A Splendid Capitol
The completed Capitol boasted some of America's most splendid interiors, with statues, marble columns, wall-to-wall carpets, and damask draperies. Oil-burning chandeliers (converted to gas in the 1840s) illuminated legislative rooms furnished with mahogany desks and chairs. The Supreme Court Chamber was more dimly lit, creating a somber atmosphere. Among the most popular rooms was the Library of Congress. Thomas Jefferson sold Congress his private library in 1815, greatly expanding the size and breadth of the collection lost to fire and thereby laying the foundation for today's Library of Congress.
The Capitol covered about 60,000 square feet, with 70 offices and committee rooms warmed by more than 80 fireplaces and dozens of stoves. A restaurant served oysters, roasted meats, and turtle soup. A spring supplied drinking water, and a rooftop cistern collected rainwater to flush the china basins in congressional privies.
The House of Representatives, by Samuel F. B. Morse, completed 1822; probably reworked 1823
A clerk lights the oil lamps in preparation for an evening session of the House of Representatives.
Oil on canvas, 86 7/8 x 130 5/8 inches
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund, 11.14
Library of Congress, by Alexander Jackson Davis and Stephen H. Gilmer, ca. 1832
The congressional library was comfortably furnished to accommodate both elected officials and the general public.
I.N. Phelps Stokes Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
United States Senate Chamber, by Thomas Doney, after James Whitehorn, 1846
The visitors crowding the Senate gallery included Dolley Madison, the widow of the fourth president.
Architect of the Capitol