Young and old will enjoy romping around historic capitol building

When I visit capital cities while traveling about the country I often make it a point to tour their statehouses. Doing so makes it feel as though I’ve stepped inside a state’s living room.

Residing in a capital city myself, I sometimes forget what’s in my own backyard – the beautiful Ohio Statehouse, which represents one of the nation’s finest examples of Greek Revival architecture. It’s also one of the oldest working statehouses in the U.S., containing the meeting rooms of the Ohio Legislature.

I visited the Ohio Statehouse with my family on a recent Saturday afternoon, partly because it was free and partly because we had nothing else to do. I came away, though, with a sense of awe of its elegant and functional architecture and a bit more knowledge about our country’s law-making process. My two-year-old daughter, Rosie, exited tired and satisfied that she’d romped around a playground of a building.

The Statehouse is located in the center of downtown Columbus at the corner of High and Broad streets. Parking is available for a reduced rate on weekends in the Statehouse underground parking garage. We entered the building at the ground floor where we were immediately greeted by a network of limestone arches and echoing vaults. “Helloooo,” Rosie called out. The architecture is based on nature’s strongest shape, the circle, which supports the weight of the rotunda above.

The ground level contains the Capitol Café and the Statehouse Museum Shop that’s full of unique, Ohio-themed gift items. The level also contains a floor map of Ohio that depicts the state’s 88 counties in various types and colors of marble. Rosie liked hopping from one county to the next. I liked getting a civics refresher course on how a bill becomes a law in the Education Center, which also features interactive displays and a lovely stained-glass version of the Ohio seal.

We saved the grandest area for last, the Rotunda. The first-floor space features a colorful domed ceiling with a circular center illuminated by the sky. At the ceiling’s epicenter is Ohio’s seal, 120 feet above the floor. I lay down on the patterned marble floor to take a photo, but my photos of the ceiling didn’t look as nice as the postcards in the museum store. The circular room also contains enormous paintings representing conflict, courage and growth throughout Ohio’s history.

The Statehouse was built in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. It underwent a restoration from 1989-1996. The structure is full of symbolism, which you don’t need to understand in order to appreciate its beauty.

Other areas open for touring include the Atrium, made of 300-million-year-old limestone quarried in Columbus, and the Senate and House chambers on the second floor. Outdoor features include monuments, memorials and four cannons.

The Ohio Statehouse is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday and Sunday. Free, guided tours are offered daily. Visitors also may wander on their own using a self-guided tour brochure or borrow an audio tour wand. Cell phone audio tours also are available.

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