General Assembly Journal 2009 – Volume 2
You stand at the base of the impressive marble steps and gaze up at the Georgian-era brick edifice to state governance laid out before you. This building, the Maryland State House, has served as the home of the state legislature since 1772.
Before you make the climb, take a look at the massive dome above you. A single large "drum" supports a smaller structure, capped off with the actual dome, lantern, and acorn. Here’s a little known historical tidbit: The lightening rod at the very top was designed and manufactured under specifications created and overseen by none other than Philadelphian inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin.
You walk up the steps, brushing your hand over the highly polished center brass handrail. Upon reaching the portico, surrounded by the massive columns, you take in the sculpted iron doors. Stepping through the large wooden and glass doors, you face the obligatory security station. A quick step through the metal detector and upon inspection of your photo identification, and you're handed a visitors sticker.
To your right, a hallway behind the security station leads you to the suite of offices occupied by Mary Monahan, the Clerk of the House of Delegates. Ms. Monahan is responsible for maintaining the written records of all House proceedings. She is also the keeper of the Mace, the official symbol of the House of Delegates.
Farther down the hall is the office of House Speaker Michael E. Busch, the Speaker of the House of Delegates. Delegate Busch has a large staff by House standards. His team provides him the same legislative and constituent services that other legislators have, but he also has a large staff of professionals who help him handle the more political duties.
Directly across the main lobby, a narrow hall leads to the offices of the Clerk of the Senate. Mirroring the House, the hall ends at the office suite of Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller.
Moving through the lobby, you pass the entrance doors to the House and Senate Chambers. While off limits to visitors, the pictures below give you a pretty good idea of the chamber interior layouts.
The carpeting in the Senate Chamber is a deep red with a pattern of gold state seals woven throughout. The House carpeting is deep blue with a pattern featuring diamonds and an olive sheath. Both chambers are topped by beautiful stained glass skylights designed and manufactured by the Louis Comfort Tiffany Company of New York. Behind both Chambers are the member lounges, lovingly appointed and comfortable meeting places where legislative deals can be hammered out in front of a crackling fire.
Past the Chamber entrances, you'll pass another sweeping marble stairwell. The middle landing of this stairwell features one of our more valuable artistic treasures. The original oil painting of Gen. George Washington resigning his Army commission in the old Senate Chamber in Annapolis consumes most of the wall space on the landing.
At the top of the stairwell, a large flat screen monitor plays a loop of photos of Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown. A Department of General Services police officer mans a desk at the entrance to the governor's and lieutenant governor's office suite, and without an appointment, that'll be about as far as you go.
To your right are the visitor gallery entrances to both of the Chambers, House to the left and Senate to the right. The balance of the second floor is taken up by staff offices for the governor and his team.
Back down in the lobby, you can walk through a transition between the 1905 addition and the original 1772 building. To your left, you'll find a set of rooms featuring the history of the building, including important documents, diorama, and recreations of furnishing. These rooms end at the side entrance to the Old Senate Chamber. A life-sized statue of our first president stands in the exact spot where he demonstrated his belief in the founding principle of separation of power by giving up active control of the Army of the Potomac to assume his duties as civilian commander.
The Old Senate Chamber features 16 desks and chairs, the same number that occupied the room in 1775. The Senate President's desk at the front of the room is an original desk manufactured by revered colonial cabinet maker John Shaw. The experts suggest that this piece is one of the most valuable in the whole building.
Across the hall, and prior to this past spring, there were two rooms in the space that had been the Old House Chamber. During a renovation in 1968, the wall that separated the Calvert Room and the Silver Room was built.
The lower level, which is the ground floor, houses a snack bar, the press offices, additional offices for the Speaker's staff and the Amendment Room.
So why the verbal tour? Your state house, in continuous legislative operation since 1772, has just undergone one of its most significant structural renovations. Antiquated air handling equipment was removed. Lead pipes and asbestos lagging were removed. Safety improvements related to fire suppression were installed.
The only significantly visible sign of the major refurbishment is the removal of the wall between the Silver and Calvert rooms in the older portion of the building. Without the wall, one can get a sense of the size of the original House Chamber. This is the same Chamber in which the Congress of the Confederation met from November 26, 1783 until June 3, 1784. Serving as the temporary quarters of the United States Capitol in those years led to speculation about making Annapolis the U.S. Capitol's permanent home.
History dictated that Washington, D.C., would fill that role, so we're left to celebrate Annapolis as the home of our state legislative, executive, and judicial branches.
Don't let schoolchildren be the only ones who wander the halls of this great building. Take a trip to Annapolis and experience the mixture of thrilling debate, seemingly endless tedium, and give-and-take that makes up our legislative process, all conducted in the longest continuous operating state capitol building in the nation.
After all, you're the one paying for it; you may as well enjoy the fruits of your labor!