Rock City Construction renovates State Capitol cupola for the second time in 60 years

Rock City Construction renovates State Capitol cupola for the second time in 60 years

PHOTO: The renovations had just gotten underway last month at the state capitol when this photo was taken / Rock City Construction


When John Lee was a young boy, he remembers walking on the roof of the state capitol with his father, who was then president of the construction company renovating a structure atop the building.

That structure was the cupola, a small building atop the capitol to which the flagpole is attached.

Lee, who received his degree in civil engineering from Georgia Tech, is now the president of that company, Rock City Construction.

In the mid to late 1800s, Nashville was called the “Rock City” because of its limestone foundation. Lee’s grandfather and the two other company founders took on the name when they began the business in 1913.

A few years ago, Rock City won the bid to complete the nearly $2.3 million state capitol cupola renovation.

Constructed in 1859 and built largely with limestone, which is found in abundance in Nashville, the capitol building retained wear and tear over the years.

In the 1950s, the state commissioned a comprehensive restoration program which included replacing large swaths of the building’s limestone; the last restoration of the cupola itself was completed in 1958.

An image from the 1956-1958 renovation/Rock City Construction.

For this project, which began in June of 2017, ornamental cast iron elements were removed and reworked, with cracks filled and coating put on. Lee said he expects that to last more than 60 years.

Next, a new copper roof was put on the cupola building. “Since we’re up there, we repaired and recaulked and cleaned and sealed the stone,” he said.

The finishing touch will be a new lighting system with various colors, which will be completed next week.

According to Director of Legislative Services Leah Dupree, flags will be returned to the flagpole at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 7.

Since the last time Lee was on the capitol roof at age eight, not much has changed.

“The state has done a good job of not doing anything to change the looks of the building,” he said.

But the construction was a bit different this time around. “We were a whole lot more safety conscious now,” Lee admitted.

Rock City Construction, located at 1885 General George Patton Drive, has erected several other prominent structures, like the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, the original state supreme court building in 1938, and the Williamson County Administrative building in the 1950s, then the county hospital.

Working for his family’s company, “there’s a lot of pride involved in doing that,” he said.

“It’s just one of those things that God led me to do this. I’m blessed to have some talent in it.”

See photos of the original restoration and the latest one below. All photos courtesy of Rock City Construction.




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Brooke Wanser is the associate editor for the Franklin Home Page, and can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @BWanser_writes or @FranklinHomepg.

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