The Arkansas Senate Chamber
The Arkansas Senate first met in the current chamber in 1911, although construction of the Capitol was not completed until 1915.
The chamber was remodeled in 1966. Much of the marble was covered with wood paneling and fabric for sound proofing. In 2001, a major renovation to the chamber and surrounding office space restored the Senate more closely to its original design. For example, paneling was removed from the marble walls in the chamber.
Some things to notice in the Chamber include: the old state seal above the entrance at the back of the chamber, the stained glass in the skylight, the Bible on the President’s desk at the front of the chamber, the chandelier, and the leather interior doors and the glass pocket doors at the main entrance.
STATE SEALS IN THE CHAMBER
The seal on the wall at the back of the chamber combines aspects of the seal of the Arkansas Territory with images from the 1836 State of Arkansas seal. The seal features an eagle with a shield. Inside the shield are a stream boat, a plow, a beehive and a sheaf of wheat.
In the carpet at the front of the chamber is an inset of the current Arkansas state seal which includes the eagle and the shield. In addition, the modern seal adds the Goddess of Liberty at the top and the figure of an angel inscribed, "Mercy" on the left, and the sword of "Justice" on the right.
STAINED GLASS DOME
The original dome was created with crystal glass and in 1914 was replaced with stained glass to reduce the sun’s glare. Also, draperies were hung from the ribs of the dome to improve the chamber’s acoustics. The stained glass was made by Mitchell-Vance.
Bible on the President's Desk
The Bible on the President of the Senate desk was a gift given by Colonel T. H. Barton on February 25, 1943.
State Representative J. Frank Holmes of Washington County introduced House Concurrent Resolution 18 on February 11, 1943 and was passed by the House on February 12, 1943. The resolution directed the clerks of both the House and Senate to purchase Bibles for each chamber. They are to be kept on the desk of the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate, for members to read from when quoting scripture when presenting their bills in the well (at the podium).
On February 12, 1943, the resolution was introduced in the Senate, but a vote on it was never taken.
On February 25, 1943, at a joint meeting in the House presided over by the President of the Senate, legislators from both chambers listened to U.S. Senator John L. McClellan speak on the war effort.
Before Senator McClellan took the podium, Representative Holmes brought up House Concurrent Resolution (18 of 1943), and then he introduced Colonel T. H. Barton. Colonel Barton then presented two identical Bibles to the Speaker of the House and to the President of the Senate.
The Senate Bible is still on the President of the Senate’s desk today.
After Colonel T. H. Barton presented Bibles to each chambers as a gift, members of the Senate felt no need to vote on House Concurrent Resolution 18 and it was not brought up.
The company that made the chandelier is Mitchell-Vance. It weighs about 1,200 pounds, and is made of brass, copper, zinc, iron and glass. It is one of three chandeliers the Mitchell-Vance made for Arkansas Capitol. The others are in the Rotunda and in the chamber of the House of Representatives. The chandelier in the Senate chamber is the smallest of the three.
Chamber Doors and 2001-2002 Remodel
The pocket doors with glass panels were covered up and forgotten over the years, but were restored to working order in between the 2015 and 2017 sessions.
The pocket doors have glass panels and are pulled out when the Senate is not in session, to allow visitors to view the chamber from the hallway.
The hinged doors are covered in leather, and original plans for the Capitol called for them to be covered in pig skin. They were restored during the 2001-2002 restoration.
Also in 2001-2002, workers removed asbestos from Senate offices on the east and west sides of the chamber. The renovation also improved acoustics in the chamber. In outer offices, new heating, air conditioning and electrical systems were installed. Although the Senate was restored as closely as possible to its original 1915 appearance, wiring for computers and Internet access were installed.
Carpet was removed to reveal the original black and white tiles, which were cleaned and repaired as necessary.
The seating galleries on the east and west sides of the chamber now hold more people, and a work space on the south side that had been a storage area now has been converted into a third gallery and a production studio for the Senate’s live streaming equipment.
Scaffolding filled the entire chamber, allowing workers to reach the stained glass in the dome 75 feet above the chamber floor. They repainted the ceiling, repaired the stained glass and re-sealed the edges, and took apart the chandelier and cleaned hundreds of individual pieces.
All the colorful stained glass panels in the dome were removed and cleaned. Several broken panes were replaced.
The ceiling was repainted to look as it did in 1915. A restoration artist removed layers of paint until she uncovered the original layer. She sent paint chips to a laboratory for analysis, then the original colors were reproduced and used to paint the dome the color it is now.
A golden starburst, original to the 1915 Senate chamber but covered up in later years, was repainted to enhance the brilliance of the chandelier.
Work then began on the marble walls and the President's desk. Paneling of cloth and wood had been attached to the walls in 1966 to absorb noise. It was removed and the original marble was cleaned. Chips and scratches were filled in and polished over.
On the carpet in the center of the chamber is an inlay with the Seal of the State of Arkansas. New wooden desks, closer in design to the original desks, were installed.
The restoration forced the Senate to close off the chamber and surrounding offices for more than a year. The newly restored chamber was used for the first time in June of 2002 for Girls State and Boys State. This "trial run" provided an opportunity to check the acoustics and adjust the sound system.
Quiet Room Signatures
The doors on either side of the Senate President’s desk leads to the Senators Quiet Room. Only Senators and the Secretary of the Senate are allowed in the Quiet Room. While remodeling of 2002 workers removed a portion of paneling in this room and uncovered signatures of people who worked on the building the capitol. The signatures, dated October 24, 1914, included that of Paul M. Herrwagen. Born in Bavaria, Germany in 1866, Mr. Herrwagen moved to Arkansas in 1891. He became known as one of the world’s foremost decorators. One of his most cherished and celebrated projects are the four original murals that are above the Senate and House grand staircases. Mr. Heerwagen and his colleagues signed their names on the south wall of the Quiet Room before heading back home to Fayetteville. Construction crews were delighted when this historic signature was uncovered nearly 100 years later, in the year 2002. Today, the signatures are protected by a glass frame.
Before the 2019 regular session, the Senate installed video cameras and wiring for a new sound system, so that all proceedings in the chamber can now be live streamed on the Senate’s website. Committee meetings on the first, second and third floors of the Capitol are also live streamed.