My husband and I stay close to home and enjoy our summer vacation by taking day trips and visiting quaint towns and historic spots. Touring the New Hampshire State House in the state capitol, Concord has been on my radar for several years since beloved NH journalist and outdoorsman John Harrigan told me it is a unique, beautiful place, and I must someday tour the historic building. I finally fulfilled the promise of a visit the other day, and while the weather this summer is challenging with more clouds than the sun, we lucked out without a raindrop to be felt.
According to a carved plaque at the top of the stairs, you climb to make your way into the building, the carved letters declare, “THE NATION’S OLDEST STATE HOUSE IN WHICH THE LEGISLATURE STILL OCCUPIES ITS ORIGINAL CHAMBERS. 1819 – JUNE 2 – 1969. The picturesque, statue-embellished three-acre grounds, according to Wikipedia.org, states, “No gate impedes the flow of visitors, as this is the people’s house.”
Once inside, we went to the visitor’s center, asking if a tour guide could show us around the historic structure. I love a good tour guide to find out the most minute and exciting details of a site, and with luck, we were introduced to Nick Wallner, who would show us around. Mr. Wallner is a volunteer with over 3,000 hours donated to the State House and the people who visit. A former AAA executive, Nick knows his stuff and has a lovely quiet way of talking about the goings on there.
In full disclosure, I introduced myself to Nick and said I wanted to write a story about the tour for InDepthNH.org. To my surprise, he said, “You mean the one with Nancy?” As it turns out, he is a newsletter subscriber of InDepthNH.org and knows Garry Rayno and Paula Tracy very well, as they are the preeminent reporters of the state legislature.
With that, we began our tour in the visitor’s center, where half a wall of political paraphernalia of signs, buttons, and pins hung. Nick explained that most were of those who lost. Every candidate and want-to-be-winner comes to the State House and makes their way up to the Secretary of State’s office to file their Declaration of Candidacy and pay their $1,000 filing fee. Nick explains that the cost is deliberately kept low to allow more people to be able to afford it as compared to a state like California, which can be many thousands of dollars to file.
Nick Wallner shows us the Secretary of State’s office where candidates file to run for office.
On the second floor of the building, Nick escorts us into the Governor’s office; he is in a meeting and can’t be disturbed. But we can go into where the Executive Council meets, and, ever the gentleman, Nick pulls out the Governor’s chair and offers us a seat. We decline but appreciate the gesture. There are five other seats at the table for the Executive Council, which according to the official NH government website, the five Executive Councilors, “represents one-fifth of the population of approximately 263,000 citizens.” They are “elected every two years concurrently with the Governor,” and “serve as advocates for the people.”
The presence of NH native Daniel Webster is everywhere at the State House. A statue of him greets all who enter the curved arch on the Capitol grounds, and in the Senate Chamber, the portrait is of him reading the United States Constitution. The Senate Chamber has curved tables with leather seats and signs for each of the 24 members. We finally move to the House Chamber, which is the largest state legislative body in the United States with 400 members. Portraits of John P Hale, Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin Pierce, and Daniel Webster hang.
Tour guide, Nick Wallner, in the House Chamber.
Our tour ends here with Nick telling us that while he is a tour guide at the State House, his wife, Representative Mary Jane Wallner (D), is serving her 22nd term in the NH Legislature. Legislators serve for the astounding sum of $100 per year and a mileage stipend. Each legislator represents about 3,300 residents, the country’s largest lower-house representative-to-population ratio.
The State House is located at 107 N Main Street, Concord, NH, and is open Monday through Friday 8 am to 4 pm. Whether with a tour guide or self-guided, the tour is free.
Beverly Stoddart is a writer, author, and speaker. After 42 years of working at newspapers, she retired to write books. She is on the Board of Trustees of the New Hampshire Writers’ Project and is a member of the Winning Speakers Toastmasters group in Windham. She is the author of Stories from the Rolodex, mini-memoirs of journalists from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.