Friday, December 7, 2012

OSC Gallery: More Elegant than Required

Image courtesy of Jay Baker, 2009.

On Monday, the present gallery in the Old Senate Chamber will be deconstructed in order to further investigate the space and prepare the room for its ultimate restoration. As mentioned in previous posts, the current gallery was a 1905 reconstruction of what the architect, John Appleton Wilson, believed to be its original 1777 appearance.

First floor plan of the State House, Joseph Horatio Anderson, 1770.
Courtesy of the John Work Garrett collection of the Johns Hopkins University, GAR 22
MSA SC 1556-110

In 1770, when Joseph Horatio Anderson was drafting plans for the Maryland State House he did not include galleries in either of the legislative chambers, as evidenced by his floor plan. During construction it was realized that there was not adequate seating to observe the assembly proceedings, which resulted in a change order proposed by the builder, Charles Wallace, in 1777: 
"Gentlemen, I can erect a Gallery & Stair Case in each House of Assembly, agreeable to the Plan herewith sent for five Hundred Pounds: or if it should be more agreeable to the Assembly. I Will have them built & bring in the Carpenters Bills, charging nothing for my Trouble..."
The level of craftsmanship and decorative plaster carving exceeded the level of expectations by the Legislature and was described as "more elegant than required." From the gallery's completion in 1779 until 1792 it remained unchanged and served as a balcony--used mainly by women--to observe the proceedings of the Maryland Senate and the Continental Congress during their time spent in Annapolis from 1783-1784. From this perch, Molly Ridout watched George Washington's historic resignation and later described this emotional scene in a letter, which will be used in future interpretation of the space.

In 1792, John Shaw, a local cabinetmaker, built  tiered risers with benches for seating of public officials beneath the gallery and added wainscot between the columns as a means of separation, thus creating a lobby. Shaw also added a vestibule under the gallery and built seats for the doorkeepers that were hung on the interior columns. These 1792 additions are shown in the 1868 stereoview of the gallery wall and were reproduced by J. Appleton Wilson in 1905.  

Copy of photograph of the William M. Chase stereocard showing view of gallery, c. 1868.
Image and scan courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society, P 3.8

Just fifteen years after the 1878 remodeling of the Old Senate Chamber, which included the removal of the gallery, a committee was assembled to study the feasibility of restoring the room. After acquiring the 1868 stereoview of the chamber, interviewing individuals associated with the space, and examining plans from Bartlett & Hayward, who installed gas lighting fixtures in 1858, the committee made up of John Appleton Wilson and Francis B. Mayer determined that an accurate restoration was possible.

View of back of the Senate Chamber by unknown photographer printed in Souvenir Album, General Assembly of Maryland, Session 1898. MSA SC 5788

In 1905, J. Appleton Wilson and builder, Josiah Pennington, began the restoration of the Old Senate Chamber to 1783 when Washington resigned his commission. Wilson's reconstruction of the gallery was primarily based off of the 1868 stereoview and also included two salvaged column shafts from the original gallery. Despite several inaccuracies, such as the spacing of the columns and treatment of the balustrade, Wilson created a praiseworthy Colonial Revival reconstruction of the gallery.

Elevation of Gallery.
By J. Appleton Wilson. Stamped: J. Appleton Wilson Architect, 303 Courtland St., Baltimore.
pencil and ink, c.1905
Courtesy Maryland Historical Society

Today, we are combining the evidence used in 1905 with new technologies to interpret these findings, as well as a wealth of archival information and physical investigations of the walls to determine how the gallery originally made contact. Hopefully our endeavors will provide the Old Senate Chamber with a more accurate depiction of the original elegant gallery that Washington faced in 1783.

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