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Massachusetts State House

Massachusetts State House
With the American Revolutionary War having ended in 1783, the still-young United States of America were striving to define their national identity. One of the ways in which the fledgling nation tried to achieve this was through the construction of grandiose and symbolic structures like Boston’s capitol building, the Massachusetts State House.

The building was the brainchild of architect Charles Bulfinch, who took much of his inspiration from the two years he spent travelling around Europe. Construction commenced in 1795, with Patriots Samuel Adams and Paul Revere laying down its cornerstone in its location on top of Beacon Hill – a site once owned by John Hancock, the first elected governor of Massachusetts. Completed in 1798, it became an instant landmark, towering over the low-lying rest of the city and giving true credence to John Winthrop’s epitaph of “a city on a hill.”
The dome atop the State House is perhaps the section of its exterior that has changed the most over the years. Originally made of wood, it was overlaid with copper in the early-19th century before being covered in gold in 1874. During the Second World War it was painted dark for protection against the possibility of air raids during blackouts. The roof was finally re-gilded in 1997. On top of the dome it self is a wooden pine cone, symbolising the economic and cultural importance of the logging industry in the state’s history.
Today, it still functions as the state’s capitol building, hosting the Senate and House of Representatives’ Chamber. Hanging up in the gallery in direct view of the Representatives is one of the most culturally significant sights in Boston: the Sacred Cod, which symbolises the importance of Boston’s fishing industry to its prosperity. Combined with the numerous pieces of artwork and treasure in the building’s confines, it’s fair to say the building’s history is extensive and far-reaching.

Inspirations for the State House’s design
During his travels, Bulfinch drew on inspiration from a number of styles, which coalesced to form a building with a style of its own. One of the styles that can be most clearly observed in the building’s design is Palladian in nature, drawing on the design themes present in the work of Italian architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80), notably the kind of symbolism seen in classical Greek architecture. A famous example of this can be seen in Somerset House, London (above), with the central part of the State House bearing the most obvious parallels with Palladian architecture. In addition, Bulfinch’s work evoked the neoclassical styles embodied by the likes of Scottish architect Robert Adam (1728-92), although in a move that evoked themes closer to home, wood was used for the columns in the colonnade, as well as for parts of the stairs and decorative bands on the columns.

The State Building’s famous Cod attracted headlines for the wrong reasons when, in 1933, it was stolen. The news of this theft sent the city into an uproar, and even made national news. Such was the symbolic significance of the cod to the city that some of the gathered members of the House of Representatives argued it would be sacrilegious to carry on as normal without the famous fish looking over them.
The cod was eventually recovered (with only minor damage) by Harvard Yard police chief Charles Apted, with the cod-napping being blamed on the staff of The Lampoon, Harvard University’s comedy magazine, although none if its members were ever charged.

Massachusetts State House, Inspirations for the State House’s design, Codswallop