Under the roof of Maryland's 211-year-old State House, political deals shaping the country's and state's futures have been cut and the Revolutionary War came to an official end. But higher up in the structure, under the dome, ordinary citizens also left their mark--in the form of 19th-century graffiti.
Inside the capitol's dome, on beams of white oak or cypress (the exact wood is debated), are the signatures of painters and other contractors dating mostly from the mid-1800s.
State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse surmised that the names are probably those of "painters who were so proud of their work that they signed their names."
One beam bears the signature of Richard Conner and the date 1846. State records show that Conner was paid $207 in 1852 for unspecified repairs to the old Senate chamber. Another beam has the painted words: "C.O. Mullen. Painter. 1877."
But these signatures are off-limits to the capitol's approximately 150,000 annual visitors for security reasons, because the beams are above Gov. Harry Hughes' second-floor offices, state officials said.
The cornerstone for the State House, the oldest state capitol in continuous use for legislative purposes, was laid in 1772. The construction work, delayed by the outbreak of the American Revolution, was finished in 1779.
The cupola that topped the capitol left much to be desired, however, Papenfuse said. The roof leaked and was deemed unimpressive by the citizenry, he explained. In its place, the current dome, the design of which some historians trace to a Bavarian palace, was built in 1787 and 1788.
The capitol, which sits on the highest point of ground in Annapolis, was expanded between 1902 and 1905 to create the current Senate and House of Delegates chambers.
From November 1783 to August 1784, the capitol served as home to the Continental Congress, which met in the old Senate chamber. It was in that chamber that Gen. George Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army on Dec. 23, 1783.
Less than a month later, on Jan. 4, 1784, the Treaty of Paris was ratified in the chamber, officially ending the Revolutionary War. (The 200th anniversaries of these events will be commemorated this fall with special exhibits in the capitol.)
The capitol has been the site of many political storms during its more than two centuries of existence, but, in one case in 1878, it itself was the object of vigorous debate.
The House of Delegates was in an uproar over a $79,000 cost overrun for remodeling the State House, a job that had been estimated to cost only $32,000. Testimony before the panel showed that unforeseen repairs had run the bill to $111,000, and despite some delegates' fury over the extra costs, most of the charges were paid.
The State House also has weathered storms off the Chesapeake Bay. Papenfuse recalled that about two years ago a squall packing gusts of up to 100 miles an hour hit the capitol, but inspectors found the State House and dome to be undamaged.
"It certainly demonstrated how well-constructed that building is," Papenfuse noted.
"In terms of the dome itself, in terms of the basic structure of the building, it has not been radically changed," he said. The wooden pegs first used to hold together the dome--the nation's largest wooden dome--remain, although steel plates have been added as reinforcement.
Twenty-minute guided tours of the State House are regularly offered between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. CAPTION: Picture 1, Century-old signatures of painters and contractors mark beams inside the capitol's dome, where tourists are barred for security reasons.; Pictures 2 and 3, The State House's dome, the design of which some historians trace to Bavaria, was added in 1787 and 1788; from one of its windows is a view of downtown Annapolis. A dated signature, is visible through an opening in the stairwell leading to the dome's top.; Picture 4, Richard Conner left his name on a State House beam in 1846. In 1852, he was paid $207 for unspecified repairs to the capitol's old Senate chamber.; Picture 5, Names of painters and workmen on beams inside the capitol's dome. Photos by RAY LUSTIG -- The Washington Post