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Tennessee State Capitol

The Tennessee State Capitol is only one of 12 state capitols in the US that doesn’t have a dome.

The Tennessee State Capitol is only one of 12 state capitols in the US that doesn’t have a dome.

BEHIND THE SCENES IN NASHVILLE | Darrin Henry

As fans of the TV show ‘Nashville’ we’ve just found out many of the scenes with Mayor Teddy Conrad are actually shot right here in the hallways and rooms of the real Tennessee state capitol building in Nashville, where we’re standing. Fantastic.

A NASHVILLE TOURIST ATTRACTION

The Americans love their state capitol buildings; and so do we. We’ve discovered these grand palatial centres of state government are free to visit and often include a guided tour.

Elected representatives from each district across the state all come together in the state capitol to vote on legislation and laws. The Nashville governor’s office is also in the building (why the TV series shoots here).

Gleaming hallways of the Tennessee State Capitol.

Gleaming hallways of the Tennessee State Capitol.

Part of the ceiling decorative images.

Part of the ceiling decorative images.

Tennessee State Capitol press briefing room.

Tennessee State Capitol press briefing room.

There was the obligatory metal detector and security check on the way in but now, with our freshly printed ID tags stuck on our shirts, we’re free to wander around on our own with an apparent absence of security personnel, which feels quite weird in security-obsessed America. Mind you, beady-eyed cctv cameras are recording every step of our visit.

This is clearly a working building. There are offices and office workers in business suits going about the daily grind while curious tourists in shorts and flip flops poke their heads through the doorways and pose for selfies on the stone staircases.

FAMOUS TENNESSEANS

The Tennessee State Capitol building itself is perched on top of a hill, the highest point in the city of Nashville. I get the impression each state tries to outdo the other with a more impressive capitol building.

The plaque on this monument reads: ANDREW JACKSON, Born March 15, 1767 - Died June 8, 1845. Seventh President of the United States 1829 - 1837. Commander of Victorious American Forces at Battle of New Orleans January 8, 1815. This equestrian statue by Clark Mills was erected by the Tennessee Historical Society, May 20, 1880. Duplicates of this statue stand in New Orleans and Washington DC.

The plaque on this monument reads: ANDREW JACKSON, Born March 15, 1767 – Died June 8, 1845.
Seventh President of the United States 1829 – 1837.
Commander of Victorious American Forces at Battle of New Orleans January 8, 1815.
This equestrian statue by Clark Mills was erected by the Tennessee Historical Society, May 20, 1880. Duplicates of this statue stand in New Orleans and Washington DC.

A sample of the busts on display around the building. Left: Sampson W Keeble, the first African American Representative to the Tennessee State Legislature in 1873-1874 Middle: James Knox Polk, President of the United States 1845-1890 Right: Cordell Hull, Captain Fourth Tennessee Volunteer Infantry 1898-1899

A sample of the busts on display around the building.
Left: Sampson W Keeble, the first African American Representative to the Tennessee State Legislature in 1873-1874
Middle: James Knox Polk, President of the United States 1845-1890
Right: Cordell Hull, Captain Fourth Tennessee Volunteer Infantry 1898-1899

Inside is stunning. Polished floors, beautifully arched ceilings with stone inlaid eagles and monstrous golden chandeliers stretching overhead. I can’t help thinking how great it would be to do a photoshoot in here. There are busts of great Tennesseans as they’re called; made from stone, marble, bronze… they all seem to be different.

Portraits of distinguished Tennesseans keep an eye on us as we gawk and point the camera.

TENNESSEE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

During the guided tour we go onto the floor of the Tennessee House of Representatives, the lower house of the legislative branch. This is a huge limestone constructed chamber with tall Greek styled pillars, ornate ceilings and thick, red drapes suspended from gilded curtain rails. The stars and stripes hangs on a pole at the far end alongside a desk from where the speaker of the house keeps order. The Tennessee state flag is on the other side.

State Legislature: When this place is in session it is the Lower House of the Legislative Branch, the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

State Legislature: When this place is in session it is the Lower House of the Legislative Branch, the Tennessee State House of Representatives.

There are two public galleries over-looking both sides of the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Each gallery has a maximum seating occupancy of 128.

There are two public galleries over-looking both sides of the Tennessee State House of Representatives. Each gallery has a maximum seating occupancy of 128.

To be eligible for election as a representative in Tennessee you need to have lived in your district for 3 years and be at least 21 years old. Those are the only requirements. Each person elected to the house is assigned a desk in this room and serves a 2 year term. Cameras televise proceedings for Tennesseans who want to follow the business of the day but are unable to make it to the State Capitol.

To be eligible for election as a representative in Tennessee you need to have lived in your district for 3 years and be at least 21 years old. Those are the only requirements. Each person elected to the house is assigned a desk in this room and serves a 2 year term.
Cameras televise proceedings for Tennesseans who want to follow the business of the day but are unable to make it to the State Capitol.

Buttons for voting in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. A green for Yes, a red for No and blue to declare you are present but not voting. The screen on the walls turn colour immediately to reflect the votes.

Buttons for voting in the Tennessee State House of Representatives. A green for Yes, a red for No and blue to declare you are present but not voting. The screen on the walls turn colour immediately to reflect the votes.

Filling the room in perfect alignment are 50 wooden desks with seating for the 99 elected representatives. In actual fact it looks like an exam room waiting on students to arrive.

Two sets of voting buttons are fixed in each desk and large electronic displays on the side walls show immediately how each politician has voted. Today the chamber is empty, but on days when it is in session, citizens can keep tabs on their representatives from spacious public galleries above.

THE TENNESSEE STATE SENATE

Upper House of the Tennessee State Legislature, the Tennessee State Senate. The constitution allows one third number of senators as legislators, so there are 33. Senators need to be at least 30 years old and are elected to 4 year terms. Elections are staggered; even number districts vote, then two years later odd number districts vote, meaning half the senators are up for election every two years. There is no limit on the number of times a senator can run for office.

Upper House of the Tennessee State Legislature, the Tennessee State Senate. The constitution allows one third number of senators as legislators, so there are 33. Senators need to be at least 30 years old and are elected to 4 year terms. Elections are staggered; even number districts vote, then two years later odd number districts vote, meaning half the senators are up for election every two years. There is no limit on the number of times a senator can run for office.

The Tennessee State Senate also has a speaker of the house, chosen by the other senators. This position is quite important as the speaker is also the lieutenant governor of Tennessee. (Sharon taking the podium to announce the arrival of What The Saints Did Next)

The Tennessee State Senate also has a speaker of the house, chosen by the other senators. This position is quite important as the speaker is also the lieutenant governor of Tennessee.
(Sharon taking the podium to announce the arrival of What The Saints Did Next)

A great example of scale inside the Tennessee State Capitol.

A great example of scale inside the Tennessee State Capitol.

All in all the Tennessee State Capitol building is rather impressive. The security guard on the door actually set the tone, very friendly and welcoming. Once inside our tour guide was much the same.

The freedom and encouragement for members of the public to access the building stems from the concept it is the people’s building. The comfortable gallery, voting display and open hallways help toward transparency and accountability. I’m already thinking how we could incorporate some of these ideas back home in St Helena. Regular tours of the historic Castle in Jamestown – why not?

If you’re in Nashville, I recommend a visit to the Tennessee State Capitol.

The State Capitol Building sits on the highest point in the city of Nashville, on a hill once known as Cedar Knob. The cornerstone was laid on 4 July, 1845 and the building completed in 1859. The architect who designed the building is entombed in its northeast wall.

The State Capitol Building sits on the highest point in the city of Nashville, on a hill once known as Cedar Knob. The cornerstone was laid on 4 July, 1845 and the building completed in 1859. The architect who designed the building is entombed in its northeast wall.

* for the purposes of this post I’ve gone with the American spelling of ‘capitol’

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