Skip to Main Content

History of the Archives' Building

History of the Archives | Design & Construction of the Archives Building

History of the Archives

The Hall of Records, predecessor of the Maryland State Archives, was created as an independent agency in 1935, charged with the collection, custody, and preservation of the official records, documents, and publications of the state (Chapter 18, Acts of 1935). Impetus for its development can be traced to the state's tercentenary celebrations of 1934. The Maryland Tercentenary Commission made a modern, centralized archives a key feature of the commemoration of the state's 300th anniversary. A "Memorial Hall of Records" was proposed as early as 1928, and in 1931, the General Assembly appropriated funds to erect an archives building which was opened to the public in 1935. A Hall of Records Commission was also created in 1935 to serve as management for the Archives; it took on an advisory role in 1984. The Hall of Records was incorporated into the Department of General Services in 1970 (Chapter 97, Acts of 1970). In 1984, it was renamed the State Archives and became an independent agency within the office of the Governor (Chapter 286, Acts of 1984). See also Maryland Manual On-Line information on the Archives' Origins and Functions.

The State Archives serves as the central depository for government records of permanent value. Its holdings date from Maryland's founding in 1634, and include colonial and state executive, legislative, and judicial records; county probate, land, and court records; church records; business records; state publications and reports; and special collections of private papers, maps, photographs, and newspapers. These records are kept in a humidity and temperature controlled environment and any necessary preservation measures are conducted in the Archives' conservation laboratory.

State, county, and municipal government agencies may offer the Archives all files, documents, and records not in current use. The records of all state agencies, boards, and commissions that were abolished or have concluded their work must be transferred to the Archives. Departments and agencies must dispose of their records according to established retention schedules approved by the state archivist. Records found to be permanently valuable may be transferred to the Archives as determined by these schedules.

Records that are in the county courthouses created prior to Maryland's ratification of the United States Constitution on April 28, 1788, are deposited at the Archives. Current deeds, mortgages, and releases recorded in the circuit courts are microfilmed and preserved at the State Archives, and it is the official depository for duplicate copies of subdivision plats formerly sent to the land office to insure against loss of originals. The Archives also preserves and makes accessible vital records information, a responsibility shared with the Division of Vital Records of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Archives maintains a collection of publications and reports of state, county, and municipal agencies which it has collected since 1947. It receives state publications and reports under the state publication depository and distribution program established in 1982. It is also the official depository for county charters, codes, and laws, and the Department of Legislative Services deposits municipal charter amendments and annexations with the Archives after publication.

Independent of his duties as archivist, the State Archivist is designated Commissioner of Land Patents and is responsible for issuing land patents and conducting court hearings (Chapter 355, Acts of 1967). Land patents, granting land in the state, were issued by the proprietors during the colonial period and later by the state. Though most land has been patented, land discovered to be vacant due to survey errors or tract inaccessibility may be patented after a title search is conducted.

The State Archivist also serves as the State Historical Records Coordinator for the Maryland Advisory Board of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. This board, appointed by the governor, consists of seven members representating archival and research institutions and organizations in Maryland. The state advisory board works to carry out the historical records program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The commission supports preservation and accessibility of records and cooperative efforts among institutions and organizations. In conjunction with this mission, the advisory board evaluates records grant proposals submitted to the NHPRC by state institutions, sponsors surveys of the condition and needs of historical records in the state and publishes survey results, and develops and reviews NHPRC funded historical records projects carried out in Maryland.

Traditionally, the State Archives has produced finding aids, guides to research, directories, historical monographs, and essays. Now, through electronic media, the Archives has made many of these accessible on the World Wide Web.

The State Archives is responsible for Maryland Electronic Capital, linking to the Web sites of government agencies. While the Archives compiles, edits, publishes, and distributes the Maryland Manual, a biennual guide to Maryland government, it also maintains and continuously updates the Maryland Manual On-Line.

Within the State Archives are the Commission on Artistic Property, and a number of units, including Appraisal and Preservation; Education and Exhibits; Government Information Services; Imaging Services; Information Systems Management; Land Patents; Reference Services; and Special Collections. The State Archives is aided by the Hall of Records Commission.

The Design and Construction of the Archives Building, 1982-86

The Maryland State Archives was created as an agency of State government in 1935 and was known as the Hall of Records. It became a division of the Department of General Services in 1968. Renamed the State Archives, it became an independent agency in the office of the Governor in 1984.

The State Archives houses its collections in a building designated by law as the Hall of Records. The first Hall of Records was constructed on the campus of St. John's College in Annapolis from 1934 to 1935 as part of the Tercentenary celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the founding of Maryland. The architect, Laurence Hall Fowler, created a design that was a celebration of Maryland colonial architecture. The reading room could accommodate 16 patrons and the stack capacity was sufficient to store 18,000 cubic feet of archival material.

This building was expected to meet the need for housing the permanently valuable records of Maryland through the year 2000. The tremendous growth of government during the succeeding three decades and the attendant accrual of record materials, however, far exceeded the storage space available. In 1969, the State Archivist realized additional storage space would be needed and initiated efforts to secure adequate facilities for the archival collections. By 1980, the Archives had become responsible for about 65,000 cubic feet of records which were stored in two warehouses as well as the Hall of Records.

In 1981, Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse, the State Archivist, and Assistance in Developing Educational Systems of Alexandria, Virginia, developed a program for a new building. In preparation for the task of constructing a new facility, Dr. Papenfuse spent many years evaluating comparable archival programs and facilities, both in the United States and Europe. Work on the program was completed in April, 1981 and the Department of General Services awarded a contract for architectural work to VVKR of Baltimore in July 1981.

Bruce A. Rich, AIA, was responsible for the architectural design of the building. Working with Dr. Papenfuse, program needs and relations of archival functions to space were incorporated in the design. Invaluable assistance in planning work areas was provided by Frank R. Torrey, a space planner with Flowers School Supply. Design work was completed in the fall of 1982.

Bids for construction were solicited in August of 1983 and a contract was awarded in November to CAM Construction of Hunt Valley, Maryland. Ground-breaking ceremonies were held in December and site work by the contractor began February 1984.

Simultaneously, bids were solicited by the Purchasing Bureau of the Department of General Services for a compact shelving system. Specifications for the shelving were developed by Dr. Papenfuse, Frank Torrey, and Chris Allan.Montel, Inc., of Montmaigny, Canada, was awarded a contract to furnish shelving in July 1984.

While the building was under construction, the Archives staff began the work necessary to move the collections. Using the shelving plans, record series were assigned locations. Volumes and boxes were labeled with the location in the new building.

The building was accepted as substantially complete on June 17, 1986, and the Archives closed for the month of July to move its collections to the new facility.

Archives staff completed the move of 18,000 cubic feet of records from the old building in less than eight weeks. The search room was opened for reference on August 4, 1986.

At the time this structure was completed, the Hall of Records had the second largest installation of compact shelving in the United States, exceeded only by the Madison Building of the Library of Congress. The Archives stack capacity is 160,000 cubic feet, with some 38 miles of shelving in the system. The weight of the equipment is 1.5 million pounds and the floor loading capacity in the stack areas is 350 pounds per square foot.

The Hall of Records is approximately 100,000 square feet of which half is devoted to the storage of collections. Four floors hold the main stack areas and seven rooms are designed for the care of special collections, such as maps, photographs, and electromagnetic media. The general stack areas and four of the special collections rooms are maintained at 60 degrees and 55% relative humidity. Three special collections rooms are maintained at 50 degrees and 35% relative humidity for the storage of photographic materials. Fire control for the main stack spaces is provided by a sprinkler system with on\off heads. Special collection rooms have Halon fire-suppression systems installed.

From the public reference or search room, stack areas and the conservation lab are visible so that visitors cannot only use the records, but also see and begin to understand how the Archives stores and cares for the records. The dominant feature of the room is a mural of the Ogilby map of Maryland, 1671, and the first published description of Maryland. The mural was fabricated and installed by Carlos A. Weber of York, Pennsylvania, using a transparency prepared by the Archives' photo duplication staff. The dimensions of the mural are 36' x 19'.

Remarkably, the Archives was constructed at a cost of 7.7 million dollars, 1.2 million dollars less than the appropriation. The shelving installation and equipment which was budgeted at 2.3 million dollars, cost the State 1.9 million dollars. Several factors contributed to the substantial savings in building construction. Careful planning and design work, a depressed construction market, and careful supervision all played an important part in bringing the building in under budget.

Public and professional response to the building has been favorable. A number of other states and countries seeking to build archival facilities have expressed interest in the new Hall of Records.

This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

© Copyright December 15, 2023 Maryland State Archives