Capitols & churches: Florida’s old, new, tall, and short optical illusion

tsj column writers - capitols and churchesBy Gary Flanagan

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. See you next week!

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