Montana State Capitol Building – A recent visit to Helena

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On a recent road trip to Helena we had the opportunity to visit our Montana State Capital building. The legislature was in session so everybody was there, including the Governor.

One of the more notable features at the Montana State Capital building is the Tribal Flag Plaza: If your state doesn’t fly the flags of it’s First Nations People at it’s Capital, then it should.

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Our son was born in Great Falls in 2006 and this was his first opportunity to actually go into the Montana State Capital building for a look around.

Governor Greg Gianforte is the second Montana Governor our son has met so far (he met our previous Governor Steve Bullock in the fall of last year), and he plans to meet more as time goes on.

I hadn’t actually been inside of the Capital building since Marc Racicot was Governor, so it was hard for me to remember where exactly everything was.

Montana State House of Representatives chamber
Montana State House of Representatives chamber (tap or click image to enlarge)

It was great that the legislature was in session, because our son was able to experience our state legislators going about their business on the House and Senate floors.

I think that more young people should visit their State Capital buildings and experience, first hand, how things are actually done, by real people, dealing with real issues.
Too many times we see our legislators on TV coupled with short sound bites, and rare is it that folks will take the time to go see those same legislators in real time on the House or the Senate floor doing the things they were elected to do.

Our son is only 16 years old and doesn’t get all off into the political flavor of the day, but even still, he has an interest in how things might get done. He sat and watched an afternoon session in the House with great enthusiasm — he listened to all of the questions and answers, he also made note of the decorum, and was somewhat impressed at the amount of respect each side gave to the other.
It wasn’t at all about what he might have learned on the television. These people actually talked to each other — provided each other with actual answers to the questions being asked. Some bills failed while other bills passed.

When we got up to the visitors gallery in the House chamber, the sergeant at arms graciously unlocked the doors and let us in early before the session started. There are always going to be rules and protocol for how things are done in any State Capital building, but here we are … in Montana. We treat each other with kindness, trust, and dignity. We often times find ourselves doing things we don’t have to do just because.

The Capital building security and the members of our Montana Highway Patrol were stellar as always.

Our State Capital building is a priceless work of art. The building was constructed between 1896 and 1902 with wing-annexes added between 1909 and 1912.

The building, constructed of Montana sandstone and granite, is in Greek neoclassical architectural style, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The exterior of the dome is covered with copper. Atop the dome is a feminine statue affectionately dubbed Montana.

Montana State Capitol rotunda/interior dome
Montana State Capitol rotunda/interior dome (tap or click image to enlarge)

The most notable feature inside the center of the Montana State Capitol building is the massive rotunda, with four circular paintings surrounding it. These paintings, painted for the Capitol opening in 1902 by the firm of F. Pedretti’s Sons.

The most significant piece of art in the Capitol is by Montana’s famous Western artist Charles M. Russell. The 1912 painting, titled Lewis and Clark Meeting the Flathead Indians at Ross’ Hole, is 25 feet long and twelve feet high. It depicts the explorers Lewis and Clark meeting Montana’s Bitterroot Salish people upon their return across the Bitterroot Mountains from the Pacific Ocean. It is now displayed above the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives’ chamber.

Of particular note:

The bronze equestrian statue in front of the Capital building is that of Thomas Francis Meagher.
The statue was cast in 1905 by the American Bronze Foundry, Chicago, Illinois.
A native of Ireland, Meagher (1823-1867) was an Irish revolutionary, a Brigadier General in the U. S. Army during the Civil War, and was appointed Secretary of the Territory of Montana in 1865.
Soon after arriving in Montana, he was designated Acting Governor.

Thomas Francis Meagher is considered to be one of Montana’s founding fathers.

The Tribal Flag Plaza:

The eight tribal nation flags fly next to the U.S. and Montana flags on the north lawn between the grand staircase and the statue of Thomas Francis Meagher.

Montana’s tribes include the Blackfeet Nation, Chippewa Cree Tribe, Crow Nation, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Fort Belknap Assiniboine and Gros Ventre Tribes, Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes, Little Shell Chippewa Tribe and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe.

At a May 2019 signing for HB 524, then Governor Steve Bullock said the monument will be a symbol of respect and understanding, and a recognition that the Capitol belongs to everybody.

Watch the flag raising ceremony from the Montana Public Affairs Network here: https://youtu.be/y3EbWeCa9y0

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