The Dome Revealed
By Ellen Moyer
It is back! Shredded of its veil and gloriously white, the State House dome is once again watching over the citizens of Annapolis as it has for almost 250 years. The distinctive towering wooden dome is rich in history and beauty. Designed by Joseph H. Andersen, built by Charles Wallace and repaired by Joseph Clark in the 1770s it is the largest in the nation constructed entirely of wood. Wooden pegs and iron straps secure it. No iron nails puncture it.
The dome is crowned with an acorn, the fruit of the mighty oak tree long a sacred symbol of strength. It is skewered by a lightening rod, the largest constructed in its time, and was designed and supervised by the innovative Benjamin Franklin himself. Thought to be more grand than any in England, it too symbolized a statement commemorating the ingenuity of a new nation. Even today the dome radiates the spirit of pride, power and confidence built on the values of sturdiness of character and ingenuity that would lead the new nation.
George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army under this dome, symbolically ensuring the nation would be governed by civilian, not military rule. Here too the Treaty of Paris was signed officially ending the Revolutionary War. This oldest of state capitol buildings still in use was for nine months the first peacetime capital of the new nation where the first governing body, the Continental Congress met. For a time it was a candidate for the permanent national capital. Instead Maryland gave land on the Potomac River for the new capital, what is now Washington, D.C. The State House in Annapolis is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Landmark. The restored rooms of the 1783 Senate Chamber and the 1867 House of Delegates are open to the public most every day of the year.
In its first decade, the U.S. District Court of Maryland met here too. As the story goes, one of the State House columns was used to punish a local postmaster charged with embezzlement by Judge Samuel Chase and sentenced to 39 lashes. Oh the stories the dome could tell.
In 1781 Gov. Thomas Sim Lee, in the final act of formation of the Colonies as a nation, ratified the Articles of Confederation, forming a perpetual union and removing doubt about the resolve of states to unite during the Revolutionary War. Years later in 1861, President Lincoln confronted with Civil War would use the fact that “the faith of all the then 13 States was expressly plighted and engaged that the union should be perpetual,” declaring therefore the secession of the southern states to be illegal.
By the 20th century Maryland had grown and the State House did too. By 1905 the new marble-lined chambers of the House of Delegates and Senate were added with a Tiffany skylight and galleries for the public. Portraits of Maryland’s signers of The Declaration of Independence, all from the City of Annapolis, decorate the Senate chamber. Outside in Lawyers Mall is a statue of Thurgood Marshall, America’s first African-American justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The General Assembly convenes here and under the dome are the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor and speaker of the House and president of the Senate. It is the center of the state’s executive and legislative power. Above them, the State House dome, repaired and repainted in 2011, continues to watch over us, radiating pride and confidence for the future.
Ellen, a former mayor of Annapolis, can be reached at [email protected]
The State House is open to the public every day from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., except Christmas and New Years Day. Picture I.D. is required.
Tours are self-guided. Information is available in the Office of Interpretation on the first floor.
For information about the Maryland General Assembly’s educational programs log onto http://dls.state.md.us or call the Department of Legislative Services Visitors Program Coordinator at 410.946.5400 or 1-800-492-7122 ext. 5400.
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