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History of the State House and Its Dome

On March 28, 1772, Governor Robert Eden laid the cornerstone for what would be the third State House built on State Circle in Annapolis. The first, built soon after the capital was moved from St. Mary's City to Annapolis in 1695, burned down in 1704. The second was completed by 1709 and, 60 years later, had become far too small for the growing business of government and was too dilapidated to warrant enlarging it. The decision was made to raze it and Charles Wallace undertook the work when no one else submitted "plans and estimates" for the project.

With Mr. Wallace as the "undertaker" and Joseph Horatio Anderson as the architect, work was begun on the new State House in early 1772. While work progressed well for the first year and a half, at least one hurricane and the Revolutionary War intervened to cause enormous delays and difficulties. By the end of 1779, the building was still not completed, and Mr. Wallace's finances and patience with the project were exhausted.

When the Continental Congress came to Annapolis to meet in the Old Senate Chamber from November 1783 - August 1784, they found a State House which was still unfinished. Although the Old Senate Chamber was complete, the roof was not and it had leaked during the last few winters, damaging the upstairs rooms. The dome - or cupola - atop the State House was variously described as inadequate, unimpressive, and too small for the building and, it, too, leaked.

In order to rectify the situation, Joseph Clark, an Annapolis architect and builder, was asked to repair the roof and the dome. Clark first raised the pitch of the roof to facilitate the runoff of water and covered it with cypress shingles. The crowning achievement of Clark's work on the State House was, of course, the extraordinary dome which he designed and built. It is not known where Clark's inspiration for the unusual design of the dome came from, but it is very similar to one in Karlsruhe, Germany called the Schlossturm.

By the summer of 1788, the exterior of the new dome was complete. It was constructed of timber and no metal nails were used in its construction and, to this day, it is held together by wooden pegs reinforced by iron straps forged by an Annapolis ironmonger.

Although the exterior of the dome was completed by 1788, the interior was not completed until 1797. Tragedy struck the project in 1793 when a plasterer named Thomas Dance fell to his death from the inside of the dome. By 1794, Joseph Clark was completely disillusioned with the project and left it to John Shaw, the noted Annapolis cabinetmaker, to oversee completion. Over the years, John Shaw did much of the maintenance work on the State House, built various items for it and, in 1797, made the desks and chairs which furnished the Old Senate Chamber.

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