Located in the heart of Trenton, the New Jersey State House is history come alive. It is the nation’s second oldest capitol in continuous use, the first being in Maryland. The original structure was built in 1792 and has been added to and modified over the years. For more than 200 years, New Jersey Senators, Assemblymen, and Governors have been making the laws of the state in this building.
In 1889, the rotunda and a new 145-foot dome were built. Around it’s perimeter, stained glass windows surround portraits of early Governors. The Latin phrase “Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum” is written on the rotunda. It means “There must be justice even though the heavens fall.” In 1999, the dome was covered with 48,000 pieces of gold leaf. Each piece of gold leaf cost $1.00 and was paid for with money raised by New Jersey school kids through the “Dimes for the Dome” program. As a thank you for their contributions, the dome stands in honor of New Jersey children.
Washington’s troops fought more battles in New Jersey than anywhere else. Artist William Brantley Van Ingen designed sixteen symbolic murals for the Senate Chamber to celebrate New Jersey’s hard won freedom and prosperity. Scenes include the Revolutionary War battles of Trenton, Princeton, and Monmouth, as well as important industries, such as building construction, glass making, agriculture and ceramics. The domed skylight overhead features the names of famous New Jerseyans, including Governor (William Livingston), inventor (Seth Boyden), and Civil War General (George B. McClellan). Originally completed in 1903, the Senate Chamber is the third such chamber dedicated to the upper House to exist at the capitol. The first now serves the Governor’s Office, making New Jersey’s State House the second oldest in continuous use in the entire nation.
When Thomas Edison’s young Electric Light Company first installed the 66 light bulb brass chandelier in the new Assembly chamber in 1891, the electric light bulb was just 13 years old. It symbolized a new era of progress and technological promise. Nevertheless, the wall sconces were piped for old-fashioned gas light (top half), just in case.
Stained glass lunetes and an enormous skylight help to light the bright and spacious hall. Gold leafing (added in 1898) decorates ornamental plaster work. A brightly painted wooden statue depicting the great seal of the State of New Jersey stands atop a high arch over the Assembly Speaker’s dais and desk. The modern carpet evokes designs of one hundred years ago, incorporating images of four state symbols: the Purple Violet, the Eastern Goldfinch, the Red Oak Tree and Honey Bee.
Still home to the New Jersey Legislature, and the Governor’s Office, visitors are encouraged to tour this historical monument and learn more about the democratic process and how the citizens of New Jersey participate in shaping public policy.
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