ANNAPOLIS — At Maryland’s State House, visitors peek into today’s state Senate and House of Delegates chambers.
A walk down the hall brings them to the renovated high Victorian Old House Chamber, providing a glimpse of the 19th century. Then, after a stop in the old Archives room across the hall, the tour ends.
Since September 2012, a temporary white wall has separated tourists from the room where George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army, establishing the principle of civilian control of America’s government.
It may have been the most significant thing to occur in the State House in the building’s long history. And the room where it happened is on track to reopen in December, said Elaine Bachmann, director of outreach, exhibits and artistic property at the Maryland State Archives.
The results of nearly $8 million in renovations — and a window back to the 18th century — will be on view with the reopening of the Old Senate Chamber, the old Senate Committee Room and the stairwell room.
The changes will include touch-screen interactive guides, a bronze sculpture of Washington and a portrait gallery. Visitors will get a better experience, Bachmann said.
“This is a national historic site,” she said. “The opening of these rooms is going to make really a big impact.”
Renovation of the Old Senate Chamber started in November 2006, when the Annapolis restoration firm of John Greenwalt Lee Co. analyzed the chamber’s wall plaster.
Workers peeled 17 layers of latex paint to reveal the original brick on view when Washington resigned his commission on Dec. 23, 1783.
Experts discovered that the Old Senate Chamber’s last restoration, in 1905, did not conform to architectural practices in late Colonial Annapolis and did not present the room the way it was in 1783.
When these findings were presented to the State House Trust in 2009, officials of the Maryland Historical Trust, the Maryland State Archives and the Department of General Services considered whether a restoration was needed.
The decision — as presented in a 2010 report — was to go ahead with restoration, and work was started to determine how the room looked on that day in 1783.
“The ancient Romans spoke of the genius loci, the spirit of the place — the effect a place has on one’s psyche,” wrote the Old Senate Chamber Architectural Advisory Committee. “The Old Senate Chamber has sheltered events that affected the course of history. The genius loci of this room must be felt by all those who enter it.”
In addition to the work on the historic rooms, Edwin White’s 1859 painting, “Washington Resigning His Commission as Commander in Chief” is being cleaned and will be returned to its traditional place above the Grand Stairwell.
Alexander “Sasha” Lourie, curator for the Maryland Commission on Artistic Property, said restorers rid the canvas of grime and the effects of older repairs, revealing new details and more vibrant colors.
Lourie said the frame, crafted by Samson Cariss of Baltimore for $300, has been cleansed of inappropriate layerings of bronze paint, revealing gold leaf applied in 1876.
The Victorian-era gilding will be restored to the entire frame, Lourie said.
Outside the Old Senate Chamber, in the State House Rotunda, a display case will hold Washington’s original handwritten speech resigning his commission. A replica is currently displayed there.
The stairwell room, which visitors will walk through before entering the restored Senate chamber, will have exhibits and interactive displays.
Bachmann said those displays will answer such visitors questions as “Why did Washington come here to resign his commission? Why is that an important act for today? It’s really a journey into Annapolis at the time Congress was here.”
Restored paintings will be hung in a portrait gallery in the Senate Committee Room.
Charles Willson Peale’s 1823 portrait of Gov. John Eager Howard will be joined by Peale’s 1825 portrait of Gov. George Plater. Howard was the state’s fifth governor, serving from 1788 to 1791. Plater succeeded him in 1791 and 1792.
Also to be hung there will be a National Portrait Gallery reproduction of a painting of Anne Catherine Green, once the publisher of the Maryland Gazette.
Bachmann said the state wants to show how women and minorities lived.
“We have a lot of portraits of old white men,” Bachmann said. “We want to create a balance — not just the important stories of the Founding Fathers, but a better picture of society as a whole when the State House was in use in the 18th century.”
The rooms, she said, will also display artifacts, including the sword of Tench Tilghman — a native Marylander who was an aide de camp to Washington — and early furnishings of the Old Senate Chamber.
The Senate Chamber will be a period room, interpreting the moment when Washington resigned his commission. A newly crafted bronze statue of Washington will be its centerpiece.