Kirschner: A Capitol idea — add state houses to your bucket list

Posted 6/14/21

We are now in year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world has changed. Many of us have remained sequestered at home, and travel has been put on hold.

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Kirschner: A Capitol idea — add state houses to your bucket list


We are now in year two of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the world has changed. Many of us have remained sequestered at home, and travel has been put on hold.

With vaccinations speeding up and restrictions dropping, polling shows that we want to hit the road or the air.

International travel remains problematic with polling showing that the majority of Americans are not ready for that bucket list trip to the capitols of Europe, Asia, Africa, South America or Australia.

Many of our best athletes are saying no to the summer Olympics in Japan. I feel your pain, but I have a suggestion.

During my 22 years in the Air Force, I spent 10 years in overseas assignments. Two of those assignments were in capitol cities, Madrid and Tokyo. I spent time in some 40 other capitol cities stretching from Lome, Togo in West Africa to Kathmandu, Nepal in the foothills of the Himalayas.

All of those experiences were great and I encourage you to travel the world, but not this year. This year, see America starting with our national Capitol and then our 50 state capitols.

If you haven’t been to Washington, D.C., put it on your must-do list. If you have been there, it is a great place to visit one more time and bring the kids and grandkids. My parents took my brother and me to DC when I was 10. I have been back dozens of times, and there is always something new to visit.

After DC, start hitting the road to our state capitols. I’ve lived in four of them: Albany (medical school); Montgomery (Air Force); Austin (Air Force) and Phoenix.

I’ll give you some suggestions. My wife and I were flying home to Phoenix from Jackson, Mississippi. That was my 50th state capitol, and Peggy’s 46th (she has since hit the other four). We decided to rank the capitols by giving one third of the points for history, another third for the capitol and grounds, and the final third to the city.

Coming in as the top three were Annapolis, Maryland; Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Boston, Massachusetts. All three have great history. Annapolis is the only state capitol to serve as our national capitol. Boston and the start of the Revolution. Santa Fe and its Hispanic history. All three have interesting capitol buildings and grounds, and are fascinating cities to visit.

Here are some suggestions by region:

Four Corners. Travel our Four Corners to Santa Fe; Denver, Colorado; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Each is distinct, reflecting the history of the region. In Santa Fe, visit the Palace of the Governors. It was built in 1610, 10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, and it is the oldest capitol in the nation.

New England. From Boston to Montpelier, Vermont, with four others on the tour. In Boston, walk the Freedom Trail, and visit Concord and Lexington and the start of the Revolution. Visit Montpelier, our smallest capitol with 8,000 residents, in the fall, when the foliage is grand.

Southeast. The states of Virginia, West Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia have much to offer in history and scenery. West Virginia was part of Virginia until the Civil War, when it split to join the Union. The capitol is magnificent, sitting on the banks of the Kanawha River. The history of the Revolution and Civil War are part of the fabric of these capitols.

Far West. Travel the far West on scenic Highway101, along the Pacific coast, with detours to Sacramento, California; Salem, Oregon; and Olympia, Washington. Don’t miss the 12 national parks in these three states.

The Heartland. The Heartland consists of 12 states in the Midwest. They are home to my three favorite capitols: Springfield, Illinois, with all the history of Abraham Lincoln; Des Moines, Iowa, with a spectacular building and the best state fair; and Madison, Wisconsin, on a glorious summer evening when the orchestra plays on the grounds of the capitol and the best restaurants provide the food.

Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. These three state capitols have much to offer. Oklahoma’s is the only capitol with an oil derrick in front of the building. In Little Rock, visit the little rock. It is where the fur traders would meet on the Arkansas River and it is a little rock since much of it was used to build a bridge. Don’t miss the Clinton Presidential Library.

Lewis and Clark in the Dakotas. Follow the Lewis and Clark Trail up the Missouri River through the Dakotas. Stop at two of the least-visited capitols, Pierre, South Dakota; and Bismarck, North Dakota. Don’t miss three national parks and Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills.

The Rocky Mountains. After Denver, visit Rocky Mountain National Park and continue your trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming; Helena, Montana; and Boise, Idaho. In Montana, visit the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument. Add Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks for a memorable trip.

Juneau and Honolulu. Our 49th and 50th states don’t lend to a car trip, but put both on your bucket list.

Capitols that end in “City.” A trivia question. Four state capitol cities end with the word “City.” I’ve given you one, but can you name the other three?

Arizona. Arizona became a U.S. Territory in 1863, when Congress carved it out of the New Mexico Territory. The first capitol was Fort Whipple, an Army post north of Prescott. In 1864, the capitol was moved to Prescott and in 1867 to Tucson. In 1877, the capitol returned to Prescott, and in 1889, it moved to Phoenix. Built between 1898 and 1901, the original design was much grander than the the building we have, but when funding was reduced, so was the building. Additions were made in 1918 and 1938, and the House and Senate buildings were added in 1960. The nine-story Governor’s Tower was built in 1974. There have been many efforts to build a new and more imposing state capitol. All failed. The most ambitious was the proposal by Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1957, to build a new capitol in Papago Park. He called it “Oasis.” It failed and we are left, I am sorry to write, with one of the least-imposing capitol complexes in the nation.

My apologies if I have left out your favorite capitol, like Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Lansing, Michigan; or Topeka, Kansas, but all are worth a visit.

The states are the laboratories of democracy and much of the progress we have made in the past 200-plus years as a nation has occurred because of actions taken in these 50 state capitols.

Enjoy your travels around this grand nation, and send pictures.

Editor’s note: Dr. Leonard Kirschner MPH of Litchfield Park is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and longtime medical professional. His commentary on traveling to America’s national parks appeared in the April edition.