Nearly 300-year-old relic sur­vived wars, fires

Speaker’s chair re­turns to state Capi­tol for first time since 1930s

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - BY GRA­HAM MOOMAW

RICH­MOND | On a driz­zly Fri­day af­ter­noon, a white van pulled up to the Vir­ginia Capi­tol build­ing. A team of six men care­fully un­loaded a relic from the van, cov­ered it with a tarp and car­ried it up the front steps.

Their pre­cious cargo?

A chair.

A throne-like chair that’s nearly 300 years old.

The speaker’s chair, made in the 1730s and used in Vir­ginia’s Colo­nial House of Burgesses, re­turned to Rich­mond re­cently for the first time in more than 80 years. Since the 1930s, the chair has been on a long-term loan to Colo­nial Wil­liams­burg.

House of Del­e­gates Clerk G. Paul Nardo or­ches­trated the re­turn to mark the 400th an­niver­sary of the Vir­ginia leg­is­la­ture, Amer­ica’s old­est con­tin­u­ous leg­isla­tive body. The chair will be on dis­play in the Capi­tol’s Old House Cham­ber un­til late March.

The chair was too big to fit in the Capi­tol el­e­va­tors. But the movers got it safely up the steps and into the build­ing. It will be roped off to pre­vent tourists from sit­ting on it.

“It is a mon­u­men­tal chair,” Mr. Nardo said. “It is very high and large and or­nate.”

The chair, which was crafted in Wil­liams­burg, stood in the orig­i­nal Capi­tol, but moved to Rich­mond with the gov­ern­ment in 1780. It was re­tired from ac­tive ser­vice in 1874.

Mr. Nardo hopes its re­turn will serve as a vis­ual re­minder of the his­tory the state will be high­light­ing this year, the quadri­cen­ten­nial of Vir­ginia’s first demo­cratic as­sem­bly at Jamestown.

To mark the oc­ca­sion, the House also has pre­pared an on­line data­base of the roughly 10,000 peo­ple who have served as burgesses or del­e­gates through­out Vir­ginia’s his­tory.

“Vir­ginia has long been rec­og­nized as the birth­place of Amer­ica,” House Speaker Kirk Cox, Colo­nial Heights Repub­li­can, said in a news re­lease last week. “Lead­ers of our com­mon­wealth were the founders of the United States’ on­go­ing ex­per­i­ment in rep­re­sen­ta­tive self-gov­ern­ment.”

Even Mr. Cox won’t be al­lowed to sit in the old speaker’s chair, which will be for­mally un­veiled Jan. 24 dur­ing a Vir­ginia Capi­tol Foun­da­tion re­cep­tion.

A flyer for the event re­counts some of the his­tory, say­ing the chair’s “large and or­nate form sym­bol­i­cally mir­rors the height and reach of the of­fice.

“It sur­vived the de­struc­tion of the colo­nial Capi­tol by fire in 1747, served as back­drop to the mo­men­tous House de­bates of the 1760s and 1770s, sur­vived the Revo­lu­tion­ary War and its re­moval from Wil­liams­burg to the new Capi­tol in Rich­mond in 1780 and emerged un­scathed from the dev­as­ta­tion of the Amer­i­can Civil War,” the flyer says.

“This chair is a rare his­tor­i­cal tes­ta­ment, a dis­tin­guished ob­ject with an ex­tra­or­di­nary his­tory that re­minds us of the great con­ti­nu­ity and re­mark­able dura­bil­ity of this 400-year-old in­sti­tu­tion.”

CREDIRT

House of Del­e­gates Clerk G. Paul Nardo checks out the circa 1730’s orig­i­nal Speaker’s chair be­fore it is put in place in­side the Old House Cham­ber at the State Capi­tol in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia. The chair had been on long-term loan to Colo­nial Wil­liams­burg.

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