Why the Ohio Statehouse doesn't have a dome and the story behind the Whittier Peninsula's stone pillars
Why doesn't the Ohio Statehouse have a dome? Is it unfinished? Unloved? Is it weird to have dome envy?
The short answer is that the Ohio Statehouse was never intended to have a dome. But some explanation is in order. Any Ohio fourth-grader can tell you that Columbus became our capital in 1812. The state government moved here in 1816, to a capitol and office building at the southwest corner of Capitol Square, but by the 1830s Ohio needed a new statehouse. An 1838 competition resulted in three finalists, and in 1839 work began on a design blending all three favored designs. The Statehouse was completed in 1861 in the Greek Revival style, inspired by admiration for Greek democratic traditions and widely used for public buildings, banks and homes (Ohio has some spectacular examples). The classical Greeks did not employ the arch or its 360-degree brother, the dome, instead using "post and lintel" construction (vertical columns and horizontal beams). It was the Romans who later developed the arch and dome. Yes, the U.S. Capitol predates our Statehouse and has a dome, but it was an addition built between 1855 and 1866. And yes, there are many arched spaces inside the Statehouse, but those, too, dated from around the same time as the U.S. Capitol's dome, because the Statehouse took so long to build. Over those 22 years changing tastes led to the rise of the Roman-inspired Italianate style, which made prodigious use of the arch and dome. So the Statehouse overall is a blend of styles, but on the exterior it's pure, domeless Greek Revival.
What are those three large stone pillars on the north edge of Whittier Peninsula?
If that art installation makes you think of Stonehenge, that's the idea, but seeing it can be a challenge. Either you glimpse it briefly just after your eastbound car crosses the Scioto River near the I-70/71 split, or you drive into the Scioto Audubon Park on the Whittier Peninsula and follow a road called Maier Place to the far north end of the park, only to find that you can't get closer than about 100 feet. You're blocked by a fence protecting the Furnace Street Substation of the City of Columbus Division of Power, and the three monoliths are inside the fence. It all goes back to 1989, when the substation was dedicated. Because it was visible from the freeway, the Division of Power wanted to enhance the substation with public art. It commissioned Ohio State University landscape architecture students to design an installation, and city staff constructed it (my guess is they're concrete, not stone, but it's only a guess). The concept was, according to a dedication brochure, "to invite curiosity about the nature of the substation and about energy," and the work was titled "Pillars of Stone." That's where Stonehenge and similar ancient assemblages come in: The idea is that acupuncture-like needles stuck into Mother Earth can tap into her energy points. You may or may not buy into this, but you have to agree that for folks who focus on electricity all day to care enough to add artwork to one of their sites is a pretty fine idea.
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to email@example.com.
Sources: City of Columbus Division of Power; Joe Blundo, "Roadside Riddles,"Columbus Dispatch, January 24, 2002