Maryland’s State House, the oldest continuously used state capitol in the country, served as the first national capital of the United States. So it was here that General George Washington came to resign his military commission Dec. 23, 1783.
The Old Senate Chamber where this momentous ceremony took place — it ensured a civilian-run government and civilian-led military —has just undergone an extensive restoration. Simple and elegant, the restored space includes a life-sized statue of George Washington, letter of resignation in hand, standing at his chair in the middle of the room.
In the gallery where women were permitted to gather, a bronze statue of Molly Ridout, a local woman who wrote a letter about the occasion, looks on. Women often get forgotten in a recreation of a historic event so I appreciated her presence here.
The restored room reopened without fanfare just after the Fourth of July. Those who have seen it in the past should stop in again. Gone is the Williamsburg blue paint, the wainscoting, the lower gallery and all the furniture. The focal point is the grand sculpture of Washington in the middle of the room as he addresses an empty chair on the president’s dais. So simple, yet so striking. Samples of chairs used on this occasion line the room.
Other exhibitions outside of this room add to the history. Perhaps the most interesting is the glass cabinet in the main hall of the State House where Washington’s letter of resignation is hung. You can view both sides. (Good luck reading it.) It’s fascinating seen the handwriting of the great man and a document with crossed out sections.
A small anteroom where stairs to the State House dome are located is filled with illustrations of the time and a touch screen that gives tidbits of information about all these portraits, letters and landscapes.
Portraits of Revolutionary Leaders are hung in the room just outside the Old Senate Chamber. I was happy to see a journalist among them. Anne Catharine Hoof Green was a Revolutionary War era publisher of the Maryland Gazette. The newspaper still prints today.
I am partial to the painting of
General Washington with Lafayette and Tench Tilghman that hangs on one wall. Family ties, you know.
The State House is a fascinating place — as are all centers of power. Visitors can take a look at the House of Delegates and Senate chambers used every January to April since 1905. The Old House of Delegates Chamber across from the Old Senate Chamber has also been restored — but to its post-Civil War glory. What a contrast to the Federal style of the Senate Chamber. But glorious nonetheless.
The State House is open almost every day. Admission is free but visitors should bring photo ID and expect to have their bags X-rayed. Entrance is on the Rowe Boulevard side.
Make sure you take allow some time to walk the sloping grounds that overlook Annapolis. And, of course, you’ve got to stop in town for a drink, a meal or at least ice cream! Especially if you brought the kids.
@Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman