They had to separate so that their values did not separate. Salt Lake City, Utah can easily claim to be the most unique study on my separation of church and state tour of “Capitols & Churches.” The geography of the state is quite diverse: mountains, desert, canyons, arches and the Great Salt Lake miles from the nearest ocean. When it comes to religion, 62 percent of its population follows the Mormon faith, which has evolved into The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints. No other state can claim that majority of dedication to an ideal.
How did a land named for the Native American tribe, Utes, become known as the Beehive State? The answer lies in the industrious nature of the descendants of John Smith and Brigham Young. These founders originated in upstate New York, migrated through the Midwest and eventually settled in Salt Lake City. They built a rock-solid community of like-minded people—an industrialized society worthy of any productive beehive.
To reach the Capitol requires a disciplined climb through The Marmalade District of the city. Why is it called “The Marmalade District?” It is due to the early settlers that imported and planted a number of fruit trees on the western slope of Capitol Hill. These included apricot, quince and almond, all of which were used to make their marmalade jam. Quince, in particular, has been speculated as the proverbial apple produced in the Garden of Eden. A quince cannot be eaten like a pear or apple, but must be baked or frozen to eliminate acidity.Approaching the top of the hill from the West, one will reach the “The Old Rock Church” of the LDS community.
This church was built in 1928 by George Ashton, the contractor and first bishop of Capitol Hill Ward. He hauled in the large stones for the exterior from a quarry in the nearby mountains. Tours of the church are available from May to October. It is here that one can learn how the LDS church is organized through branches, wards and stakes.
When leaving the tour, take a few steps across the street to the neoclassical revival Corinthian-style Capitol. The views from the front steps are nothing short of stunning. To the left are the majestic snow-capped Wasatch Range, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Directly in front, two distinctive buildings with unique histories of their own stand out: White Memorial Chapel and Council Hall. Off to the right, over the tree line lies the home of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in a downtown cathedral.
Standing near the East entrance to the Capitol is a large statue of Chief Massasoit, which may sound familiar, but is out of place. Massasoit was not a member of the native Utes of the region, but was the Indian sachem that became friendly with the pilgrims of Plymouth Rock 2,000 miles to the east in present-day Massachusetts. He was also instrumental in giving Roger Williams refuge from Massachusetts before he founded Rhode Island.
How does a statue of Massasoit relate to Utah? The answer lies in the name Cyrus Edwin Dallin, an American sculptor who created more than 260 works of art. His pieces include a statue of Paul Revere in Boston, the angel Moroni that rests on top of Salt Lake Temple and his most well-known piece “Appeal to the Great Spirit,” which is a permanent installation at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He was born in Utah in 1861 and moved to Boston at the age of 19 to study sculpture. He sculpted “Massasoit” in 1920, which stands at Coles Hill, opposite Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. An additional five casts of Massasoit stand at the Utah State Capitol, Brigham Young University, his hometown of Springville, Utah, Kansas City and Dayton, Ohio.
The 11th stop of my tour was a fascinating mix of learning: pioneer spirit, beehives, marmalade, rocks and Native American history from a distant shore, combined to tell the unique story of separation of church and state in Salt Lake City, Utah. Where will my journey take me next?
Before exploring the tenth Capitol on my trip, it was time for a little auto maintenance. A simple oil change and tire rotation turned into major repairs. Ken, a courteous shuttle driver and Vietnam veteran, was available to drive me into Phoenix. He circled the Arizona State Capitol and helped me look for the nearest church. There wasn’t one in sight, but West Jefferson St. did lead to the Capitol entrance. With my iPad and a good pair of shoes, I set off on a path of discovery.
The Capitol building is very distinctive. A windvane similar to the winged Victory of Samothrace sits above a copper dome. Building design includes local materials and is optimized for the desert climate. The old Capitol building was built in 1901 in anticipation of statehood in 1912 and is on the same grounds serving as a museum. In 1960 and 1978, additional buildings were built that now hold the legislative and governor’s offices.
I entered the rotunda and headed for the information desk. I asked about the closest churches in the area. The volunteers do not live in the city and do not know. They suggest I ask a guild member before a meeting that was starting soon. Once again, no knowledge of local churches. Back outside I see a group of women packing up some signs from a demonstration.
Asking if they know where the closest church may be, they all mention that they are from Planned Parenthood. My guess is they expected a reaction. However, I asked again, “I’m just looking for the closest church.” Each one opens their smartphones and soon one is found. It looks like it’s a few blocks to the NW. I thank them and start out in that direction.
One block north and three blocks west, I found a group of stucco buildings completely surrounded by wire fencing. A rusted sign read “St. Matthew church and school. NO Unlawful entry!” School visitors went into the office. I could hear children playing in the schoolyard. I walked around the perimeter and found a courtyard with a statue of Jesus and his sacred heart. The gate to the courtyard and church entrance was locked. It was noon and a car pulled into the parking lot. A Spanish woman got out and tried to enter. I shrugged my shoulders to indicate that we couldn’t get in. We both walked over to the church office and rang the bell. No answer. Very strange. I feel like I’m in the middle of Don Mclean’s song “American Pie.” The woman got back in her car disappointed and drove off.
While I walked back to the Capitol, I called for Ken to pick me up and return to my quite expensive repair bill. Watching the breaking news on TV in the waiting room, a most notable event had just happened. While I was searching for a closed church, white smoke rose from the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City. A new Pope had been elected. His chosen name is Francis. I thanked both my service advisor and Ken for excellent service and hit the dusty trail once again.
It was mid afternoon and I wasn’t not quite sure if I should head back home, west to California or north to Nevada and Utah. Something pulled me toward the lights of Las Vegas, 400 miles away. I was thinking it surely has frugal hotels and would be a good place to stop and sort out my options. Arriving in the city limits at 10 p.m. with little traffic to stop me, I felt the need to continue north on I-15 toward Utah.
The fuel and driver were nearing empty just before midnight. I pulled into a gas station and McDonalds restaurant in Mesquite, Nevada. I opened my iPad, directed it to Hotwire and chose the closest, most frugal hotel available. The answer was Casablanca casino and resort, one exit back on I-15.
As I approached the front desk, the clerk told me there is a golf tournament in town. It appeared that no rooms were available. He turned me over to a supervisor. Her name is Mary. She looked and found the reservation, but had to search for an available room. Finding a VIP room that is not being used, she then apologized for leaving as her shift was ending. She turned to another clerk who had just started his shift and instructed him to check me in to the VIP suite. He gave me my room key. I thanked him and glanced at his badge. It read “Jesus.” This particular day started in Phoenix with a new Pope elected and almost finished with no room at the hotel. And I was checked in by Mary and Jesus. It was time to rest.
Before you jump to any conclusions, I would like to remind you that this article is not about a poem from John Donne, a book by Ernest Hemingway, or a song by Metallica. My experience in this city was slightly different from the common theme in those three creations.
Baton Rouge was in my rear view mirror and soon I entered the Lone Star State in search of its capital. From a mileage perspective, Austin is the most difficult continental capital to reach from another state’s border.
Arriving on a Monday afternoon, I find the city buzzing with activity related to SXSW, an amazing festival of technology, music, art, and a million other cool ideas. The Capitol building is in the center of the city just a few blocks SW of the University of Texas.
The beige exterior of this Italian Renaissance Revival style Capitol grabs and fills your field of vision immediately. When it was created in 1888, it was billed as the seventh largest building in the world. Once again, fire plays an important role in a Capitol history. This building is a replacement for the second Capitol that was destroyed in the great Capitol fire of 1881. A little over a century later, in 1983 another fire almost destroyed the structure. At 360,000 square feet of floor space, 400 rooms, resting on 2.25 acres of land, that is not an easy task. It is certainly a building worthy of the size of the state it represents.
As I walked around the statues and monuments on the 22 acres surrounding the Capitol, I would ask for directions to the nearest church. Sure enough, the closest street to the west contained the current day structures of First United Methodist Church of Austin. The Rev. John Haynie from Knoxville, TN was the first preacher in 1840 the same year that Austin was named capital of the new state of Texas. Worship started in a log house, but was abandoned for two years during the Mexican and Indian invasions. After a short time, preaching in the halls of the Capitol, a new structure was built in 1854 that reached a membership of 231, including 135 slaves.
The third and current site has grown to over 3000 members since 1923. As I photographed the church with the Capitol in the background, a youth group was meeting on the front steps to plan a breakfast for the homeless the next morning. As I observed in Richmond and Atlanta, the homeless population in America often finds refuge near the churches of America. Little did I know at that moment what was soon to be.
Quite satisfied with my discoveries of the day, I was ready to return to my car and continue on my journey. I had my Capitol and I had the closest church in Austin. Walking back in front of the Capitol in the late afternoon, I could hear a loud bell echoing between the tall buildings of the city. Hmmm, is there another church close by? I let my ears guide me two blocks south, then one east until before me stood St. Mary Cathedral. It is tall and was hidden behind rows of scaffolding and construction. The attached school was also worn down and had a closed sign hung on the door.
Looking about, I noticed two other buildings on the same intersection. To my left was a Fox TV station and across the street was the Jefferson State Building. One block in the distance was the front of the State Capitol. Jefferson was in the separation between church and state.
Discovery leads to more discovery. Entering the TV station lobby, I asked the security guard if anyone knows the status of St. Mary’s Cathedral. A postman arrived with the mail and I also notice a man crossing the street walking back towards the church. I explained my project of searching for the closest churches to the capitols. The security guard and postman start to debate about where the closest churches are. Finally, the postman tells me that the church is open, “You should go inside. It contains many symbolic references to Catholic doctrine. The sanctuary is shaped like a nave and when full resembles a boat full of fish. You can get in through the door under the scaffolding.”
Thanks to both gentleman, discovery lead to more discovery, back across the street and up the steps to the front door. I reach for the handle and a voice on my right says “You just missed it. They close the door at 5 p.m.” I look over and a man in a maroon sweatshirt and plastic sunglasses is there. A black coat or blanket is on the ground behind him. I thank him for the information and turn back down the steps as another young man with a skateboard comes up the steps. The information is relayed and he turns and leaves.
Once again, I turn to the man in the corner and he asks “Can you spare a dollar or two?” I reach in my left pocket and found eight dollars. I hand him my offering and he accepts with appreciation. I turn and take two steps down to the street and his voice stops me again. “Sir, can I ask you for another favor? My backpack was stolen by some college kids last night as I slept. I could really use another shirt and pants.”
Discovery leads to more discovery. I pause, turn and dig out two 20 bills from my wallet, walk back up the steps and hand it to him. Then I ask, “You seem to be familiar with this church. Do you know what the story is with this construction?”
“Actually, I’m part of the reason it’s under construction.” I ask his name and then to tell me the story. I mentioned that he must be the caretaker of St. Mary’s.
Daryl was a regular parishioner the previous fall and was exiting mass on Sunday. As he came down the steps, he assisted a woman with a baby in front of him. As they stepped down, a 30 pound chunk of rock fell from the bell tower crashed down on the step behind them. The woman told the priest that Daryl had saved her from the rock. The TV station interviewed him, a local parishioner that was a big contractor stepped up to repair the tower and this construction is the result. Daryl then told me that he had fallen on bad times since, made some bad decisions, but was trying to correct them.
We conversed some more. I shared why I was passing through Austin and told him it was time for me to move along. He allowed me to use his story and take his picture with me on my journey.
My research on the history of St. Mary Cathedral is spot on with information shared by the postman and Daryl. You can delve deep into the amazing history and theology of these scared buildings at SMCAustin.org and FUMCAustin.org.
I will close the Austin, Texas chapter of my capitols and churches journey with this thought: take a Capitol stroll to where the church bells toll. It will only cost you a few steps to a great story.
St. Joseph’s Cathedral has stood in the center of Baton Rouge since 1853. The founding parish was established by King Carlos IV of Spain in 1792. Father Carlos Burke, born in Ireland, but schooled in France and Spain was the first pastor.In 1803, The Louisiana Purchase brought the Baton Rouge area into the United States. The President of the United States at the time was, you guessed it , Thomas Jefferson.
Louisiana became a state in 1812. New Orleans was the first capital, as it had been for the territory and colony since 1722. By 1829, the State legislature declared that the state capital be moved to a more convenient place and tried to move to Donaldsonville. 2 years later moved back to New Orleans.Finally the Louisiana State Constitution included a clause in 1845 that required the capital to be moved by 1849. The City of Baton Rouge donated land overlooking the Mississippi River for the construction of a new castle like capitol building.
The Old Gothic revival style capitol was abandoned and used as a prison during the Civil war, gutted by an accidental fire in 1862, then rebuilt in 1882. It served the state until Huey Long became Governor in 1928 and used the new capitol building as a symbol to end political domination within the state. The skyscraper that resulted and finished in 1932 is the tallest capitol building in the United States. A short 3 years later, Long was assassinated in the State Capitol by Dr. Carl Weiss who was then killed by Long’s bodyguards. He is buried in front of the Capitol marked by a statue.
I arrived in Baton Rouge in the early evening in March 2013. It was quite easy to find the tall structures that define Baton Rouge’s skyline. The Superman building style of the Capitol dominates the north side of the city. When you move directly south to the center of the city, the Gothic Revival style of St. Joseph’s Cathedral secures the air above Baton Rouge streets. Can you just imagine the conversations these 3 buildings have had during their history? The Cathedral, the Castle, and the Superman Capitol.
As I stood on the street corner framing a photograph in the dimming light, I could almost hear the buildings talking in hushed whispers. I could also hear a storm approaching in the distance.I quickly finished and hit the highway westbound for Texas. Easing onto to Interstate 10, I looked at the skyline one last time before crossing the Mississippi. Too late, it was gone. Completely shrouded in a fast forming fog bank. It appeared to me that some whispers of history, are never meant to be seen.
If the goats that roamed Andrew Dexter’s pasture in 1845 only knew the events that would follow. Mr. Dexter saw the future and kept his land ready for the new state capital being moved from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery. Built in 1847, burned in 1849 and rebuilt in 1850, Alabama’s State Capitol has a distinctive clock over its front portico that has been marking time ever since it was the first Confederate capitol in 1861. 104 years later, events on its steps would lead to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
One short block to the west, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church was built on the corner of Decatur and Dexter streets. The lot cost $270. The second church on the lot was finished in 1889 and has been instrumental in the U.S. civil rights movement.
In 1954, a new pastor was named. It was from the basement office in the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church that he planned the Montgomery Bus Boycott. His birth name was Michael King Jr. At the tender age of five, his father returned from a trip to Germany and renamed himself and his son in honor of German reformer Martin Luther. As a young teenager, Martin Jr. toured Atlanta based churches to sing, became the youngest assistant manager for The Atlanta Journal, renounced the church, and then attended seminary.
Martin Luther King Jr. pastored Dexter Avenue Baptist until 1960. In 1965 he organized the Selma to Montgomery marches to the steps of the Capitol. Peaceful demonstrations led to a walk to the governor’s office and eventually a meeting with then Governor George Wallace. George Wallace would then go on to be the last independent candidate for United States president to actually be awarded electoral votes in the 1968 presidential election.
170 years ago it was just some goats munching on the grass in Andrew Dexter’s pasture. Today, you can park on the street that runs between this Alabama Capitol and The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and contemplate the events that these pastures of plenty have produced. Then wonder, what the next 170 years will bring.
Tallahassee at first glance is a curious place to be the capital of Florida. It is closer to the state borders of Georgia and Alabama than the six largest cities in its home state. It lies in a rural unpopulated area of the panhandle. When one approaches the capitol buildings from the east, your eyes deceive you. Old, short and beautiful. New, tall and ugly. What exactly is going on here?
Even the history of the state and the capitol is a story of contrast. Numerous Indian tribes ruled the land before the first European discoverers founded Florida in 1565. Tallahassee is an Indian name meaning ‘’old town.” It boasts the newest capitol building in the country. A twenty-two story tall office building with two small bubble domes on either side. The old “Greek revival” capitol trimmed in black with pastel awnings is beautiful. However, there is a modern monstrosity hovering behind it.
St. Augustine and Pensacola were the original capitals of the Spanish colonies in East and West Florida. The first two legislative sessions in the new Florida territory in 1822 were alternated between East and West. By the time Florida was ready for statehood in 1845, legislators were ready to meet halfway, in Tallahassee. In the mid 1800s, Florida’s population grew very slowly. The turn of the century was when the tourist trade and growth developed in the central and southern parts of the state.
A total of eighteen hundred black and white slaves and free people lived in Tallahassee in 1849. Four men and five women organized the Baptist Church of Tallahassee, a short one and a half blocks north of the new then, now old capitol building. They changed the name in 1894 to The First Baptist Church of Tallahassee, remodeled in 1900 with a membership of four hundred and seven and dedicated in 1911.
Take a brief walk south and you will cross West Jefferson Street. Yes, a street named for Thomas Jefferson separates The First Baptist Church of Tallahassee from its neighboring two capitol complex. In this old town, the church is much easier on the eyes than the capitol is.
This completes the southeastern portion of our 50 state capitols and churches trip. We now head west to a state capital that hosts a church with a Luther background.