The Old Maryland State House is a 1934 reconstruction of the 1676 Jacobean State House that stood in St. Mary’s City, the provincial capital of Maryland. Founded in 1634 as the fourth permanent English settlement in North America, St. Mary's City was no longer extant by the nineteenth century. The reconstruction of the building was based upon archaeological and written evidence and was undertaken in celebration of Maryland’s tercentennial. The building plans were developed by Baltimore architects Herbert G. Crisp and James R. Edmunds Jr. in association with Washington, D.C. architect Horace Peaslee, under the direction of Herbert R. Shelton of Colonial Williamsburg.
St. Mary’s City was the first colonial settlement to offer religious toleration as a policy of government. The Maryland colony was granted to Charles Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, in 1632 by King James of England in reward for his loyal service. Dying before his grant was realized, it passed to his son Cecil Calvert with the intent of establishing a haven for English Catholics. In March 1634, his brother, Leonard Calvert, landed here with approximately 200 settlers contained in two ships, the Ark and the Dove, and established the town on the site of an abandoned Indian village. The reign of William and Mary brought an end to Catholic toleration and threatened the Calvert’s proprietary claim, events that contributed to the removal of the capital to Annapolis (then known as Anne Arundel Town) in 1695. St. Mary’s City quickly declined so that by 1787 all that remained was a few scattered houses and the brick State House, which was finally demolished in 1829.
The reconstruction of the Old State House represents one of Maryland’s leading early endeavors in the field of historic preservation and research into colonial life. It follows the exact configuration and design of the original building, based on extensive archaeological investigation and extant early documents. The English medieval cruciform house, consisting of a hall-and-parlor plan to which was appended a porch to the front and stair tower to the rear, appeared in Maryland during the period of early settlement but unfortunately no examples are extant; the reconstructed State House is the only representation. So as to preserve the archaeological remains of the original building, the replica was built adjacent to the original site. The building includes a large assembly hall on the first floor with entry and stair towers to either side to form a cruciform configuration; a council chamber and anteroom are on the second floor.
The Old Maryland State House is built of Flemish bond brick salvaged from two then-recently burned colonial houses, Bushwood Manor and Cartegena. It has a side-gable roof and an exterior shouldered chimney with a stack that is set back from the wall to either gable end. The windows are leaded casements with round-arched lintels; there are leaded transoms above those on the first story. The two-story tower to the front includes an open arcade over the entry and a room above, while the tower to the rear contains the stairway to the upper stories and a rear entry. The cruciform design with open or arcaded entry porch appeared on a number of early colonial public buildings as well as some residences, although very few are extant. The Old Maryland State House is situated on a rise overlooking the riverfront and is part of a larger commemorative landscape that now includes reconstructed gardens and other landscape features.
The Historic St. Mary’s City Commission, a state agency, was formed in 1966 to preserve the archaeological evidence of the former state capitol and to provide public interpretation. The Commission decided to reconstruct many of St. Mary’s City’s original buildings and preserve the foundations of the approximately sixty seventeenth-century structures laid out in a Baroque style town plan. Since 1969 Historic St. Mary’s City and its reconstructed village has operated as a living history museum and internationally recognized archaeological research center, partnering with the adjacent St. Mary’s College and other educational institutions. Numerous impermanent earth-fast houses and other structures have been reconstructed and used by living history interpreters to explain life in the first colonial Maryland capital. Simple framework indicating the general form and location of additional seventeenth-century houses give visitors a sense of the original townscape. More recently, a reconstruction of the circa 1667 brick Jesuit chapel has been added to Historic St. Mary's City.
Bourne, Michael O., “Replica of the 1676 State House,” St. Mary’s County, Maryland. National Register of Historic Places Inventory–Nomination Form, 1968. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.
Carson, Lois Green. “‘The Metropolis of Maryland’: A Comment on Town Development Along the Tobacco Coast.” Maryland Historical Magazine69 (Summer 1974): 124-145.
Foreman, Henry Chandlee. “The Maryland Cross Dwelling.” Maryland Historical Magazine43, no. 1 (March 1948): 22-27.
Knott, Laura, “Reconstructed State House of 1676,” St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Historic American Landscapes Survey, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2013. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HALS No. MD-24).