Originally called the State House, the Old Capitol has served numerous functions in its long history—state capitol from 1839 to 1903, state office building from 1917 to 1959, and state historical museum from 1961 to 2005. In 2009, the newly-restored Old Capitol began a new chapter in its storied existence as a museum dedicated to tell the history of the building itself and the momentous events that took place within its walls.
The building was authorized by the 1833 Mississippi legislature shortly after the Constitution of 1832 ensured that Jackson would be the capital until at least 1850. After a failed start, the Old Capitol was then designed by William Nichols in the Greek Revival style. Construction took several years and cost $400,000. The construction of a capitol of such grandeur in a town with dirt streets and boardwalks and with fewer than one thousand people represented the bold vision Mississippians had for their young state.
The Mississippi Legislature first met in the Old Capitol in January 1839 although the interior of the building was not completed until the fall of 1840. While serving as state capitol, the building witnessed passage of key legislation, the adoption of two constitutions, and the Civil War and Reconstruction. After sixty-four years as the seat of state government, the building was abandoned in 1903 when the New Capitol was built to provide more space for an expanding government.
As the Old Capitol deteriorated from neglect, attempts were made to demolish it. Through the efforts of womenís preservation groups, the building was saved from destruction and was turned into a state office building in 1917. Several state agencies - including the Board of Health, the Department of Education, and the Department of Agriculture - called the Old Capitol home.
In 1959 the Board of Health moved to a new building, and Governor James P. Coleman initiated the complete restoration of the Old Capitol to house the State Historical Museum, which opened in 1961. For over forty-five years, the Old Capitol Museum of Mississippi History presented award-winning exhibits and programs in this historic space. In 1990, the Old Capitol earned greater fame when it was designated a National Historic Landmark. Hurricane Katrina forced the museumís closure in August 2005.
In 2006, the Mississippi Legislature provided funding for a new restoration. Construction work began in 2007 and the building reopened to the public in January 2009. The Old Capitol, one of Americaís finest examples of Greek Revival architecture, now interprets the distinguished history of the building, with special emphasis on government in action and historic preservation.
The Old Capitol Museum is administered by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Within the walls of the State House/Old Capitol many dramatic and significant events occurred:
- Passage of the first law in America giving property rights to married women, 1839
- Events honoring Andrew Jackson during his last visit to the city named for him, 1840
- Gathering of Jefferson Davis and the Mississippi Volunteers on their victorious return from the Mexican War, 1847
- Passage of the Ordinance of Secession, 1861
- First constitutional convention in the South after the fall of the Confederacy, 1865
- Election of Hiram Revels to the U. S. Senate, the first African American to serve in the U. S. Congress, 1870
- Last address by Jefferson Davis to the legislature, 1884
- Establishment of the first state-supported college for women in America, 1884
- Adoption of the present Constitution of the State of Mississippi, 1890
- Inauguration of Governor William F. Winter, 1980
- Presentation of the French Legion of Honor award to writer Eudora Welty, 1996
- Signing of the Accord between the State of Mississippi and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, 1997