The History of the New Jersey State House
Located in the heart of Trenton, the New Jersey State House is history come alive. Our State House is the second oldest still in use. (Maryland has the oldest.) For more than 200 years, New Jersey Senators, Assemblymen, and Governors have been making the laws of the state in this building.
In 1999, the restoration of the State House dome was completed. The project began in October, 1996. The dome is 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.
While the recent dome restoration cost more than $9 million, the original State House cost only $400 to construct. Architect Jonathan Doane designed the building, and it was completed in 1792. The building originally had a bell tower instead of a dome. The Senate and Assembly met on the first floor, and the Governor's office was on the second floor.
As New Jersey got more legislators, it needed a bigger State House. In 1845, famous architect John Notman began the project of enlarging and improving the building. Notman designed a rotunda with an 80-foot dome to connect the old building to a new structure. He also added a porch with eight pillars and modernized the Senate chamber. In 1872 the Capitol was further renovated as new Senate and Assembly chambers were constructed. Architect Samuel Sloan oversaw the project.
Unfortunately, on March 21, 1885, most of the State House was destroyed in a devastating fire. The building blazed for hours. Luckily, no one was hurt, and the Governor's Office, Senate and Assembly chambers, and the courts remained standing. Most of the historical documents were saved as well, thanks to Notman's fireproofing of the building 40 years earlier. However, the walls and roof were weakened, and the rotunda and dome were destroyed.
In 1889, Lewis Broome began planning the repair of the State House. The rotunda and a new 145-foot dome were built, bigger and better than before. The dome is made of cast iron covered with copper and gold leaf. It weighs 205,640 pounds. The Latin phrase "Fiat Justitia Ruat Coelum" is written on the rotunda. It means "There must be justice even though the heavens fall."
Broome further expanded the State House in American Renaissance style with a three-story wing on State Street and a redesigned Assembly wing. Occasional expansions were made through 1912. The main corridor was updated in the 1950s, but no major structural changes have been made since then.
Today the State House continues to serve New Jersey as both a historical monument and a place of work.