An up-close look at the State house dome work 

  • House Speaker Shawn Jasper, left, and Rep. Stephen Shurtleff get outfitted with safety harnasses before going up on the scaffolding around the dome of the State House on May 17, 2016. JIM RIVERS—Courtesy

  • A view of the plaza in front of the State House can be seen through the scaffolding atop the dome Tuesday. JIM RIVERS / Courtesy

  • Rep. Stephen Shurtleff looks at the dome atop the State House during a tour Tuesday. The poor condition of the gold leaf triggered $2.8 million in repair work. JIM RIVERS / Courtesy

  • The copper eagle on top of the State House dome, after its old gold leaf had been removed. JIM RIVERS / Courtesy

Monitor Staff
Published: 5/21/2016 12:13:59 AM

Even if you’ve lived your whole life in Concord, there are places you haven’t been and views you haven’t seen.

“As I was climbing up to the top, I thought of all the times I had walked past as a Concord Monitor paperboy, looking up at the dome as I delivered papers. . . . To actually reach out and touch the State House eagle was really exciting,” said Steve Shurtleff, at-large councilor and Concord native.

Shurtleff, in his role as House Democratic Leader, accompanied Speaker of the House Shawn Jasper, a Hudson Republican, on an outside-the-dome tour Tuesday to get a close-up look at the work refurbishing the dome.

“I’m not all that crazy about heights, but the opportunity to go up there overcame any concerns,” said Shurtleff, who also walked the beat around the State House when he worked in law enforcement.

As everybody can tell from miles around, thanks to the million-dollar network of scaffolding that covers the dome from the roof of the main State House building to the brow of the eagle statue, work is well underway to refurbish the main symbol of New Hampshire’s government. The main purpose of the $2.8 million project is to replace the gold leaf that had begun to tarnish and flake off the copper dome and metal eagle, but a fair amount of repair and replacement of wood also needs to be done.

Tuesday’s visit by the two legislators, who had to don large safety harnesses over their suit coats and were accompanied by workers from Nashua-based general contractor D.L.King and Associates, was designed to give those working inside the building an update on what was happening.

“It was incredible, to look at the outside of the dome like that,” Jasper said.

Incredibly scary, too? Nope.

“That staging is so incredibly solid. I’ve been inside buildings and felt less safe than that was,” Jasper said.

James Rivers, director of House Communications and Policy, accompanied the two as the official photographer. He had no trouble thinking of a trip that was more frightening than ascending the outside of the dome: ascending the inside of it.

“It was easier to navigate than the stairs leading up (inside) the dome . . . those are really narrow,” he said. “They had staircases inside the scaffolding. You feel like you’re inside a building without walls.”

A very porous building, however.

“There was about a 10- to 15-mile-an-hour gust of wind that would pick up sometimes. We felt that,” Shurtleff said.

The scaffolding is much bigger and stronger, and more expensive, than it was in 1993, the last time the dome was regilded.

In 1993, workers reached part of the dome by sitting in hanging bosun’s chairs, suspended from beams stuck out of the windows of the lantern, the name for the cupola atop the dome. This system slowed down the pace of work, which meant that the dome was stripped and primed one summer and gilded the next. The fact that the preparation was exposed all winter probably contributed to the fact that the gold leaf barely lasted a decade, about half the time it should have.

The scaffolding, from Maine-based Seacoast Scaffolding using material from its Loudon Road facility, weighs almost half a million pounds when all workers and construction material are on it.

Jasper said the trip showed that, as might be expected, the wood has suffered more from the ravages of time than the metal.

“The metalwork is in really very good shape up there,” he said. “There a few cracks here and there that need to be soldered, and there’s a hole in the ball the eagle (stands on), from a lightning strike – but literally you could take a piece of bubble gum and stick it in there.

“But there’s a lot more of the woodwork that has rotted than they were aware of. There will be more work with wood than they were expecting.”

The dome dates to 1818, when the eagle was placed on top. That wooden eagle, now on display inside the State House, was replaced in 1957 by a copper replica, which stands 150 feet above the streets of Concord.

The replacement eagle has one significant difference from the original: its head is turned to the right to symbolize peace. The original eagle faced left, to symbolize war, as reflected in one of the toasts given when it was first unveiled: “The American Eagle. May the . . . lightning of his eye flash terror and defeat through the ranks of our enemies.”

When Jasper and Shurtleff visited, the eagle has been stripped of its gold leaf in preparation for further work.

“I hope to go up again before staging comes down,” Shurtleff said. “I want to see the eagle when it’s golden.”

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313, or on Twitter @GraniteGeek)

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

Concord Monitor Office

1 Monitor Drive
Concord,NH 03301


© 2021 Concord Monitor
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy