The Capitol Building at Night, 1903

State capitol at night 1903
From the Bolivar Bulletin, November 13, 1903.

Here’s a neat nocturnal photograph of the State Capitol Building in Nashville, taken in 1903. The photo appeared in Rutledge Smith’s “Tennessee Topics” column in the Bolivar Bulletin. The writer provides some history about the “State’s most perfect building, from an architectural standpoint” and boasts of the building’s nocturnal beauty in particular. “The building, which is Grecian in its architecture, has on all its exterior lines myriads of incandescent lights, around the caves, on the cornice and reaching to the top of the dome, and is lighted every evening until ten o’clock by the city of Nashville. From the city and surrounding country this brilliant illumination presents a most beautiful appearance.”

A number of things interest me about the appearance of this photo in this newspaper. Firstly, electric lighting was still a relatively new technology* so it’s interesting to see it being used somewhat creatively here. It must have been costly, hence the 10 o’clock lights out! Secondly, the limitations of contemporary photographic processes would have made nocturnal photography very difficult. I’m going to try to find out more about the photograph, such as who took it and why. If I find anything, I’ll post it on this blog. And lastly, the appearance of any photograph in a newspaper (especially a rural Tennessee paper) was not terribly common then. The process of converting a photograph into a newspaper printable image was still being refined. Larger city’s presses would usually print two or three photographs per issue at this time, usually portraits. The ability to reproduce a halftone photograph on a printing press running at full speed had been around only a few years when this image was printed.

This issue of the Bolivar Bulletin has been digitized as part of the TNDP and will be available on Chronicling America later this year. Earlier issues of the paper are currently available here.

* Nashville got its first electric lights in 1882, but technology moved a lot slower in those days.