Maryland State House Annapolis Reviews
Maryland State House May 21, 2016
Annapolis is best known as the home of the United States Naval Academy, but as the capital of Maryland it is also the site of the oldest legislative building in the nation. The Maryland State House opened in 1779 during the American Revolution and has been in continuous use ever since, briefly serving as the national capital in 1783 - 84 when the Continental Congress met here. It was in the Old Senate Chamber that an emotional George Washington turned in his resignation as commander of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783, to return to civilian life. In the same room the Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris with Great Britain on January 14, 1784, formally ending the Revolution. Also from here the delegates of the Annapolis Convention in 1786 issued a call for all the states to send representatives to Philadelphia the following summer to write a new constitution, which is still going strong today.
A new wing built in 1906 holds the modern Senate and House of Delegates chambers with the office of the governor on the second floor. The old chambers have been restored to their appearances circa 1780 with several exhibit rooms on the history of the building. A statue of George Washington stands on the spot where he addressed the Continental Congress in 1783 and his letter of resignation is on display under the rotunda in the main hall. The largest wooden dome in the U.S. above has a lightning rod designed by Benjamin Franklin and is featured on the Maryland commemorative quarter. In the past visitors could climb to the top (Thomas Jefferson did so), but it is kept closed today.
The building stands on the highest point in the small city, the third structure to occupy the space. The first state house was destroyed by fire, the second one was torn down to make way for its successor. The original colonial capital was further south in St. Mary’s City, but following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in England the capital was moved to the new town of Annapolis, named after the future Queen Anne. Maryland was established as a refuge for Catholics, but they lost control of the colony after the ouster of the Catholic King James II. The capital was supposedly relocated to put it in a more central geographic position, but this conveniently removed it from the heavily Catholic St. Mary’s City. This rupture from Maryland’s Catholic origins was underscored by the building of an Anglican church next to the first state house using public funds.
On the exterior grounds rests a statue of Roger Taney, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court from 1836 - 64 and a Maryland native. There have been calls for its removal since Taney wrote the majority opinion for the infamous Dred Scott decision of 1857 that ruled that black Americans were not citizens and thus reinforced the institution of slavery. But the Taney monument is balanced by a larger memorial to the lawyer Thurgood Marshall of Baltimore, a civil rights activist who became the first black Supreme Court justice.
Admission is free but visitors need to show photo identification and go through security screening. Groups of school kids can suddenly swarm into a room, but they don’t stay for long. The surrounding streets of the historic district are filled with shops and restaurants housed in 18th-century dwellings, with the Naval Academy just a few blocks away. Street parking is sparse but there are parking garages in the area. A good map or GPS device is helpful since the street layout is somewhat confusing with traffic circles and one-way roads. The State House is a beautiful old Georgian-style building worth visiting for the architecture and the history, even if you have no interest in the local politics.
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