About the State House

Drawings of the State House by Charles Willson Peale, 1787, showing colors of building and the dome. MSA SC 1051

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. These two drawings by Charles Willson Peale indicate the original colors of the building and the dome.

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.

The interior of the original section of the State House is constructed of wood and plaster. The newer colonial revival section, which was designed by Francis Baldwin and Josiah Pennington and added between 1902 and 1906, has matched veined Italian marble walls and columns. A broad black line across the columned lobby marks the line between the two sections. The Maryland State House was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1960.

Related Links

Fact Sheet about the State House and its dome.

The State House Dome. Historic American Buildings Survey, 1985. MSA SC 1173

State House Fact Sheet

[Expand All]

  • Construction of the State House

    • Construction of original section of the State House: 1772-1779
    • Architect of original State House: Joseph Horatio Anderson
    • Cornerstone of original State House: laid by Governor Robert Eden, March 28, 1772
    • Roof replacement and construction of dome by Joseph Clark, Architect: Begun 1785
    • Construction of present addition to State House (replacing annexes built in1858 and 1886): 1902-1905
    • Architects of present addition to State House: Baldwin and Pennington of Baltimore
    • Height: Interior of dome, from floor to ceiling: 113'
    • Height: Exterior, to the weather vane: 181'
    • Oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use
    • Served as U.S. capitol from November 1783 - August 1784 when Continental
    • Congress met in Old Senate Chamber
    • Original section: Two storeys
    • Present addition: Three storeys
  • The Dome

    • Height, from base to weather vane: 121'
    • Diameter at base: 40'
    • Construction begun: 1785
    • Interior work completed: 1797
    • Wood used in dome construction: Timber from Maryland's Eastern Shore, supplied by Dashiell family of Cypress Swamp, Somerset County.
    • Architect of the dome: Joseph Clark
    • Possible model for design of the dome: Schlossturm, the dome of the free-standing tower next to the palace of Karl-Wilhelm, Markgraf of Baden, in Karlsruhe, Germany
  • The Acorn

    • Material: Original cypress from ca. 1785-1788, covered with copper panels Pedestal covered with sheet lead, probably from 1837
    • Original colors (from Charles Willson Peale drawing):
    • Top: gilt
    • Bottom: green
    • Pedestal: white
    • Purpose: To provide stability to the "Franklin" lightning rod which goes through its center. Acorns were common decorative elements in the late 18th century. In the language of the day, "sound as an acorn" meant to be without a flaw, free from imperfection, clearly something the architect of the dome, Joseph Clark, and the General Assembly, intended his creation to be.
    • Replacement of the Acorn, September 1996: During restoration work on the State House dome, it was discovered that the 208 year-old acorn had become rotten because of water seepage. As it too damaged to be repaired, it was decided to replace it by having 32 craftspeople from around the state make "slices" that would be used to assemble a new acorn. The new acorn was then clad in copper and gilded and painted according to the original drawings of Charles Willson Peale.
  • The Lightning Rod

    • Size: 28' tall; 2.5" square at maximum thickness
    • Material: Original wrought iron
    • History: A prime example of lightning rod designed according to the theories of Benjamin Franklin who argued that the most effective protection from lightning was a pointed rod, preferably grounded into a deep well.
  • Restoration Work

    • The acorn has been replaced by a new one constructed of sections made by 31 Maryland craftspeople from specification supplied by the Department of General Services. The new acorn is made of cypress wood, as was the original. The original lightning rod has been left in place and a metal sleeve placed around it for protection. In 1997, the State House Trust and the Department of General Services were awarded the Calvert Prize by the Maryland Historical Trust for their roles in the restoration and preservation of the State House dome.