Old Senate Chamber reopens at Maryland State House

The Maryland State House room where George Washington resigned his commission is open to the public.

The historic State House room in which George Washington resigned his commission as commander of the Continental Army is once again open to the public.

A spokesman said Monday that Gov. Larry Hogan decided to open the restored Old Senate Chamber to visitors without waiting until a ceremony could be scheduled. The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that the work had been completed for more than a week but the doors were still closed while officials planned a ceremony.

Hogan, who completed his first course of chemotherapy last week for treatment of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, came downstairs Monday from his second-floor office to give an unscheduled tour of the reopened chamber. He gave an upbeat report on his medical condition, saying he was feeling "pretty good" and wasn't feeling some of the harsh side-effects of chemo.

Hogan had more to say about Washington and the restoration project than about himself. He greeted surprised tourists, posed for pictures and recounted the resignation of the victorious general — a moment that sealed the American tradition of military deference to civilian authority.

The original copy of Washington's address is on display outside the chamber. Hogan pointed out that he made late changes to the text.

"He did cross out on there 'never to come back again,'" Hogan said. "He left the door open, like 'Maybe if you draft me I might be president later.'"

The chamber, described by the Maryland Archives as the "crown jewel" of the capitol building, was closed for three years while undergoing $8 million in work to restore it to its appearance when Washington addressed Congress there on Dec. 23, 1783.

Annapolis served as the capital of the United States in 1783 and 1784.

The previous presentation was faulted for historical inaccuracy — notably, in where it showed Washington standing as he spoke.

The chamber is now an austere 18th-century room with a life-size statue of Washington facing the dais, with a copy of his resignation speech in hand.

On the wall hangs a portrait of the English statesman William Pitt that is believed to have been there at the time of Washington's resignation. In the gallery, the only part of the chamber where women were then permitted, is a statue of Mary "Molly" Ridout, an Annapolis woman who attended and wrote one of the first accounts of the event.

There are no curtains or artificial light, and the wooden floor has been painstakingly assembled with dowels instead of nails. The design contrasts with the plush furnishings of the Old House Chamber across the hall, which has been restored to its late 19th-century appearance.

Richard Seabrook of Annapolis, a tour guide, said he went to the State House as soon as he heard the room had opened. It was his first chance to see how the chamber's appearance had changed.

Seabrook's verdict: "It's much better.

"The light in here. It's so bright for no [electric] lights," he said.

Hogan called the restoration "very historically significant."

"It's a big, big deal. We hope it's going to attract even more people to Annapolis," he sad.

Hogan's appearance was his first in public since he completed five days of 24-hour chemotherapy last week. He said his doctors were "really pleased" by the results. He said he wasn't feeling pain or nausea.

"A lot of people were expecting me to look more beat up than I am," Hogan told reporters, state employees and tourists. "I'm a little bit tired."

The governor said he will be repeating the treatment every three weeks until the therapy is complete. He said the work of government is continuing.

"We really haven't missed a beat," he said.

mdresser@baltsun.com

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