The Archives Room

The State House Dome

From the very beginning the original dome designed for the State House proved troublesome and inadequate. A visitor in 1777 referred to it as a "cupola," implying that is was unimpressive. Another visitor in 1783 referred to it as a "small dome." It not only was out of proportion to the building, but also leaked. By 1785 Joseph Clark undertook to repair the roof and build a new dome of more imposing scale. As one workman wrote in June 1785:

We git one Dollar a Day each of us & Gits our money every Saturday Night And we get Boarding at two Dolars a Week the work We are Going to put a new roof on the Governor's house and we are a Going to take the Roof of[f] the State House and it is going to Raise it one story higher and the Doom is to be Sixty foot higer than the old one.

The work on the exterior of the dome was completed by the summer of 1788. It closely resembles a similar wooden dome in Karlsruhe, Germany. Perhaps Clark saw a print of the dome in his brother Stephen's bookstore and print shop in Annapolis. Whatever the inspiration, the dome is the largest 18th century wooden structure of its kind still surviving in America. Its builder, Joseph Clark, was plagued with financial difficulties and apparently was never fully compensated by the state. The interior of the dome, under Clark's supervision, was nearly completed in 1793, when the contractor for the plaster work, Thomas Dance, had a fatal accident. A local resident recorded in his diary "Today-Dance the Plasterer, fell from the upper scaffold of the Doome of the Stadt House, and is dead or dying. . .supposed to be about 90 feet high from where he fell." Although Dance's widow petitioned the General Assembly for an "annuity for life, or a sum of money sufficient to defray the passage of herself and daughter to their native country," her request for some unknown reason was denied.

The Dance tragedy only added to Joseph Clark's disillusionment with the project. He abandoned it altogether in 1794, leaving John Shaw, one of the carpentry contractors on the dome and Clark's principal foreman, to oversee its completion on his own.

  • MODEL OF STATE HOUSE DOME by Rebecca A. Fuller

  • Maryland State Archives

Exhibits in the Archives Room

The Dome
John Shaw
Buildings in State Circle
State House & State Circle
Charter of Maryland