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 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 on Friday 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,” 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.
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 has also 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,” said House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, in a news release last week. “Leaders of our commonwealth were the founders of the United States’ ongoing experiment in representative self-government.”
Even 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.
“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.”