome, strollers are welcome, lots of walking, bring a picnic lunch and your camera, hours are extended during legislative sessions
Rebecca, a local contributor, spends most of her time hunting down family fun around the Austin area for R We There Yet Mom? Currently, she is running a Texas Travels Spring Break Series to help you plan all sorts of fun for the upcoming break. Follow her traveling-momma-isms (totally a word) on R We There Yet Mom?'s Facebook Page and Twitter.