Pierre, South Dakota: Connected to Lakota by the Missouri River at Fort Pierre.
I drove 200 miles down US 83 from Bismarck to Pierre. The quietest Capitol to Capitol journey of my tour. Pretty sure there were less than a dozen cars between the two cities. Pierre, South Dakota is the second smallest Capitol city behind Montpelier, VT. It is also one of only four Capitols to not be serviced by an Interstate highway. Dover, Jefferson City, and Juneau are the others. It is however, serviced by the Missouri river, which plays a multi reasoned part of it's history.
The name Pierre comes from the Fort located across the river Fort Pierre. Fort Pierre was named for an American Fur trader from St. Louis, Pierre Chouteau Jr.. When South Dakota became a state in 1880, Pierre was chosen as it's Capital due to its centrally located position in the new state. I found a peaceful Pierre with it's Capitol and closest churches on a Sunday afternoon.
The closest church Lutheran Memorial Church was literally across the street from the Northwest side of the Capitol. It was also the newest of three I found close by, built in 1942. A few blocks further to the North, I found Saints Peter and Paul Catholic church established shortly after statehood in 1882. The third church is First Congregational UCC, a block behind Lutheran Memorial, the fourteenth location of this community. This church history is truly tied to Pierre, it's native Lakota roots and the Missouri river for it's ministry. The History below is from their website. https://www.pierreucc.org/our-history.html
Our church roots are the most established in the Pierre area; First Congregational Church’s legacy begins in the mission work of Stephen Return Riggs in 1840, carried on by his son, Thomas, in 1872. They began forming relationships with the Lakota that lived on the land, and shared with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Unlike many missionaries of the time, they didn’t believe that the Indian way of life should be exterminated. They believed with passion that the Gospel of Jesus Christ was meant to be shared with all people everywhere, in their own languages. This led Riggs and others to form the first Lakota Bible, Lakota dictionary, and Lakota hymnal. By learning Lakota and teaching English, the Riggs family planted churches up and down the river, all led by Lakota lay ministers. Today, that tradition still carries on in the life of the Dakota Association – 13 churches on four reservations who are led by Lakota pastors serving their local communities.
Our local congregation took root here in 1880, a few years before South Dakota became a state! The first services were held with a membership of nine people and a minister, Rev. William B. Williams. On November 28, 1880, they organized the first church in Pierre in a railroad construction shack on Coteau Street. Rev. Williams came to Fort Pierre by steamboat and served the Home Missionary Society and preached on ‘both sides of the river.’ Two months later, he brought his wife to Pierre and lived in a tent in what is now Griffin Park. The church would later move from the railroad shack to a tent at Dakota and Fort Street, because the tent was warmer. Moving from one location to another, Eugene Steere writes, “my wife and I would go out on Sunday morning and find we had been ousted from the previous place and have to carry the organ and books to some new-found place.” All in all, the church worshiped in fourteen places before building its first permanent home. With financial help from the East, the small congregation built its first church at the corner of Capitol Avenue and Pierre Street. The church was dedicated September 3, 1882, with the Rev. Thomas Riggs of the Oahe Mission preaching the first sermon. The church building served the congregation until 1932, when a new building was constructed at Highland and Prospect for a cost of $23,200. During the church’s history it has had 29 ministers, including its present pastor, The Rev. Emily Munger.
On the wide open and sprawling prairie, our Congregationalist forefathers and mothers played an integral part in the development of Pierre and surrounding areas. They were involved in government, as educators, doctors, surveyors, ranchers and farmers, tradesmen and women, parents and members of voluntary associations that provided for the interests and needs of the communities.
In 1957, Congregationalists sought to unite in worship with our Reformed, Christian, and Evangelical friends in faith to form what is known as our denominational identity today: The United Church of Christ.
Little did I know of this amazing formation of faith as i walked the rest of the Capitol grounds. A beautiful Capitol Lake was created just Southeast of this black capped Capitol. The quiet beauty of the entire area gave an unusually peaceful feeling for a State Capitol. I can't wait for another chance to visit Pierre and explore further the connection between church and state.
Many surveys have found that North Dakota is often the last of our 50 states to be visited. It was 32 for my first visit. This was my 3rd time time but my first to the Capital. I arrived in Bismarck late on a Saturday night with the temperature hovering just below freezing. The Capitol building was easy to find as it was tall like the Florida and Louisiana buildings. I captured 2 quick night pictures and found a hotel close by.
Sunday morning I attended a Catholic mass at St. Anne's a few blocks to the east, then circled the Capitol looking for other close churches. The first stop was at McCabe Methodist https://www.mccabechurch.com/about-us/our-history which is directly in front of the south entrance of the Capitol grounds. It has a long history of being closest to the Capitol. Next was https://bismanuu.com/ a very unique church on the north side that encompasses many type of beliefs.
The Capitol Building in Bismarck has it's own history. https://www.omb.nd.gov/capitol-complex/history Why is this Capitol city called Bismarck? The name has no connection to the Native tribe names of Mandan, Dakota, and Lakota have nothing to do Bismarck. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bismarck,_North_Dakota will tell you the answer. Maybe that's why so many 50 state travelers miss the mark until their very last state. Will we find a similar story in the other Dakota?
Saint Paul, Minnesota: Pig's Eye to a settlement understood by all Christian denominations.
Imnizaska is the Dakota name for Saint Paul. At least it was for the Native American settlements that were mostly on the East side of the Mississippi River where it joins the Minnesota river. Pierre "Pig's Eye" Parrant established a well known tavern and the area was renamed Pig's Eye. Along came Lucein Galtier, the first Catholic pastor of the region, and he built the Log Chapel of Saint Paul. This was the first location of the now majestic Cathedral of Saint Paul. Pastor Galtier proclaimed that the area should now be called "Saint Paul" because it is short, sounds good, and it is understood by all Christian denominations.
I arrived to the majestic front steps of the Capitol building with bagpipes from a family reunion and celebration in progress on a Saturday afternoon. Briefly met with a good friend Julia, who lived in Minneapolis and described the landscape. The Majestic Cathedral of Saint Paul was 1/2 mile south of the front steps. Smaller churches lined the streets behind the Capitol. The Cathedral of Saint Paul was clearly separated from the Capitol of Minnesota, but also clearly in sight and dominating the southern view.
Christ Lutheran Church of Capitol Hill has a long history of multiple locations along Canada street behind the Capitol. It has been Multinational with Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. They have met in the old Courthouse, Zion Evangelical church, and the State Capitol building, as well as other locations that now house other denominations. They are still a congregation of immigrants and there are around a dozen nationalities and ethnic groups that worship there every Sunday. The gospel is read in English, Khmer (Cambodian) and Tigrinia (Eritean), and the whole worship is Simu-translated into Khmer.
I wandered down to the Cathedral where a wedding was soon to be held and ducked inside for some pictures. There are more history storylines to explore here on the next visit to the only state Capital in Minnesota. Now off to the Dakotas, North and South.
Natives called it the land of four lakes. In 1829 a former federal judge bought over 1000 acres of swamp and forest on an Isthmus between two of the lakes. His vison was to create a city and he lobbied for it to be the Capital city of Wisconsin. He then named the city for President James Madison who had died in 1836. Street names are for the other 39 signees of the US Constitution. The first Capitol's cornerstone was placed in 1837, replaced with a second Capitol in 1863 which burned down in 1904. The current Capitol building was raised between 1906 and 1917.
On April 5th, 2013, I arrived at night looking for the closest church to this State Capitol. In the glow of the Capitol Dome I found Grace Episcopal church in the shadows on W. Washington street. It's heritage in Madison's history is captured in this article on their website.
The Heritage of Grace Church. On Saturday, July 28, 1838, the Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, Missionary Bishop of the Northwest, with two traveling companions arrived in Madison, Wisconsin. With more mosquitoes than houses, this "city of four lakes" was on the verge of becoming the capital of the Territory and was ripe for the "immediate labors of a missionary."
What began with services in a roughly built storefront quickly resulted in the construction of a small chapel and in September 1855, one year before the city of Madison was granted a charter, the ground was broken on the West Washington corner of the Capitol Square for a gothic sandstone structure to be named Grace Episcopal Church.
On Sunday, February 14, 1858, worshipers gathered for the first time in the newly built place of worship. Over the years, many of the most prominent families in Madison and Wisconsin have called Grace home, and Presidents Grover Cleveland and Harry Truman worshiped here. The deep faith of those early generations has left a legacy of commitment to Jesus Christ and to the community that is symbolized in works of art like the Baptistry Window designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and our long tradition of outreach in the community and the world.
By the time American artist Georgia O'Keeffe was baptized here on August 31, 1888, Grace was a well-established parish. Today Grace is home to congregants from all religious backgrounds who have found a spiritual home in The Episcopal Church and this historic place of worship.
Present day Madison is home to the the fastest growing city in Wisconsin, The University of Wisconsin, and ongoing discussion of church and state topics. All sitting on an Isthmus in the land of four lakes.
Lansing became the State Capital of Michigan in 1847. The first 10 years were in Detroit but the state needed a more centrally located base of government. A number of Churches set up shop on the north border of the Capitol grounds. On the southern border, Cooley Law School became its neighbor.
Charleston, West Virginia: Float down the river and invite Lincoln to your front porch.
Pack up the records put them on a steamship and set up shop in a new Capitol building. That is what the new State of West Virginia did from 1863 to 1885. From Wheeling to Charleston to Wheeling and finally back to Charleston. All the state records were shuttled by boat with each move. When they finally settled in Charleston with this new Capitol building in 1931, someone invited President Lincoln's likeness to overlook the river with the Capitol behind him. Why? It was President Lincoln's signature in 1863 that officially created the State of West Virginia.
On the next block to the north I found two churches with tongue twisting names. First Spiritualist Cathedral Temple and Ruffner Memorial Presbyterian Church. If one was to go back to the original Capitol building in Wheeling, you would also find a Cathedral a block north. St. Josephs Cathedral of Wheeling. You can change locations but a church finds a way to stay close by.
The first surprise when approaching the Ohio statehouse is where the easiest parking is. In a huge parking garage under the Capitol building. While other Capitols have underground tunnels and entrances, this is the only one that I encountered with vehicles directly under the building. Once you emerge and approach the front entrance you will find the Great Seal of the State Of Ohio, proudly proclaiming "With God all things are possible". Statues of famous Ohioans, US Presidents surround the one city block that the Capitol resides in.
Across the street on the Northeast corner lies Trinity Episcopal church with it's distinctive Red door entrance. Next door to the right is The Columbus Dispatch building where the state newspaper keeps a watchful eye on the separation between church and state. Literally just an underground parking garage and crosswalk away from each other. Even the Church of Scientology could be found in the vicinity, with a storefront one block north of Ohio's statehouse. The separation metaphor has plenty of fuel for discussion in the center of Ohio.
2013 and 2016 visits. This two part report is from Des Moines, Iowa. The French translation is pronounced demwan and literally means ‘from the monks”. This capital city of Iowa was named for the Des Moines river which splits the downtown area from the State Capitol high on the hill to the east. Four churches lie along Des Moines street, one block north of the Capitol. In order from west to east are Capitol Hill Lutheran www.chlcdesmoines.org, Calvary Chapel www.calvarychapeldm.org, Elim Christian Fellowship www.elimdsm.com , and St. Peter’s Catholic www.stpeterdesmoines.org.
First Lutheran church occupied the oldest building dating back to 1887, after the community was founded in 1869 to serve Swedish speaking families and help Latavian and Sudenese refugees. Central Lutheran ( now closed) was formed in 1876 to serve Norwegian Families and help Vietnamese refugees in the 1970’s. These two communities merged in 2002 to create Capitol Hill Lutheran.
Calvary Chapel and Elim Christian Fellowship have both been established since 2000 only one block from the Capitol. Calvary Chapel started as Heartland Christian Fellowship from Forest City, Iowa in 1976. Elim Christian Fellowship was formed by Pastor Michael Hurst in 2001 and features a reconciliation ministry for all. It is the closest church to the Iowa State Capitol.
St. Peter’s church was established as a branch of another parish in 1915, and eventually transformed into the Vietnamese Catholic Community in Des Moines. 2008 brought the merger with Our Lady of the Americas. Now anchoring the east end of Des Moines street, it is the church with the greatest geographical separation from the State Capitol along this river of monks.
The Iowa State Capitol is unique among the 50 states, with four large green domes surrounding a central gold leaf dome that rises 275 feet above the ground. Finished in 1884, this massive structure commands your attention from every direction. Outside, the west entrance is most impressive with a series of never ending steps stretching towards the river and downtown Des Moines.
It is here on the West Capitol terrace, that Franklin Graham plans to start his Decision America tour of 2016 https://decisionamericatour.com on January 5th. His purpose is to hold prayer rallies at each of the 50 state Capitols to encourage Christians to vote for Christian leaders. He is president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The connection between church and state may never be closer.
Your intrepid Capitols and Churches reporter is planning to be there to witness what transpires.
Bold initiatives. One has to love them. If you do, then you must follow them and put yourself on the road to discovery. When Franklin Graham announced last year that he was going to every state capital to hold prayer rallies, my discovery senses came alive. His first stop would be in Iowa on January 5, 2016 in advance of the Iowa Caucuses, which is also the first political contest on the road to the presidency in 2016.
Decision America 2016 (decisonamerica2016.com) sure sounds political. A visit to the website looks political: red, white and blue, tour dates, pledge support. My first thought was that Graham is running for president, which would be interesting: another Republican in the ever growing field of candidates.
Alas, it was not to be. Evangelist Graham is merely leading his constituency to pray, vote and engage in the political process. He has left the Republican Party and is encouraging Christians to get off the sidelines and get in the game of becoming Christian leaders. No party labels needed.
To this reporter, a fascinating story lies within this effort. Can a famous religious leader make an impact in the United States presidential race of 2016 without running for office himself? Can one walk in the separation of church and state but still construct a bridge between the two? Does one have to build or break down walls to accomplish such a goal?
I packed up my Capitols and churches experience and hit the road to Des Moines. There I found a noon time crowd of 2600 assembled on the west terrace of the Iowa State Capitol. It was sunny, mid 20’s cold with a stiff southwest breeze.
Three Decision America 2016 buses wrapped in Red, White, and Blue set the scene for a 30 minute speech/ prayer rally by Franklin Graham. Orange vested chaplains from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association roamed through the crowd. Silently standing on the outskirts were two political campaign buses. Ben Carson 2016 and Rocky 2016. One Navy veteran stood on the Capitol steps with numerous signs of silent protest. After the event, the Iowa Governor arrived to meet with Mr. Graham on his tour bus.
It was a fine example of the freedom to assemble and express your opinion. With 2600 in attendance and thousands more following in various media forms, I’m sure it will inspire people to pray, vote, and engage. The question is how much? Will it make a difference in the final outcome?
Springfield, Illinois: Zinc, Lincoln, and Lutheran stand in the third capital city.
Illinois has had six Capitol buildings since becoming a state in 1818.The first was in Kaskaskia on the Mississippi river, previously the territorial Capitol before statehood. In 1820, the first of three Capitols were built in Vandalia, up the Kaskaskia river and more centrally located within the state. In 1836, a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln influenced a move to Springfield where the old and current Capitols now stand.
The fifth Capitol, built in 1837, is particularly historic for its Lincoln events, including the Douglas debate, his “House divided” speech, and where he lay in state after his assassination. It is still standing as an historical site, a few blocks east of the current Capitol. The new Capitol was finished in 1868. It is shaped like a Latin cross, aligned to the major compass directions, and features a Zinc covering which does not weather.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist is located one block to the left of the current state Capitol. Directly across from the northeast corner of the Capitol is the current Trinity Lutheran church which was built in 1889. The was the fourth building for this community started by Rev. Francis Springer in 1841 at his home. Rev. Springer and Abraham Lincoln were neighbors for 3 years between 1844 and 1847.
When you visit the land of Lincoln in the Illinois state capital of Springfield, make sure you look for the Zinc dome located between the two churches. It is here that you will find a statue of President Lincoln to greet you.
Continuing with the states beginning with I, we come to the true intersection of America. Indianapolis, Indiana is the most centrally located capital of any state in the union. The first national road actually passed through the early days of this Capitol location. It was founded in 1821 as a planned city to centrally locate the newly formed state government.
Indiana has had 5 statehouses since it became a state in 1816. The first was in Corydon, the next four in Indianapolis. The current Capitol was finished in 1888 and features a statue of George Washington in front of the south entrance. The shape of the building is a cross, very fitting for the crossroads of America.
The oldest Catholic parish in Indianapolis started out as Holy Cross when the first regularly celebrated mass was held at a tavern in 1837 by Father Vincent Bacquelin. He built the first church, called Holy Cross Chapel in 1840. His patron saint was St. John the Evangelist. When it came time to build a new brick church in 1850, the new pastor changed the name to St. John The Evangelist to honor Father Bacquelin.
The current building for this church was completed in 1871 with the twin spires added in 1893. It is located at the corner of Georgia and Capitol avenue. Parishioners started out small, at about 60, rose as high as 3000, and dropped down to 30 as residents moved to the suburbs. Today, the number of registered is 800 and the parish ministers to many visiting tourists in the downtown area. It is located just 3 blocks west of the Capitol.
The story of Capitols and churches in Indianapolis consists of building a cross shaped Capitol in the center of the state and then starting a local church from a tavern a few blocks away. Almost 200 years later, these two staples of the community remain standing at the crossroads of America.
Reciting the 50 capitals in elementary school, I always had to pause when it came to Kentucky. It was one of the easiest to remember because of the association with hot dogs. Until I had to spell Frankfort. I always lost a half a point on that one. Years later, while researching this article, I would discover how this small city came to be the capital of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
Pioneer Stephen Frank was killed while making salt at a ford in the Kentucky River around 1780. Frank’s Ford became the place and over time the name was shortened to Frankfort. After Kentucky became the 15th state, Frankfort won a competition among a number of communities to be the capital. A log house to use as the first Capitol building, supplies, and $3000 in Gold helped sway the decision in Frankfort’s favor. In 1900, Governor-elect William Goebel was assassinated at the Old Capitol, while walking to his inauguration.
By 1910, the new and current Capitol was built across the river and up the hill in South Frankfort. Around it is a mostly residential area. The center of commerce and community still lies in the downtown area. Three original churches built in 1833, 1835, and 1850 surround Capital plaza. South Frankfort Presbyterian church was built in 1904 and became the closest to the new Capitol.
Fast forward to 2012 when a new church neighbor appears just two blocks from the Capitol steps. St. Peter’s Anglican church was established as a renewal effort for Frankfort-area folks from the St. Andrew’s Anglican church in Versailles, KY. As I explored our 50 state Capitols and their closest churches in 2013, St. Peter’s Anglican was the only Anglican church that I found. 35 other State Capitols had an abundance of Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian , and Baptist churches surrounding their location. For this church separation, Frankfort, Kentucky stands alone.
Distinct in history, name, and church separation, Frankfort was a fascinating study for this 50 state student. Maybe I can get the half point added back to my grade now. My travels continue on in the Kentucky rain, to three states that begin with the letter I.
It all started simply enough in 1820. The first Catholic church in Tennessee was built by Irish Catholic workers constructing a bridge over the Cumberland river. In 1830, a brick structure known as Holy Rosary Cathedral replaced the original frame building on what is now Capitol Hill in Nashville. The cornerstone of the Tennessee State Capitol was placed close by on July 4th, 1845.
As the new Capitol was being built, so was a new Cathedral at the bottom of the hill. St. Mary’s Cathedral replaced Holy Rosary Cathedral which then became St. John’s Hospital and Orphanage in 1847. The site was then sold to the state in 1857 as the Capitol building was near completion. A small historical marker on the northeast pathway around the Capitol is the only reminder of the original Holy Rosary church.
Today, St. Mary’s of the Seven Sorrows http://stmarysdowntown.org and the Tennessee State Capitol stand a stone’s throw and city block away from each other. Chronologically and visually similar, history is literally buried into these distinct buildings. The architect and designer, the first Catholic Bishop of Tennessee, and the 11th President of the United States and his wife are all entombed on the grounds of these structures.
Buried at the Tennessee State Capitol, is William Strickland. He was the architect of the Capitol and designer of St. Mary’s Cathedral, as well as Downtown Presbyterian church a few blocks away. He died during the construction of the Capitol five years before its completion. His son finished the project and adhered to his father’s wishes and buried him in the concrete. Stickland modeled the Capitol after a Greek Ionic temple. The lantern atop is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece. St. Mary’s of the Seven Sorrows features a similar Greek Ionic temple supporting the belfry.
The 11th United States President James K. Polk and his wife Sarah are also buried on the east facing side of the Capitol. President Polk was nominated by his party to run for President on the eighth vote in 1844. He was not seeking the Presidency, but felt he should not pass on the attempt if others felt him to be qualified.
He was elected with 50% of the popular vote despite being the only President to not win electoral votes from his state of birth, North Carolina, or his state of residence, Tennessee. He served one term as per his campaign promise, and accomplished all items on his agenda during those four years. He died only 3 months out of office after contracting Cholera.
Bishop Richard Pius Miles was appointed Bishop of Nashville in July 1837, consecrated in Bardstown, Kentucky September 1838, and arrived in Nashville during Christmas season of the same year. He renovated the worn down Cathedral of the Holy Rosary before selling to the state in 1947, and planned for building the new Cathedral at the bottom of the hill. He then saved the materials from Holy Rosary and used them to build another church for Nashville’s German Catholics.
When he arrived in Nashville there were 300 Catholics in the entire state, and no clergy or structures to support them. By the time of his death in 1860 there were 12,000 Catholics, 14 churches, 9 schools and an orphanage. Bishop Miles was buried beneath the altar of St. Mary’s. During a renovation of the church in 1972, Bishop Miles body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt after 112 years. He was interred in a tomb with a chapel in the rear section of St. Mary’s.
On your next visit to Nashville, bypass the many entertainment attractions and take a stroll over to Capitol hill. You may find some history buried in the separation of church and state. A bit of Tennessee treasure to take home with you.
Jackson,Mississippi was the 23rd stop of my separation of church and state Capitol tour. From Little Rock,Arkansas, I followed I-40, US 49, MS 8, and I-55 to the only United States capital to have a dormant volcano under it. The last estimated eruption was 66 million years ago. The land that is present day Jackson, Mississippi,has transitioned from Choctaw Nation known as “Chisha Foka”, to a small village centrally located in the state known as LaFleur’s Bluff, to the state capital named after the 7th President of the United States.
My quest to find the Capitol building and it’s closest church was a much easier transition.From I-55 south, follow the signs. Right off the ramp, left on N. State street, Right on Mississippi and both buildings are right there. First Baptist Church of Jackson and it’s multi block campus is literally a crosswalk away from the east entrance of the Mississippi State Capitol.
Three seems to be a magic number when visiting this location. The city is on it’s third name. This Capitol building, finished in 1903 with its 8 foot tall, 15 foot wide eagle, is the third since statehood. The First Baptist Church started as a group of seven people in 1838. the first church was finished in 1844, the second in 1868 and the third and current structure was completed in 1926. You can read about this 175 year community at fbcj.org.
Even songs loosely attributed to Jackson come in threes. “Jackson” was written in 1963 by co writers Billy Edd Wheeler and Jerry Lieber then released as chart topping singles in 1967 by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, then followed by Johnny Cash and June Carter. The writers never specified which Jackson (Tennessee or Mississippi) they were referring to. Kid Rock was quite specific in 2003 in his song, Jackson, Mississippi. Finally, Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars in the hit of this past summer, Uptown Funk, uses the state capital in the following lyric.
“Stop.Wait a minute. Fill my cup, put some liquor in it. Take a sip, sign a check. Julio, get the stretch. Ride to Harlem, Hollywood, Jackson, Mississippi. If we show up, we goin show out. Smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.”
Now there is a traveling salesman problem for you. Which Hollywood is the writer talking about before reaching Jackson? Harlem, NY to Hollywood, AL to Jackson, MS is 1244 miles. Harlem, NY to Hollywood, CA to Jackson, MS is 4640 miles. That’s some serious Foka, Bluff, Funk going on.
The drive from Jefferson City, Missouri to Little Rock, Arkansas was quite pleasant. Most of the 365 miles were on country backroads with just a few stretches on Interstate 40 and 44. From Springfield, Missouri, I travelled through the tourist town of Branson and down through the scenic Ozark mountains. I arrived in Little Rock just after dusk and found the glowing Arkansas State Capitol with few cars or people around at night.
This Capitol originated from the drawings of St. Louis architect George Mann, who had submitted the winning design of the Montana State Capitol. The drawings were put on display in the old Arkansas Capitol to generate interest in a new building. The idea worked and construction started in 1899. I circled this Neoclassical Capitol multiple times, but did not notice any close by church structures.I pulled into a parking garage and found a security guard, who suggested I try looking to the east side of the city.
About a mile away from the Capitol, I did manage to find First Baptist Missionary Church, a Gothic Revival style church at the corner of 7th and S. Gaines Streets. Built in 1882 this church has had some memorable speakers. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the 118th anniversary sermon in 1963 and Governor William Jefferson Clinton gave the 145th anniversary address in 1990. The community actually dates back to 1845 when a slave, Rev. Wilson Brown, was bold enough to ask his master for a place for the slaves to worship.
With it being late at night, I left Little Rock thinking that there must be some other, closer churches to the Capitol. In the eight years since my church and state tour in 2013, I have discovered two additional worship centers closer to the Arkansas State Capitol.
Central Church of Christ arcentralchurch.org was started in the 1920’s and moved to its present location in the 800 block of 6th street in 2003.
The Ecumenical Buddhist Society of Little Rock ebslr.org is now located on W. 3rd street only two blocks north of the Capitol, having moved from it’s Second street location in 2013. This organization started in the early 1980’s as a group of mixed traditions that would meet for 30 minutes of silent meditation at the Unitarian/Universalist church. It now has practice traditions that include Tibetan Vajrayana, Zen, Theravada, and the practice of Journey into Silence.
With all that silent practice, it is little wonder as to how I missed finding these locations during my visit. When you have the opportunity to visit Little Rock, Arkansas at night. Look for the diverse churches silently hidden in the glow of the Capitol dome.
It had been 11 days, 5000 miles and 19 state Capitols since I left home. Driving through Kansas City, Mo., I was looking forward to a home-cooked meal with old high school friends, John and Charlotte Chauvin. Their home was just off Interstate 70 near the stadiums for the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals. My dear friends had been following my state and church project on Facebook. Charlotte, a school teacher, told me that I was in for a treat at my next stop, the Missouri State Capitol. She said there was a large statue of Thomas Jefferson on the front steps.
Refreshed, I set out in the morning for a pleasant drive to Jefferson City and the Missouri State Capitol. Approaching from the north, it was standing proudly on the bluff above the Missouri river. An impressive site in a city with a population of 43,000. I drove right up to the side of the Capitol and parked.
A few paces to the right was St. Peter Catholic Church, built in 1881. It was about 11 a.m. and I tried the front door of the church, but it was locked. I was tempted to take a few pictures of both buildings, with just a few feet separating them and move on. Then I remembered Charlotte’s advice.
I strolled around to the main entrance of the Capitol and there he was: A 13 ft. statue of Thomas Jefferson staring down at me. I moved back a few steps to take a picture. I felt like his gaze never left. I moved to the right, and even from that angle, his eyes seemed to follow. I jumped to the left and the same effect still happened. It was eerie and cool at the same time.
Even behind the statue, the characteristics of the sculpture seemed to change. It was here that I captured one of my favorite pictures of the journey. I was looking back at the steeple of St. Peter Church and it appeared that the statue of Thomas Jefferson is watching the church from his perch on the steps of the Missouri State Capitol. Switching my iPad picture to video, I tried to capture this illusion. At that moment, the church bells started ringing before the noon service. Charlotte was right, I did find quite a treat in that moment.
Continuing around the perimeter of the Capitol, I saw numerous other monuments on display. However impressive they may have been, nothing could match the experience of going eye-to-eye with Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City. Watching him, as he watched over the separation of church and state, at the 20th stop of my journey.