Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Old Senate Chamber is Open!

“...Still the deed these old walls witnessed has given to the surroundings a charm that no coat of paint can ever remove, and so long as a fragment of the building is left standing the spot will be hallowed by all true Americans.” [1]

The exposed eighteenth-century niche is one of the few original architectural features left in the room. Maryland State Archives, May 2014.

After over seven years of research, construction, meetings, and conservation, we are delighted to inform you that the Old Senate Chamber has at last been reopened! In accordance with the original objective of the project, the room has been carefully restored to how it would have architecturally appeared in 1783-1784, when Congress held session in Annapolis, ratified the Treaty of Paris, and received George Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, thereby affirming civilian control of the American military.

The restoration project extended beyond the Old Senate Chamber, and has included the conservation of several of our most treasured paintings, including Edwin White’s Washington Resigning His Commission and Charles Willson Peale’s Washington, Lafayette, & Tilghman at Yorktown. We have also developed an exciting new exhibit that will tell you the full story of Washington’s resignation, eighteenth-century Annapolis, and the restoration of this historic room. Keep an eye out in the future for an online exhibit as well, which will be available on our website!

We would like to extend a big thank you to all those who were involved with and supported the restoration of this room over the past several years. While far too many to name, the historians, conservators, researchers, architects, exhibit designers, artists, and many others who worked on this room have all played vital roles to ensure that visitors to the State House will have an enjoyable and educational experience.

The Old Senate Chamber is not the end of the restoration process for the Maryland State House. The historic site, and active legislative building, is constantly undergoing preservation efforts to keep it running. Every spot of the State House is significant, and we encourage many return visits as we work toward our plan to represent every century of the building’s history.

On the 231st anniversary of the resignation and grand opening of the Old Senate Chamber, we thought it would be fitting to turn the last few words of this blog over to none other than George Washington, who, war-worn and relieved to be at last at Mt. Vernon, wrote his own characteristically brief account of the resignation in a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette.
"At length my Dear Marquis I am become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, & under the shadow of my own Vine & my own Fig tree, free from the bustle of a camp & the busy scenes of public life, I am solacing myself with those tranquil enjoyments, of which the Soldier who is ever in pursuit of fame...can have very little conception. I am not only retired from all public employments, but I am retiring within myself; & shall be able to view the solitary walk, & tread the paths of private life with heartfelt satisfaction— Envious of none, I am determined to be pleased with all. & this my dear friend, being the order for my march, I will move gently down the stream of life, until I sleep with my Fathers....

And to tell you....that at Annapolis, where Congress were then, and are now sitting, I did, on the 23d of December present them my Commission, & made them my last bow—& on the Eve of Christmas entered these doors an older man by near nine years, than when I left them, is very uninteresting to any but myself."
Thank you for joining us throughout the process of the restoration of this historic room, and don’t forget to come see it soon!

[1] "A Short Sketch of Annapolis," Demorest's Monthly Magazine, April 1885, vol. 21, no. 6. From Articles from American periodicals illustrated by Francis Blackwell Mayer, courtesy of Thomas J. Watson Library, Metropolitan Museum of Art, OCLC number 857504483.
[2] George Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, 1 February 1784. Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0064, ver. 2014-05-09). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Confederation Series, vol. 1,1 January 1784 – 17 July 1784, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992, pp. 87–90.


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