New State House

Massachusetts State House

After the Revolutionary War, state leaders believed the state deserved a larger and more glorious home for its expanding government. They selected the land atop Beacon Hill as the spot for the new building, as it overlooked Boston Common and Back Bay. They decided on Boston native Charles Bulfinch to design the building, as he had served Boston as a selectman.

Charles Bulfinch was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1763 to Thomas and Susan Bulfinch. Charles was sent to Harvard and graduated in 1781. However, no profession seemed to interest him during war time. He would spend his free time reading any architectural book that came his way, which in turn led him to begin fixing family and friends’ houses. He was sent to Europe at the young age of twenty-one, and traveled across the continent while spending a majority of his time in England. It was on this trip that he would find his true calling to be architecture. He brought home a small collection of books and would begin his career as an American Architect, something completely unheard of. His first work is documented to be the monumental column on Beacon Hill. He then would go onto design a new layout for Franklin Street which has since been destroyed and rebuilt multiple times (Cummings 18-19). This was the first of many designs made by the American pioneer. His career would soon take off and be a massive success across the country by the time of his death in 1844.
The state house has undergone a few renovations since its original completion. The original Bulfinch brick building houses the governor's office in its west end and underneath the dome, while the Massachusetts Senate conducts business in what was formerly the chamber for the House of Representatives. The first addition was made in 1831 and consisted of four fireproof rooms that were added to the north portico, The second addition which was completed in 1856 was also made to the north portico. This expansion created space for the famed George Feingold State library, which houses hundreds of thousands to millions of documents regarding local history, and law. The third addition made to the State House was designed by Charles E. Brigham, this project began in 1889 and created the large yellow brick extension which is still in use today. The House of Representatives occupies a newer chamber in the west end of the Brigham addition. Among the most recent renovations made inside the State House, the Great Hall project was completed in 1990 to supplement for Massachusetts lack of a governor's mansion. The room stands as an exquisite venue for the hosting of political functions as well as a room designated for the commemoration of every flag within the commonwealth, and a few revolutionary memorials designed by Charles Bulfinch.
The dome that people think of today was not originally built gilded in gold. Initially made out of wood when finished, it was covered in 1802 with copper because the wood leaked. It was then painted grey so that it looked like the dome was made out of stone instead of copper. In 1874 the dome was gilded in gold leaf for the first time. At this time skyscrapers were still in the early stage of design and development, so the dome could be seen throughout Boston on top of Beacon Hill (Hauck 100). The dome remained gold until World War Two. German U-Boats would often wait off the coast for ships with troops and supplies across the Atlantic. The iconic gold dome had to be painted grey so that it did not reflect light at night during the city-wide blackouts that tried to keep light to a minimum. The dome would remain painted for decades after the war. The most recent gilding of the dome occurred in 1997 and this is the gilding we see today. This gilding is the current gilding that can be seen on the state house today.

Images

Beacon Hill & Massachusetts State House aerial view, Boston

Beacon Hill & Massachusetts State House aerial view, Boston

Massachusetts State House. Shot in 1979, this photo shows the dome, as well as the multiple expansions to the side and rear of the original Bulfinch building. | Source: Digital Commonwealth | Creator: Spencer Grant View File Details Page

Daniel Webster Statue Inauguration

Daniel Webster Statue Inauguration

“Inauguration of Daniel Webster statue” State House, Boston, September 17, 1859. Public Domain, photographer Deloss Barnum. | Source: Wikimedia Commons File | Creator: Deloss Barnum View File Details Page

Original State House

Original State House

(Massachusetts State House c. 1862, before the addition of wings.) Stereograph of Mass. State House From collection of Mary Alexander | Source: Collection of Mary Alexander | Creator: Mary Alexander View File Details Page

Access Information:

Accessible by MBTA, taking the red or green lines to Park Street

Cite this Page:

Trae Pina, Chris McDonnell, Brian Drouse, “New State House,” Boston History, accessed December 18, 2017, http://explorebostonhistory.org/items/show/14.

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