DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd"> The State House and Its Dome

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The State House
and its Dome

Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives

The beautiful Maryland State House is the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use.

Construction of the State House, which was designed by Joseph Horatio Anderson, was begun in 1772, delayed by the outbreak of the American Revolution, and completed in 1779. The present dome, which replaced an earlier cupola, was designed by the noted colonial architect Joseph Clark and was completed in 1794. It is the oldest and largest wooden dome of its kind in the United States.

The Maryland State House was the first peacetime capitol of the United States and is the only state house ever to have served as the nation's capitol. The Continental Congress met in the Old Senate Chamber from November 26, 1783, to August 13, 1784. During that time, General George Washington came before the Congress to resign his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army and the Treaty of Paris was ratified, marking the official end of the Revolutionary War.

Three state houses have actually occupied State Circle in Annapolis. The first was built soon after Annapolis became the capital in 1695; it burned down in 1704. The second was completed by 1709, but within 60 years the governement had outgrown it, and the decision was made to raze the delapidated building. Charles Wallace undertook the work of the third state house when no one else submitted "plans and estimates" for the project.

Joseph Clark, an Annapolis architect and builder, designed and built the extraordinary dome. By the summer of 1788, the exterior of the new dome was complete. From a design and engineering point of view it is an outstanding achievement. It was constructed of timber supplied by the Dashiell family of Somerset County. No metal nails were used in its construction and, to this day, it is held together by wooden pegs reinforced by iron straps forged by an Annapolis ironmonger.

The lightning rod which tops the dome is a story in itself. It is a "Franklin" rod, constructed and grounded to Benjamin Franklin's specifications. In some respects, the use of this type of lightning rod was also a political statement, expressing support for Franklin's theories on protection of public buildings from lightning strikes and the rejection of the opposing theories supported by King George III. The pointed lightning rod atop such an important new public building was a powerful symbol of the independence and ingenuity of the young nation.

In 1996, an examination of the dome and the acorn revealed that almost all of the material in the acorn, its pedestal and the lightning rod was original from the 18th century. During the summer and fall of that year, the acorn was removed and replaced by a new one, due to water seepage damage.

The new acorn is constructed of 31 pieces of cypress made by craftspeople from around the state. Like the original, it is clad in copper and gilded on the top. Although a steel sleeve has been placed inside the new acorn to strengthen it, the original lightning rod has remained intact and continues to serve as it has for 208 years.

Visit the Maryland State Archives for more information, including an online tour of the Maryland State House and some interesting photographs of the State House through the years.

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