The State House and State Circle

Archives Room

MARYLAND STATE HOUSE, attributed to Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), 1789
This engraving, attributed to Charles Willson Peale, was published in the February 1789 issue of the Columbian Magazine. In addition to the new State House with its recently completed dome, on the far left is the home of John Shaw. To the right of the State House are the Old Council Chamber and Ball Room built in 1718, the octagonal outdoor privy, known as the "temple," constructed in the 1780s and the Treasury Building built in 1729. Bond Collection, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 194-3

Thomas Jefferson paid his first visit to Annapolis in May of 1766 when he was twenty-three. He wrote his friend John Page a vivid account of the General Assembly at work. "The assembly happens to be sitting at this time . . . I went into the lower [house], sitting in an old courthouse, which, judging from its form and appearance, was built in the year one. I was surprised on approaching to hear as great a noise and hubbub as you will usually observe at a public meeting of the planters in Virginia." Jefferson found the members paying little attention to the speaker. "The mob (for such was their appearance) sat covered [with hats on] on the justices' and lawyers' benches, and were divided into little clubs amusing themselves in the common chit chat way. I was surprised to see them address the speaker without rising from their seats, and three, four, and five at a time without being checked. When a motion was made, the speaker instead of putting the question in the usual form, only asked the gentlemen whether they chose that such or such a thing should be done . . . in short everything seems to be carried without the house in general knowing what was proposed."

Within six years of Jefferson's visit, a new State House would be built on the site of the old court building and State House. Moving to their new home seen years later, in November 1779, the Lower House of the General Assembly was so impressed by its new surroundings as to increase its rules of behavior and procedure from the mere nine that had been in effect since before Jefferson's visit in 1766, to thirty-one. In addition to prohibiting members from bringing guns into the chamber and using unseemly language in speeches, the House of Delegates now required its members to conduct business in ways designed to improve order and decorum. Apparently the influence of their splendid new surroundings and the new rules had the desired effect. A visitor in September 1783 observed that he had "been present at one of their sessions of assembly and could not help admiring the order and dignity in which they conducted their business."

  • DRAWING AND FLOOR PLANS, by Joseph Horatio Anderson (d. by 1781), 1772
  • These drawings were used by the building contractor, Charles Wallace, an Annapolis merchant. Wallace undertook the building of the State House to help his ailing firm through a severe cash flow problem. The 7,500 pounds sterling appropriation may have helped the business, but the building proved to be more of a headache that Wallace ever imagined. Shortly after the roof was completed it blew off in a violent storm. Not too many months later, the presence of British warships in the bay sent the workmen packing, many of whom never retuned. It was not until the fall of 1779 that Wallace was ready to turn the building over to the legislature, seven years after the cornerstone was laid.

    The John Work Garrett Collection of the Johns Hopkins University. Facsimiles, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-109/111
  • COLUMBIAN MAGAZINE FLOOR PLAN OF THE MARYLAND STATE HOUSE, attributed to Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), 1789
  • The floor plan and description of the State House accompanied Charles Wilson Pealle's drawing in the February 1789 issue of Columbian Magazine.

    Facsimiles, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-121/122
  • PERSPECTIVE DRAWINGS OF THE MARYLAND STATE HOUSE by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), 1788
  • These perspective drawings of the State House were made with the aid of a "drawing machine" by Charles Willson Peale on a visit to Annapolis in the summer of 1788. Peale intended to paint a panorama of the city as seen from the State House dome with a perspective view of the State House in the middle. He completed only the perspective view. The drawings are especially important because they indicated the colors of the State House and neighboring buildings.

    William Voss Elder Collection, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1051
  • MARYALND STATE HOUSE, by Thomas W. Griffith, 1821
  • By 1840 all the buildings on State Circle except the State House and the old Treasury Building, not shown here, had been razed.

    Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Albert H. Small. Facsimile, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-21
  • BIRD'S EYE VIEW OF ANNAPOLIS, by Edward Sachse (1804-1873), ca. 1858
  • This lithograph depicts Annapolis at the time of the Civil War. With the exception of the establishment of the Naval Academy in 1845, Annapolis did not experience any of the dramatic growth that characterized Baltimore in the nineteenth century. By 1860 the population of Annapolis was only 4,659, of which 300 were inhabitants of the Naval Academy. As one writer put it, the Earth's axis must surely be Annapolis. "It should be called the pivot city . . . for while all worlds around it revolve, it remains stationary." It was easy to find. "to get to Annapolis you have but to cultivate a colossal calmness and the force of gravity will draw you. . . there. The people are like exclamation points. They always have their hands in their pockets, eat nothing but sea food which expands their brains, and talk nothing but politics. Annapolis keeps the Severn River in its place. This will be useful when the harbour of Baltimore dries up. Annapolitians are waiting for this they are in no hurry . . ."

    Facsimile, Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-150
  • The main hall of the State House before construction of the 1902-1906 addition, and after the ill-fated renovations of the 1860s (note the falling plaster under the right staircase).

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-113
  • Court of Appeals Chamber, second floor of the State House ca, 1902. Note the light bulbs in the old gaslight chandeliers.

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-114
  • The old House Chamber, ca. 1902, before the move to the new addition. Note the electric light bulbs and the paintings on the walls. The Charles Willson Peale portrait of Washington, Lafayette, and Tilghman, barely visible on the right wall and now hanging in the old Senate Chambers, replaced a portrait of William Pitt (presently in the old Senate Committee Room), in 1784, when the artist personally supervised its installation. The Planting of the Colony of Maryland on the back wall by Frank B. Mayer was commissioned for this room and hung there ca. 1894.

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-116
  • A view of the State House looking north from a Main Street window or rooftop and showing the 1886 addition that was demolished to make way for the 1902-1905 addition still in use today.

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-117
  • Exterior view of the 1902-1905 annex designed by the Baltimore architectural firm of Baldwin and Pennington.

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-118
  • Interior views of the new House and Senate Chambers in the 1902-1905 annex, still in use today.

    Maryland State Archives, MdHR G 1556-119/120

Related Links

1858 House of Delegates Desk
1858 House of Delegates Desk
1840s arnchair
Marquis de Lafayette
The Dome and Lightning Rod
State House & State Circle

Buildings in State Circle