The City of Boston has the distinction of having not one, but two State Houses. Both of these buildings are noble and beautiful, and designed to attract the attention of even a first time visitor to Boston. The Old State House is elaborately decorated in English Gregorian, while the current State House, with its prominent dome lead Oliver Wendell Holmes to declare that it was the hub of the solar system.
|Old State House|
The present State House is located at the top of Beacon Hill. Its golden dome is visible from afar, and like the Old State House, it is in a prominent position, and built on what was once the John Hancock's cow pastures. The original architect was America's first professional architect, Charles Bulfinch, this being his first professional commission in Boston, in 1787. (The national capitol in Washington DC and the state capitols of Connecticut and Maine are also Bulfinch's designs.) The State House building has been expanded since it was built in 1798.
|Old State House|
Charles Bulfinch's design for the State House was inspired by Somerset House, Sir William Chambers' design for the naval command in England. Bulfinch designed the State House in a simplified neoclassical style, by smoothening its form for red brick. The resulting Federal style building is an ordered, geometrical, symmetrical building which is imposing without being too ornate. Typical of neoclassical design are the elaborate columns starting on the second floor, a pediment, and a vast shingled dome. Single Maine pine tree trunks, carved on site, were turned into fluted Corinthian columns. The dome was intended to make the structure stand out among its squat, square neighbors. The cupola is surmounted by a pine cone indicating the importance of lumber to the New England economy. Elements of the Federal style are apparent in the recessed arches of the main floor, with their subdued pilasters that complement the columns in the center. The lintels have a raised keystone, and a balustrade goes all around the building, curtaining the many chimneys of the original design. Also Federal is the diminishing fenestration that gives the building an appearance of greater height. The lowest floor is the most plain, with flat arches that support the upper storey. A white string course runs broken through the arches. The main entrance hall, the Doric Hall is a large room dominated by ten Doric columns.
The Old State House building has undergone many architectural and structural changes, including the addition of a subway station in the basement that John Hancock once rented. The earthquake of 1755 dislodged many bricks, and S-ties mark the places where the walls had to be secured.
BibliographyRoss, Marjorie Drake. "The book of Boston: The Colonial period, 1630-1775."
Hastings House (January 1, 1960).
Ross, Marjorie Drake. "The book of Boston: The Federal period, 1775 to 1837."
Hastings House (January 1, 1961).
The Bostonian Society. "Old State House History." 2005
Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "A Tour of the Massachusetts State House." 2006
Wikipedia. "Massachusetts State House." April 25, 2006.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Interactive State House." 2006