This Place in History: Montpelier State House Dome

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MONTPELIER, Vt.

At ‘This Place in History’, we’re in Montpelier at the State House with Executive Director of the Vermont Historical Society Steve Perkins.

“There are so many stories in this House, and of course everyone in Vermont can come visit it, which is really cool. So we’re going to look at some hidden history of the State House that maybe you haven’t thought about or have never seen before. David Schütz, the State Curator has joined us to give us a tour,” introduced Perkins. “We are going to go and see the inside of the dome of the State House.”

“The dome is entirely wood. And yet they don’t want you to know that. It’s painted with sand paint on the exterior of the drum, the part that has the windows. That sand paint was intended to imitate the look of the granite,” began Schütz.

“The style of the State House is Renaissance Revival. Unlike its predecessor which was a low, saucer-like dome that was intended to look like it came out of Ancient Rome, this is Renaissance Italy. The dome was covered with copper. The dome itself has the original copper sheathing that it has always had. And that copper sheathing in the 19th century was painted red, not gold.”

“The reason for the red color is Renaissance Italy. What are their domes made of? They are covered with red tile. So they knew that red tile would not be a good idea in a climate like Vermont, but they wanted that look so they simply painted the copper red. It was red throughout the 19th century, until 1906 when it was gilded with 27.35 karat gold leaf for the first time,” continued Schütz.

“Every 10 to 20 years it had to be re-gilded. We’ve actually gone through a 42-year period now without it being re-gilded . It was last re-gilded in 1976 and in 2018, this very year, we will be re-gilding it for the first time since 1976.”

“I was digging through our photo archives at the Historical Society getting ready to come up here today and I found this interesting photograph. It’s of the State House. The dome doesn’t appear to be gilded. It’s got an open window on the front, which I’m not sure why. Then if you look really closely, there’s a guy sitting at the top of the dome, right beneath the statue,” explained Perkins.

“This could be the gilding that is about to begin. The dome is still red, but 1906 could be the actual age of this shot. So the window that is open on the front of the drum is where somebody, on a daily basis, had to raise the flag that you can also see there. The flag pole at that time was on the apex of the portico itself. So you can still see vestiges of the old flag pole mount that was on the granite block there. Today the flag poles flank the State House on both sides,” answered Schütz.

“So tell us a little bit about this room. It’s a really large space, obviously not open to the public, so we’re getting a little behind the scenes. I see names. I see windows,” asked Perkins.

“You’re right. It’s not open to the public. But as you can tell, there have been people up here. The 30 eighth grade pages that are chosen every year, one of their rights of passage is to be brought up to the dome with a magic marker. They leave their name somewhere up here,” concluded Schütz.

Under the golden dome, at ‘This Place in History’!

For more from our ‘This Place in History’ series, click here.

To view a map of Vermont’s roadside historic markers, click here.

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