Old Senate Chamber restoration complete but remains closed

Restoration of State House's Old Senate Chamber is complete but doors remain closed to visitors.

The $8 million restoration of the Old Senate Chamber at the State House has been complete for more than a week, but the doors to the historic room where George Washington resigned his commission remain closed to visitors.

State officials say they don't plan to open the room described as the "crown jewel" of the State House until Gov. Larry Hogan and members of the General Assembly can hold a ceremony.

"The governor wants to be a part of it," said Therese Yewell, spokeswoman for the state Department of General Services. "We want a ceremony to include the state Senate and of course the speaker of the House."

Yewell noted that the governor has recently been undergoing treatment for cancer and said it was difficult to round up members of the 47-member Senate when the General Assembly is out of session. She said the governor's office was working to set a date but did not have one yet.

Staff members for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch said the presiding officers would have no objection if the department were to open the restored chamber now and hold the ceremony later.

The room is part of the older section of the State House that dates to before the Declaration of Independence — giving Maryland the bragging rights to having the nation's oldest state capitol still in legislative use.

It was in the Old Senate Chamber, while the Continental Congress was using Annapolis as its temporary capital, that Gen. George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the revolutionary army on Dec. 23, 1783 — six years before he was elected president. That action is regarded by historians as one that sealed the American tradition of military deference to civilian government.

Until recent years, the restored chamber was open to public viewing. But a few years ago the chamber was closed for restoration to a more accurate depiction of its appearance in 1783.

According to the Maryland Archives, the chamber was expected to reopen early this year. The legislative official said water damage and problems with the plaster were among the problems contributing to the delay.

Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Hogan, said Thursday that the work was completed only the previous week. He said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, Hogan's designee on the State House Trust, met with Busch and Miller to give them the news. He said the legislative leaders didn't mention the possibility of opening it before a ceremony could be arranged.

"We haven't had that discussion with the presiding officers yet," he said. Mayer said the administration would talk with them soon.

"This is something the governor has been wanting to have opened a long time and has been pushing to make this happen," he said. "We were told this was going to be done six months ago."

Mayer said the governor's treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma hasn't been a factor in the scheduling.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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