Florida’s Capitol has a rich history. This page relates its colorful past, including rare photographs of the Capitol through the years.
1824 Capitol in Florida’s Capitol over the years have reflected the growth of the state. In the early 1820s, legislators transferred government business from St. Augustine to Pensacola for alternating sessions. Travel was hazardous and took almost twenty days – clearly an unsatisfactory arrangement. As a result, Tallahassee was chosen as the capital of American Florida in 1824, primarily because it was the midway point between the two principal cities.
1830 Capitol Three log cabins served as Florida’s first Capitol. In 1826, a two-story masonry building, 40′ X 26′, was built. It was to be the wing of a larger sturcture planned for the future. Although this larger portion was started, it was never completed due to financial problems.
As Florida moved toward statehood, the needs of government grew. There arose a demand for a suitable state house or public building for the use of the Territorial Legislature. On March 3, 1839, Congress appropriated $20,000 for the erection of a new Capitol. The old structure was razed immediately, and Florida’s government temporarily moved into rented quarters.
1845 Capitol The brick Capitol was completed in 1845, just prior to the installation of the new State government. This structure remains the core of the Old Capitol to the present day.
The capitol remained virtually unchanged during the Civil War years when Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi to avoid capture by Federal troops.
1901 Capitol By the 1880s, Florida suffered growing pains caused by an economic boom and expanding population. By 1891 the Capitol needed thorough repair. The building was repainted, a small cupola was added, and plumbing was installed.
The first major alteration to the Capitol came in 1902 when the addition of two wings provided more room for the growing State government, and the familiar dome was added. This was the last time Florida’s government operated under one roof. By 1911 State government was moving to other buildings. Further additions to the Capitol were made in 1923, 1936, and 1947.
1954 Capitol Florida’s population continued to grow as did its need for government services. In 1972 the Legislature authorized money for a new Capitol Complex to include House and Senate chambers and offices, along with a twenty-two-story executive office building completed in 1977.
Restoration of the old Capitol became an issue in 1978 with the then Governor Reubin O’D. Askew and House Speaker Donald Tucker favoring outright demolition. Luckily, the old Capitol building was saved and refurbished, being reopened to the public in 1982. It now serves as the Department of State’s Museum of Florida History covering events in Florida life and its state government.
Florida Governors’ Portraits
CLICK ABOVE TO ENTER MUSEUM
Beginning with Governor Francis Fleming in the 1890s, every chief executive of Florida has had an official portrait painted and hung in the state capitol building. Over the years, an interesting variety of artistic styles has accumulated. In the mid-1950s, the state legislature commissioned Tallahassee artist Clarabel Jett (1908–96) to create oil-enhanced photographs of all Florida governors whose portraits were not yet in the state collection. In 1986, the legislature transferred custody of the portrait collection to the Museum of Florida History.
All of the Governor’s portraits are represented at the Historic Capitol. The more recent governors’ portraits appear in the first-floor hallway of the new Capitol, beginning with Claude Kirk (1967-1971) and continuing up to the most recent portrait, that of Governor Jeb Bush (January 1999 – January 2007). In keeping with the tradition of official governors’ portraits, our current governor, Charlie Crist, will not commission his portrait until the end of his term.
These are colorful portraits of colorful people, all of whom have been Florida history makers.
THE FLORIDA STATE SEAL
The current Florida State Seal
In 1985, Secretary of State George Firestone presented the revised Great Seal of the State of Florida to the Governor and the Cabinet. The previous State Seal had several errors which were corrected in the 1985 Seal. This revised Seal has a Seminole Indian woman rather than a Western Plains Indian, the steamboat is more accurate, and the cocoa palm has been changed to a sabal palm as the Legislature prescribed in 1970.
HISTORY OF THE STATE SEAL 1868-1985
The elements and basic design instructions for Florida’s State Seal were established by the Legislature in 1868. Early that year, Florida’s newly adopted State Constitution had directed that:”The Legislature shall, at the first session, adopt a seal for the state, and such seal shall be the size of an American silver dollar, but said seal shall not again be changed after its adoption by the Legislature.”
So the Legislature, acting quickly upon the mandate, passed and sent to Governor Harrison Reed a Joint Resolution on August 6, 1868 specifying “That a Seal of the size of the American silver dollar, having in the center thereof a view of the sun’s rays over a high land in the distance, a cocoa tree, a steamboat on water, and an Indian female scattering flowers in the foreground, encircled by the words, ‘Great Seal of the State of Florida: In God We Trust’, be and the same is hereby adopted as the Great Seal of the State of Florida.” “In God We Trust” was adopted as the official state motto in the 2006 Florida Legislative Session. (Florida State Statute 15.0301)
Another early State Seal design
Florida’s present Constitution, (Art. II, Sec. 4), continues to require the seal to be prescribed by law. In 1970, more than 100 years after the first specifications were drawn, the Florida Legislature made one change in the official description (CH. 15.03), changing “cocoa tree” in the former language to “Sabal palmetto palm.” The sabal palmetto palm had been designated as State Tree in 1953.
Through the years, interpretations of the elements of the Great Seal have differed considerably. The steamboat, for instance, has been depicted in a variety of ways. The various images of the Indian female have drawn criticism from historians conscious of her clothing. The earliest official Great Seal pictured a mountainous background, something absent from the Florida terrain. Another effort showed a feather headdress on the Indian, a blunder insomuch as Indian males wore the headdresses.
Black and white version of the current Florida State Seal
Through it all, however, the elements in the Great Seal have remained consistent. Section 15.03 of the Florida Statutes in addition to specifying elements of the Great Seal, provides that the Department of State shall be the custodian of it, and that the Department of State alone has the authority to approve its use or display as defined further in Florida Administrative Rule 1-2.0021. A further provision prohibits any commercial use of the Great Seal.