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State House dome dazzles after restoration work

The last of the scaffolding that enclosed the dome of the State House since summer will come down Friday — leaving Annapolis with an uncluttered view of its most famous landmark just in time for Christmas.

For all practical purposes, the $800,000 restoration job is over.

"It was just a good job well done and worked out great," said Bart L. Thomas, who oversaw the project for the state Department of General Services.

The golden acorn at the very top of the soaring wooden dome has been regilded. Unlike 1996, when the original wood had to be replaced because of rot, the acorn was in good condition, said Thomas, the department's assistant secretary in charge of facilities and construction.

The dome itself has been stripped of its old latex surface and now has a new coat of white paint, a proprietary blend formulated to last as long as five decades.

"We had to do our own mix. We can't buy it," Thomas said.

The lightning rod that has protected the iconic structure for more than two centuries — an original Ben Franklin design — has been checked and is in good condition, Thomas said. The weather vane has been repaired. Where needed, the wooden rails of the crow's nest were replaced and the others repainted.

Thomas said 20-25 people worked on the project, many of them craftsmen who specialize in historic structures.

The Maryland State House qualifies. Built starting in 1772, it is the oldest U.S. state capitol still in daily use as the seat of government.

In 1783-1784, the State House served as the temporary home of Congress, then operating under the Articles of Confederation. George Washington resigned his commission as general of the Continental Army there in 1783. The Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution, was ratified there in 1784.

It was a few years after Washington departed Annapolis for Mount Vernon that construction began on the dome, which measures 121 feet from its base to the weather vane. The interior was completed in 1788, but the exterior was not finished until 1797. It is the largest wooden dome to have been built without nails in the United States.

A larger annex, which holds the current House and Senate chambers, was added in 1902-1905. But the governor's office and Reception Room, both on the second floor of the older part of the building, are still in active use. Some parts of the interior of the old section, including the old House and Senate chambers on the first floor, are undergoing restoration.

For several months while work on the dome was completed, it was covered by less-than-appealing plastic sheets. Even when the plastic came down a few weeks ago, the scaffolding remained. Most of the scaffolding came down this week, except for the scaffolding stairwell, which is to come down today.

The only work that will be left is to replace some boards in the flooring of the crow's nest, Thomas said. He said that should be finished well before the General Assembly convenes Jan. 11 for its annual 90-day session.

When lawmakers come rolling into town for the session, the dome should be at its dazzling best.

"Everything's in good condition for another 50 years," Thomas said.

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