When the National Road was built, it carried transportation importance not only as a gateway west, but also as a link between western state governments and the East. The road itself passes through three former state capitals – Wheeling, W.Va. (several times in the late 1800s), Zanesville, Ohio (1810-1812), Vandalia, Ill. (1819-1839) – and two current state capitals – Columbus and Indianapolis.
In all of these locations, the National Road passes directly by, or very close to, the state capitol buildings. In Columbus, the Ohio Statehouse fronts the road (Broad Street) on its northern side.
The current statehouse was completed in 1861, after fire destroyed a previous building. The building is consistent with Greek Revival architecture, and the self-guiding tour brochure states that the idea to construct the capitol in this style came from a desire to create a structure that represented democracy, which was, of course, developed in ancient Greece.
The statehouse was renovated during the early 1990s, which restored much of the detailed interior architecture seen in the building today. In addition, the statehouse was fused with the Senate Building via an enclosed atrium, and the lowest level of the structure was renovated to serve as both a lower connection between the buildings and as a better facility for visitors.
Visiting the statehouse today is quite easy. A public parking garage exists under the building, accessible from Broad, Third or State streets. The garage leads directly into the lower level of the capitol, where a small, but modern, interactive museum features exhibits documenting politics and government in Ohio. Guided tours are free and given throughout the day, or guidebooks are available for a self-guided tour, which is what I did.
Because the statehouse and Senate Building are essentially one building, it’s a little easy to get disoriented at first. However, the statehouse is secured with a division of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, and those officers can be of assistance.
The self-guided tour leads through each level of the building, noting the function of nearly every room on each floor. The guidebook provides detailed information on each location, and also contains photos and descriptions of what parts of the capitol looked like before the 1990s renovation/restoration.
One aspect of the Ohio Statehouse that makes visiting pleasant is that the whole building is very open and visitor-friendly (at least when the Ohio General Assembly is not in session). Visitors are able to walk freely in and out of the building’s entrances, and even the House and Senate chambers are open to the public (again, as long as the legislature is not in session). This atmosphere allowed me to enjoy and take in the building at my own pace, without feeling rushed.
The highlights, at least in my mind, are The Rotunda, the House and Senate chambers, the Statehouse Museum and the grounds around the building. Of course, there are scores of other features the capitol has to offer.
The Ohio Statehouse is open to the public Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.