Governing in style

You’ve won the election and soon you’ll be sworn in as the governor of the state. What is top of your list of priorities? Fulfilling manifesto pledges? Dishing out patronage? Dealing with the legislature? One thing most of America’s state governors don’t have to worry about is where to live. All bar three states in the USA have official governors’ residencies.

Alabama Governor's Mansion, Montgomery Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Governors of states in the USA have considerable political power. They are the chief executives of territories whose population or size dwarfs many sovereign countries. As befits the role, most states in the USA provide an official residence – a state by state version of the White House and centre of executive power.

 

With 47 to choose from (Arizona, Massachusetts and Rhode Island do not currently have an official residence), I’ve decided to choose five to give a feel for the varied approaches to these high profile public buildings.

Alabama – The little White House

With its white columns, pediment and classical revival frontage, Alabama’s Governor’s Mansion is the perfect miniature White House. Surprisingly, it wasn’t purpose built for this task – it was originally a family home for the Ligons, wealthy stalwarts of the state capital Montgomery.

The state purchased the residence in 1950, using it to replace the first residence, a Beaux Arts brownstone that was demolished in 1963. Governors of the Yellowhammer State have full use of 17 opulent rooms, with its two floors linked by a stunning double staircase.

The Alabama shaped swimming pool in Alabama's Governor's Mansion

More impressive are the Mansion’s formal gardens. Within the confines of the iron fence, the grounds contain a guest house, a grotto, water features, tennis courts and a large pergola. By far the best feature, however, is the swimming pool that was specially built in the shape of the state.

Virginia – The oldest residence 

Virginia is a large, populous and rich state. It is also one of the original 13 states of the Union. It is the historical that wins out in Virginia’s Executive Mansion – it is the oldest governor’s residence in the USA. It was finally built and occupied in 1813, and last year celebrated its 200th anniversary.

Virginia's Executive Mansion

The Executive Mansion is in the historic heart of the state capital, Richmond. During the Civil War, the building was pressed into the service of the Confederacy but resumed its state role following the cessation of hostilities. One of the key roles of the Executive Mansion was to be the venue for the Governor’s hospitality. A beautifully decorated ballroom is testament to this role, as is a large bowl that historically kept vast quantities of toddy for guests to help themselves to.

Iowa – The Gothic

Iowa’s Governor’s Mansion goes by a confusing array of names – it is known as Terrace Hill, Hubbell Mansion, Benjamin F. Allen House or, more simply, simply the Governor’s Mansion. Sitting on a hill overlooking the state capital, Des Moines, the Mansion has all the ingredients to make an excellent set for the Addams family or to house the Munsters.

Terrace Hill, the Hubbell Mansion, Benjamin F. Allen House - different names for the Iowa Governor's Mansion

The impressive drawing room of the Mansion is used for important events. The room features a domineering 2.3 meter crystal chandelier and handcarved, laminated, rosewood Belter furniture.

Georgia- the modern

Not all official residences are steeped in history. Georgia’s current Governor’s Mansion was built in 1967 and officially opened on January 1, 1968. Whilst clearly a modern building, Georgia did completely abandon the classical vernacular. Instead, they opted for a modern take on the Greek Revival style that marks so many of America’s public buildings.

Georgia's 1967 Governor's Mansion

The most striking feature of the building is the porch surrounding the whole of the building. The roof is supported by 30 Doric columns which are made from California redwoods and are each 24 feet high.

New Jersey – the best name

The majority of executive residences are simply called the Executive Mansion or the Executive Residence. A handful have different names, but none come close to New Jersey’s Drumthwacket. Drumthwacket has a venerable history, but was only bought by the State of New Jersey to became the official residence in 1966. It was as late as 1981 before funds could be found to turn this dream into a reality.

Drumthwacket, Princeton, New Jersey, the official residence of the Governor of New Jersey. Built 1835 KForce at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], from Wikimedia Commons

As well as being splendidly named, it is also one of the few executive residences not located in the state capital. It is situated in the leafy and academic surrounds of Princeton, some 14 miles away from the state capital – the faded industrial city of Trenton.

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