"May the principles of our excellent Constitution, founded in Nature
and in the Rights of Man, be ably defended here: And may the same principles
be deeply engraven in the hearts of all citizens."
-Governor Samuel Adams, assisted by Paul Revere, as he laid the cornerstone of the New State House, July 4, 1795
The Massachusetts State House was designed by American architect Charles Bulfinch. Its neoclassical-federal style was inspired by the magnificent Greek and Roman temples of Europe. The cornerstone was laid on July 4th 1795, and the building was completed in 1798. The most recognizable feature of the State House is its golden dome, which was originally covered in wooden shingles, then copper-plated, before being gilded in 23 karat gold leaf in 1874. At the very top Bulfinch placed a gilt pine cone as a symbol of the forests that made it possible for the early settlers to survive. The site of the State House, formerly the cow pasture of John Hancock, was set apart from the city on the brow of its highest hill.
The State House has been expanded several times. The Brigham addition, a large annex of yellow brick was completed in 1895 and finally in 1917 the east and west wings were completed. They were made of Vermont marble and house most of the legislative offices.
There are interesting statues on the grounds outside the State House. At the far left (west) is a statue of Anne Hutchinson with one of her nine children. She was banished from the colony in the early seventeenth century because she dared to question Puritan theology. A martyr to her Quaker faith was Mary Dyer, whose statue is at the far right (east) side of the building. The two men whose statues stand by the entrance steps are Daniel Webster, on the left, a spellbinding orator in the U.S. Senate; and Horace Mann, on the right, a compassionate educator who fought for public education for all children. The soldier on horseback near the east wing is Civil War General Joseph "Fighting Joe" Hooker. The most recent addition, designed and sculpted by Isabel McIlvain and paid for by the contributions of private citizens, is a bronze statue of President John F. Kennedy on the west entrance staircase. It was dedicated on May 29, 1990.
Looking away from the State House, towards the Common, there is a bas relief monument sculpted by Augustus St. Gaudens honoring the Civil War's Massachusetts 54th Regiment. This first all African-American volunteer unit was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, who died in its first battle at Fort Wagner, South Carolina. In the same battle, Sergeant William Carney of New Bedford, though badly wounded, rescued the flag of the 54th and bore it safely back to the Union camp. For his valor, he became the first African-American to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The name of Doric Hall comes from the double row of columns with Doric capitals that Bulfinch employed. A banquet was held there for President Monroe when he visited Boston in 1817, and a reception was given for General Lafayette during his American tour in 1824. It is still used for social gatherings, official ceremonies and art exhibits.
The big double doors at its front entrance are ceremonial doors and are opened on only three occasions: when a Governor leaves the State House for the last time after his or her term of office has expired (a tradition called "The Long Walk"), and when a President of the United States or foreign head of state comes to visit, and when the Massachusetts Regimental Flags are received into the permanent collection.
The room has been carefully preserved and appears much as it did when it was built, except for the marble floor that has replaced the original wooden one. A bronze bust of John Hancock, first elected Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is on the west wall, surrounded by portraits of Artemus Ward and General Gage, adversaries at the Battle of Bunker Hill. General Gage was the last Royal governor of Massachusetts. The two cannons surrounding Hancock were captured during the War of 1812. On the opposite east wall hangs one of the three known full-length paintings of President Lincoln. He was said to be sensitive about his great height and preferred not to be painted in a standing position. This painting by Albion Bicknell was completed forty years after his death. The two cannons below Lincoln's portrait are commemorative cannons that are replicas of the American Revolution.
Upon leaving Doric Hall, one enters the Brigham Addition of the State House. This addition was completed in 1895 and was designed in the Italian Renaissance style. There is a heroic-sized statue honoring William Francis Bartlett, a civil war hero from the North. Overhead is a colored glass window with the names of various republics.
of the There are actually two marble staircases in Nurses Hall. The one on the east side leads to the Senate (in fact, the hall used to be called the Senate Staircase Hall), and the one on the other side goes to the Governor's office. There are many tablets and souvenirs of the past. The most conspicuous is a large statue of a young lady tending a fallen soldier, a memorial to the nurses who took part in the Civil War. Called the Army Nurses' Memorial, this statue was sculpted by Bela Pratt in 1911 and was installed in this chamber in 1914.
High on the north wall are three splendid paintings by Robert Reid representing dramatic events in Massachusetts history. The one in the center shows James Otis, a young Boston lawyer, arguing against the Writs of Assistance in 1763. The Writs were issued by the Royal Governor to enable his officers to enter and search any home or warehouse. On the right, Bostonians are dumping tea in the harbor, protesting the tax that was imposed by a faraway Parliament in England. On the left, Paul Revere is making his famous ride to warn that the British soldiers in Boston are planning to seize the gunpowder stored in Concord. Memorial Hall This circular room is surrounded by tall columns of Siena marble, and its floor is patterned with many other kinds and colors of Italian marble. It was built as a memorial to those who fought and died in the Civil War. The flags now include those of the Spanish-American War and the World Wars. High on the east wall is a painting of the Civil War flags being returned to the State House. The other paintings represent the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, north wall; the Battle at Concord Bridge in 1775, west wall; and John Eliot, a Puritan minister, teaching the Indians, south wall. Overhead is a large skylight of stained glass, showing the seals of the original thirteen states.
This circular room is surrounded by tall columns of Siena marble, and its floor is patterned with many other kinds and colors of Italian marble. It was built as a memorial to those who fought and died in the Civil War. The flags now include those of the Spanish-American War and the World Wars. High on the east wall is a painting of the Civil War flags being returned to the State House. The other paintings represent the Pilgrims on the Mayflower, north wall; the Battle at Concord Bridge in 1775, west wall; and John Eliot, a Puritan minister, teaching the Indians, south wall. Overhead is a large skylight of stained glass, showing the seals of the original thirteen states.
Completed in 1990, the Great Hall is the newest interior addition to be added to the State House. The purpose of the room is to hold state functions, as Massachusetts does not have a Governor's Mansion. It is decorated with the flags of cities and towns in the commonwealth.
A large stairway, referred to as the Grand Staircase, behind Memorial Hall leads to the third floor. On the landing is a colored window showing the various seals that have been used by the governments of Massachusetts. At the top is the one with a figure of a Native American used by the first colony. The central seal is the one used today, adopted under the Constitution of 1780. The figure of a man holding the Magna Carta was used during the Revolution. Surrounding these three seals are the ones used by Provincial Governors from 1685 to 1775.
The motto on the seal used today is Latin and it means, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty".
At the rear of the third floor is the George Fingold State Library. It contains over a million volumes dealing with state and local history, public documents, directories, and government laws.
The House of Representatives is the larger of the two legislative chambers; 160 Legislators meet here to discuss legislative matters. The room was completed in 1895 and is constructed out of Honduran Mahogany.
High on the wall in the front of the room are paintings done by Albert Herter, picturing the growth of freedom in Massachusetts. The one on the left shows the Puritans, led by Governor Winthrop, landing in Massachusetts in 1630. The one on the far right shows an unpopular Royal Governor, Edmund Andros, being asked to leave. The second on the left shows one of the judges of the Salem Witchcraft trials, repenting for having sentenced accused witches to death. Second on the right depicts John Adams, Samuel Adams, and James Bowdoin writing the Massachusetts Constitution. In the middle, John Hancock is shown, asking that the Bill of Rights be included in the Federal Constitution.
Directly opposite the Speaker's chair, hanging in the gallery, can be seen the famous "Sacred Cod", carved out of a solid piece of pine, and symbolizing the importance of the fishing industry.
The Senate Chamber was originally used by the Representatives and prior to 1895, the Senate occupied the room across the hall. That is now called the Senate Reception Room. There are forty state senators who meet in this chamber.
The current Senate Chamber is directly under the golden dome. At the base of its inverted rim are three hundred and sixty pieces of carved wood, each representing a degree of the compass. High on the corners of the four walls are carved emblems representing Commerce, Agriculture, War, and Peace. The wrought iron chandelier has a fish worked into the design (it's called the "Holy Mackerel" in response to the House's famous "Sacred Cod"). Two Revolutionary muskets, one British and one American, hang on the south wall.
The Senate formerly met here, and it is now used for meetings and conferences. The unusual ceiling is called a barrel vault because it is carved like the inside of a barrel. Bulfinch used the Ionic form of column in this room. These are the only original hand-carved wooden columns that still exist in the building today.
The Governor's office and the Council Room are on the west side of the original building. A reception room, hung with portraits of the most recent Governors, leads into these two rooms. The Governor's Office looks out over the Boston Common and has large arched windows on two sides. The gold star on the east wall signifies that Massachusetts was one of the original thirteen states.
Across a narrow hall is the Governor's Council Room, interesting because its dimensions form a perfect cube. This room was once the Governor's Office.
Ashburton Park, with the Beacon Hill Eagle Monument in the center, has been rebuilt on the right side of the exterior of the State House, where a parking lot had been for decades. The Beacon Hill Monument was designed by Charles Bulfinch to commemorate the events that led up to the American Revolution.
For more information see "A Tour of the Massachusetts State House".