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Explore the Capitol's 3rd Floor

The public viewing galleries for the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers are located on this floor. You are always welcome here. However, no standing is allowed, so on very busy session days you may have to wait briefly until a seat is vacated. Then you can enter and take a seat.

The House Chamber, located in the north wing, is the larger of the two chambers, accommodating 110 members. Each Representative is elected for a two-year term from a district of about 85,000 constituents. Each member sits at an assigned desk, with Democrats traditionally sitting on the left of the chamber and Republicans on the right. The presiding officer is called the Speaker of the House and is a Representative elected to this position by fellow members.

The restoration of this chamber was completed in April 1990. Original 1878 desks were refinished, the curving rostrum at the head of the chamber reconstructed, and historic lighting restored or duplicated from photographs. The chamber carpet is based on an authentic period design, and preserves a House tradition by incorporating the state coat-of-arms in the border. The oval cartouche at the entrance to the chamber features the state flower, the apple blossom. It was designed and hand woven by Michigan artist Paul V'Soske.

Voting was originally done by calling the roll and recording the ayes and nays by hand. Today, roll call and voting are done electronically. The voting and message boards on either side of the Speaker's rostrum at the head of the chamber are carefully designed to blend almost invisibly with the wall when not in use. In this way we preserved the historic appearance of the chamber without sacrificing modern speed or efficiency.

On the wall over the Speaker's Chair at the head of the chamber is a magnificent version of Michigan's coat-of-arms, rendered in cast plaster, glaze, paint, and gold leaf. On the left is an elk and on the right a moose, flanking our national symbol, the eagle. Above the eagle are the Latin words of our national motto, "EPluribus Unum," meaning "From many, one." A shield bears the Latin word, "Tuebor," meaning, "I will defend." Below is a small figure standing on a peninsula backed by the rising rays of the sun. All is supported by banners bearing the Latin words of Michigan's motto, "Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam, circumspice," meaning, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you." At the time the motto was written, the Upper Peninsula was not part of Michigan.

The Great Seal of the State of Michigan, from which the coat-of-arms is taken, was designed in 1835 by General Lewis Cass, former governor of Michigan Territory. He based the design on the seal of the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company.

A portrait of Lewis Cass hangs on the east wall of the House Chamber: it is the portrait nearest the gallery on the right as you face the rostrum. Opposite Cass, on the west wall, is a portrait of young Stevens T. Mason. Nicknamed the "Boy Governor," has was Michigan's first governor and, at the age of 24, the youngest person in our nation's history to hold this office.

The Senate Chamber is located in the south wing. The Senate, with 38 members, occupies the smaller of the two chambers. Each Senator is elected to a four-year term from a district of about 245,000 constituents. The presiding officer in the Senate, called the President of the Senate, is the lieutenant governor of the state.

Restoration of the Senate Chamber was completed in January 1990. Although architecturally nearly identical to the House Chamber, their very different color schemes render each chamber unique. Rather than the House's terra cottas and teals, here you see vibrant blues and silvers. The decorative paint in both chambers features elaborately stenciled and freehand designs, gold leaf, and colored glazes.

As in the House Chamber, skylights once again allow natural light to stream through ruby-and-white etched-glass panels in the beautiful coffered ceilings. More light is provided by four original chandeliers (there are six in the House Chamber) which glitter overhead. They consist of brass, lead crystal and fire-hardened glass, and are lowered on pulleys for cleaning.

The seating arrangement on the chamber floor is essentially the same as in the House. The walnut members' desks in both chambers are original, designed by the Capitol's architect, Elijah Myers. In the Senate Chamber, however, extra space allowed the addition of side consoles to house computers and telephones.

As you face the rostrum you see two portraits. The one on your right is Austin Blair, Michigan's beloved "war governor." He led the state from 1861 to 1864, during the turbulent years of the Civil War. He is the only person in Michigan history to be honored with a statue on Capitol Square. On your left is a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette, the young French nobleman who helped America win its independence. Lafayette was greatly admired by Michigan's early leaders and this portrait was acquired when Michigan became a state in 1837. It has hung in all three Michigan capitols. Voting and message boards similar to those in the House are found to the right and left of the portraits. They are very hard to see unless in use.

The coffered ceilings in both the House and Senate Chambers have been restored. Original panes of ruby-and-white hand-etched glass were lost years ago, replaced in the House by plastic and in the Senate by plywood. Copies now feature the coats-of-arms of all 50 states, as well as Victorian designs and Michigan themes. A detail (right) shows Michigan's coat-of-arms. Skylights in the roof above let natural light into the chambers through the glass-paneled ceiling.

Exiting the Gallery and returning to the rotunda, you can once again view the Gallery of Governors. Up above are eight monumental paintings of female figures. Painted on canvas and glues directly to the inner dome, they are muses, or guides, drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. Each offers the people of Michigan, standing on the glass floor far below, gifts of progress and the future - art, agriculture, education, industry, science, communication, good government and the like.

More information on the Muses can be found here.

In the east wing of the third floor you will find the old Supreme Court Chamber. The Supreme Court left the Capitol in 1970 and the room is now used by the Senate Appropriations Committee for meetings and hearings. The room, with its exceptionally high ceiling, elaborate decorative paint, and ornamental plasterwork is one of the most elegant in the Capitol. It shows how space can be adapted to a new use without sacrificing beauty and history.

The old Supreme Court Chamber, now used as a meeting room for the Senate Appropriations Committee, retains much of its original appearance. Elijah Myers, the building's architect, paid particular attention to the details of this room and designed not only the walnut judges' bench but also the large bookcase behind it. The elaborately painted ceiling is original and required the attention of a fine arts conservator to save it. Plaster was stabilized, flaking paint reattached, and the whole ceiling carefully cleaned. The carpeting was copied from photos of the original. Restoration of the chamber's decorative paint and lighting was completed in 1992 and the room is once again one of the grandest rooms in the Capitol.

In the west wing, opposite the old Supreme Court Chamber is the House Appropriations Committee Room (also known as the Veterans Room). This room was originally part of the Michigan State Library (later the State Law Library). The State Library was a large room similar to the Senate and House Chambers. Like the chambers, it rose from the second through the third floors. Bookshelves were arranged on iron galleries or balconies which ran all around the room on several levels. The floor is an intermediate floor put in to adapt this space for office use after the library left the Capitol and moved to another building.

This room is now used by the House Appropriations Committee for meetings and hearings. Both the Senate Appropriations Committee in the old Supreme Court Chamber and the House Appropriations Committee here in the old State Library work on vital state budget issues.

This room is also an excellent example of how an old space has been put to a new use while preserving as much of its original appearance as possible. The colors and patterns on the ceiling are authentic, even though the ceiling itself is a modern addition, and the carpet was reproduced from the original Senate Chamber carpet. This carpet was brought to the attention of the restoration team by a local resident who believed she had a scrap of the very first 1879 Senate Chamber carpet. Research proved her right and, because she had stored the scrap for many years in an unused chicken coop, it became known as the "chicken coop" carpet.

When the Capitol was rededicated on November 19, 1992, this room was dedicated to all Michigan veterans, past, present and future. Today this room is also called the "Veteran's Room."

Source: Your State Capitol. Prepared by the Michigan Legislature