On July 4, 1798, surviving fathers of the American Revolution met in Boston for the dedication of the Massachusetts State House. Governor Samuel Adams and patriot Paul Revere placed the cornerstone, and Revere would later roll copper sheeting for the capitol’s dome. With pomp and circumstance, stone for the building was drawn by fifteen white horses – one for each state in the Union. The State House would come to be known as one of the greatest works of neoclassical architecture in the United States. It also boasts a prime location, sitting on Beacon Hill and overlooking the prosperous Back Bay
and Boston Commons.
When the architect Charles Bulfinch designed this graceful seat of government, he was inspired by the neoclassical Somerset House that rose above London’s River Thames. Architectural buffs describe the State House design as intermediate between Georgian and Federal styles. It is chiefly red brick with white accents. It has delicate Corinthian columns, gently arching windows, and a vast golden dome.
The golden dome has been through a few important changes. The mound was originally covered in wooden shingles. After Paul Revere laid copper sheeting, the dome was finished with gold plating. It was painted gray during World War II to reduce its vulnerability to potential Axis bombers; if there had been a blackout, the government’s dome would’ve shone conspicuously in the moonlight.
The State House dome is capped with a pinecone. This symbolizes the state’s appreciation for the pine tree. Early Boston architecture, including the State House itself, relied upon pinewood from surrounding forests.
As state government grew, Massachusetts built additions to Bulfinch’s work. In 1895, a yellow brick Brigham Annex was erected for new bureaucrats’ offices. Two marbled stone wings were added in the early 1900s to provide fireproofing and additional office space. Inside the State House today are the Governor’s office, the chambers of the House and Senate, and three halls.
Doric Hall is named for the ten Doric columns that line its interior. These were originally carved trunks from pine trees, but today the columns are made of plaster and iron. Doric Hall is home to many statues and portraits, including an 1826 statue of George Washington. In the marble corridor just outside Doric, the “Hear Us” display honors the contributions of several influential women from Massachusetts history, including Dorothea Dix and Lucy Stone.
The Hall of Flags honors Massachusetts residents who served in battles. It displays copies of battle flags from all of the wars in which Massachusetts regiments have participated. (The original textile flags are being preserved elsewhere.) These include flags from the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, Berlin, and Vietnam. The Hall of Flags is also decorated with murals, such as “The Return of the Colors,” which depicts the return of flags after Civil War combat in 1865.
The Great Hall, completed in1990, is the newest architectural addition to the State House. This impressive, airy hall is made of tri-colored marble topped with a glass dome. Circular patterns on the floor were installed to create a clock motif; a few years earlier, the state legislature had acquired an extravagant $100,000 clock made in modernist style. The room is also decorated with 351 flags from Massachusetts localities. The expansive room is used for large state events. A statue of President John F. Kennedy depicts him striding across the Hall – perhaps to meet up with a nearby figure of Horace Mann or Daniel Webster.
Two statues of Colonial American women stand on the State House lawn. One is of Anne Hutchinson, whose religious teachings led to her excommunication from Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638. She then co-founded Rhode Island on the principle of religious freedom. The second statue is of Mary Dyer. In 1660, Bostonians hanged her for violating a ban against Quakers traveling in their colony. Dyer’s statue eerily overlooks the site of her execution: the gallows on Boston Common. She is one of four people known as the Boston Martyrs. Along with the spirits of Anne Hutchinson, Sam Adams,
John Hancock, and other influential Americans, Mary Dyer’s spirit lives on at the State House.