It just wouldn’t be a Harrell family vacation without at least one stop at a state capitol.
The Tonganoxie family has a standard routine when vacationing in or near a capital city: drive to the capitol grounds, scope out parking, take a photo and then tour the capitol itself if it’s open to visitors. That’s according to Steve Harrell, who takes a photo of his family — wife Kathy and daughters Mallory and Lauren — at each capitol.
“I take the picture,” Steve said, “with the dome in the background if possible.”
Since 2000, state capitols have been part of Harrell summer vacations. So far, Mallory, a sophomore at Tonganoxie High School, and Lauren, an eighth-grader at Tonganoxie Middle School, have visited 26 state capitols and the nation’s capitol.
Kathy has made it to 37 state capitols and visited every state except Vermont, Alaska and Hawaii. Steve has been to about the same number of capitols as his daughters. Both Kathy and Steve teach in Tonganoxie schools
Kathy says it was her father’s interest in history and geography that really sparked her interest in wanting to visit the capitols and other historical sites.
“Pretty much to my family’s chagrin,” she said with a laugh.
One of Kathy’s friends, who said it was a goal of hers to see every state capitol, inspired her to start the family tradition. The first capitol visits were to Denver and Topeka.
Family vacations aren’t built around state capitol stops, but the Harrells do try to include them while vacationing.
For instance, during a 2003 trip to and from Walt Disney World, the family stopped at capitols in Tallahassee, Fla.; Montgomery, Ala.; Atlanta, Ga.; Nashville, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark.; and Jefferson City, Mo.
“It’s very educational,” Mallory said. “I think it will definitely help us when we go to different states and go to college.”
Lauren agreed. “It’s nice to see all the different places,” she said.
This past summer, the family visited Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Va., so they saw both the nation’s capitol and the building that served as the Confederate capitol.
Asked whether they had a favorite, Lauren and Mallory agreed it was the capitol in Charleston, W.Va., with its gold dome.
Kathy and Steve are partial to the Pennsylvania capitol building in Harrisburg, Pa., because of its lime green dome.
Some buildings, though, are much lower on the list — including the capitol in Tallahassee, Fla., which was built in the 1970s.
“It didn’t have a dome,” Lauren said. “It was like a skyscraper.”
Steve, who heads the speech and drama department at THS, reminisced about some of the history they’ve encountered. In South Carolina, the capitol in Columbia still bears cannon damage from Gen. Sherman’s attack during the Civil War.
Together the Harrells have visited capitols in most regions of the country. And, with about half of the nation’s capitols already visited, Kathy said it’s hoped that Mallory and Lauren will visit every state capitol.
But that likely will have to be accomplished in their adult lives. “We probably won’t be going to Hawaii anytime soon,” Steve said.
But if they do, there’s sure to be a family photo in front of the state capitol in Honolulu.