Will ever grow out of the "acorn" that sits...

NO MIGHTY OAK

June 07, 1996

NO MIGHTY OAK will ever grow out of the "acorn" that sits atop the State House dome, but state officials are impressed nonetheless. The ingenuity of its design and the skill of its construction astound architectural preservationists who have recently examined it.

For nearly 208 years of hot sun, rain, snow and blustery winds, the decorative cap of the State House sat 200 feet above Annapolis without attracting much notice. In the course of repairing windows on the dome this spring, however, historians and preservationists were able to get a closer look at this normally inaccessible feature. They discovered it has been afflicted with dry rot and must be replaced.

Officials have since embarked on a detailed engineering and construction study. The acorn's elegant design was the most notable finding. It is a solid piece of southern pine, almost 10-feet tall including its pedestal, and neatly pierced by a 26-foot shaft of iron that serves as a combination flagpole-lightning rod. The acorn's colonial designers crafted it to be almost impervious to harsh weather, yet flexible enough to survive gale-force winds. From a careful examination of drawings by Charles Willson Peale, it appears that the original acorn was green on the sides and the bottom, and topped with a gilded crown. According to historical records, it was placed on the dome just days before the Maryland General Assembly had a spirited debate over the )) ratification of the state's new Constitution. And there it has remained, requiring little maintenance aside from a periodic coat of paint.

Replicating this acorn will be a challenge. Colonial carpenters had access to fine-grained, old-growth wood; due to the leveling old-growth forests, no comparable wood exists today. The workmanship was first-class, the kind money can no longer seem to buy. Orlando Ridout, the architectural historian of the Maryland Historical Trust, recently found the signature of the craftsman who, 160 years ago, fabricated the lead weatherproofing for the pedestal beneath the acorn.

No one expects two centuries' worth of durability these days. But that should not deter state officials from efforts to replace that distinctive feature perched atop America's oldest state house in continuous use.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

Save that acorn; Rotted, historic ornament atop State House should be rebuilt.

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