By Marcia Miller, Chief, Office of Research, Survey and Registration
The Chamber is open! The Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland State House has opened its doors to visitors once again after completing a multi-year, state-of-the-art restoration. The extensive project returned the room as accurately as possible to its 18th-century appearance. Exhaustive physical investigation and meticulous research, combined with fieldwork throughout the City of Annapolis, ensured the authenticity of the richly-ornamented architectural detailing and the furnishings as they would have appeared on December 23, 1783.
This historic space was the location of nationally significant events in 1783 and 1784. As the temporary home of the Continental Congress, it was here that General George Washington resigned his commission to Congress, thus creating the first modern democracy. It was also in this room where the Treaty of Paris was ratified, officially ending the Revolutionary War. The room has been restored to depict the resignation ceremony.
In addition to serving as the stage for these historic events, the room was praised for its exquisite architecture. The very same delegates who came for the Continental Congress described the Senate Chamber as “the prettyest room in America,” an accolade that was repeated time and again during the 1780s. As one of the most classical rooms of the period, it was distinguished for its elegance and refinement, most notably the President’s niche and the gallery. With the reopening of the newly restored room, we hope visitors will once again appreciate the elegance seen by those visitors long ago.
The Old Senate Chamber restoration project was a collaborative effort between the Maryland Department of General Services and the Maryland Historical Trust, with full approval of the State House Trust. The restoration received guidance from the Old Senate Chamber Advisory Committee, a panel of nationally recognized experts in the fields of architectural history and historic preservation. The Maryland State Archives also served as a partner in undertaking documentary research on the room, as well as the lead role in the interpretation and exhibits within the Senate Chamber and adjacent rooms. The firm of Mesick, Cohen, Wilson, Baker Architects from Albany, New York, served as project architect and The Christman Company of Reston, Virginia, as the general contractor. Traditional craftsmen, experienced in 18th-century building practices, undertook various aspects of the restoration, including the creation of flat and decorative plasterwork, millwork, flooring, and painting, using period techniques. The use of traditional craftsmanship and authentic materials and finishes has recreated a space that we believe General Washington would immediately recognize.
Thank you all for your patience as we completed what is undeniably one of the most complex and comprehensive restoration projects ever undertaken in Maryland. Please visit soon!