ANNAPOLIS – The wooden acorns dangling from Rose Doster’s ears were not just a fashion statement. They represented a slice of Maryland history.
“I didn’t think any of the wood should go to waste,” Doster said Thursday in the Governor’s Reception Room. “So I thought earrings, maybe a few lapel pins and a couple of necklaces would be a great way to use every piece of the wood that built the new Statehouse acorn.”
Doster and husband, Jesse, live just outside Hillsboro in Caroline County. They were among some 40 Marylanders who helped replace the decorative acorn that had crowned the Statehouse for 208 years.
And on Thursday, all those volunteers were honored with a reception hosted by Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Mrs. Doster, a freelance artist, presented Townsend with a pair of her greenish acorn earrings to cheers from the crowd. Townsend, grinning, put them on immediately.
“The acorn is an example of the highest quality of Maryland’s craftsmanship,” Townsend told the gathering. “The acorn represents wisdom. To realize we are under a Statehouse that values and honors wisdom means a great deal.”
The original acorn was made from cypress and covered in 1700s copper. It was both decorative and functional, serving to stabilize the flagpole atop the nation’s oldest continuously operating statehouse.
But last summer, architects and engineers from the Maryland Department of General Services said the old structure had rotted after years of battle with Mother Nature.
The 800-pound acorn was beyond repair and could have toppled were it not replaced. So both the ornament and its pedestal were removed from the Statehouse dome by helicopter in August.
To create and install a replacement took two-and-a-half months, said Gene Lynch, Maryland Department of General Services secretary.
“Because we involved so many people, it was a very unusual government project,” Lynch said. “We wanted to get as many people involved in this…because this was an historic project that meant a great deal not only to the state, but to it’s citizens.”
Lynch said the project was also unusual because it came in under budget. State officials expected the tab to run between $250,000 to $300,000. The actual cost was $92,000.
To find artisans, state officials ran ads in newspapers across Maryland. Those interested supplied their qualifications.
“I didn’t expect to be chosen,” said Jesse Doster, who has a 40-year-old woodworking hobby. “So it was an honor just to be selected.”
Once participants were selected, they were given the wood and specifications for their particular section. Each had about two to three weeks to finish his or her part.
Ron Milburn managed to find time in between his duties as mayor of Sharpsburg to help build the acorn.
“To be a part of this is to be a part of history,” said Milburn, who has worked with wood for about 30 years. “I wanted to be a part of a project that will be a part of this state. Plus I love wood.”
Once the woodcarvers were finished, the pieces were brought to Annapolis and assembled in a dry run. Then, in mid-October, the new acorn was put together piece by piece, 200 feet in the air.
The new acorn, including the pedestal, is 9 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about a ton.
Like the original, it is carved of cypress — harvested on the Eastern Shore. It is clad in copper, gold leaf, and to protect it from the elements, a special sealant. “We expect this one to last at least as long as the other one,” Lynch said. -30-