New Hampshire celebrates State House’s Bicentennial

  • New Hampshire kicked off a weeklong bicentennial celebration for its State House on Sunday in Concord. AP

  • Sen. Lou D’Allesandro slices into a birthday cake outside the New Hampshire State House in Concord on Sunday to kick off a weeklong celebration of the building’s bicentennial. Looking on are Secretary of State Bill Gardner (left) and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn. AP

  • New Hampshire House Clerk Paul Smith (left) and House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (right) reenact the Legislature’s first session to mark the State House’s bicentennial in Concord on Sunday. Former governors and lawmakers will return to the building for a series of events this week. AP

Associated Press
Published: 6/2/2019 6:38:49 PM

A replica flag with 20 stars flew over the New Hampshire State House on Sunday, waving in a weeklong celebration of the building’s 200th birthday.

While a wooden building in Portsmouth served as the seat of New Hampshire’s colonial government starting in 1758, the Legislature moved from place to place for decades before finding a permanent home in Concord. The granite structure is now the oldest state capitol in which both houses of the Legislature meet in their original chambers and one of just five state houses to reach its bicentennial year.

“This house of freedom is chock full of history,” Secretary of State Bill Gardner said during the opening festivities, which included cake, building tours and reenactments of the first legislative session in 1819. “There’s only a handful of buildings in this large country of ours outside of Washington whose walls have seen the faces of as many presidents as this one has.”

When lawmakers first solicited bids for the building’s construction, two other towns – Hopkinton and Salisbury – also were interested but dropped out when they realized how much trouble it would be to quarry the granite for the building. The original House chamber was smaller than it is today, and included 12 seats behind the speaker’s rostrum for senators, who shared a chaplain with the House and would come in for prayers to open their sessions. The building also used to house the state Supreme Court and other state offices.

In 1863, the city of Concord agreed to enlarge the State House on the condition that a road be built alongside it to contain the property, said Mayor Jim Bouley.

“But one homeowner was against this and refused to sell. Surprise, right?” he said. “The mayor at the time – not me – at the advice of the municipal lawyer, had the house moved on a Sunday while no court was in session to stop it.”

House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, a Concord native, described standing just beneath the building’s dome and seeing the streets where he delivered newspapers as a boy, the neighborhoods he patrolled as a police officer, City Hall where he served as a councilor, and the federal building where he worked as a U.S. marshal.

“At that time I realized that this Statehouse really was the geographical and symbolic center of my life, and it’s nice to know now that I’m three score and 10 plus, that as long as the Merrimack keeps flowing from Newburyport to the ocean, that the New Hampshire State House will be here to serve the needs of the people of New Hampshire,” he said.

The celebration continues Monday with a roundtable discussion featuring former governors and executive councilors. On Tuesday, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Representative’s Hall, and there will be a panel discussion highlighting the history of the State House press corps. Wednesday is devoted to the state’s cultural heritage and arts, while Thursday will be Homecoming Day for former lawmakers. A “New Hampshire Made” street market on Friday and closing ceremonies on Saturday round out the week.

In addition to the flag atop the building, another 20-star flag was hung in Representative’s Hall. Though a 21st state was admitted to the union in 1819, its star wasn’t added to the flag until July 4 of that year, said State Rep. David Welch. He quipped that a slightly more modern addition was necessary to secure the indoor flag.

“We owe a debt of thanks,” he said. “To whoever invented the paper clip.”

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