Rebuilding after the War of 1812 - 1812
Capitol restoration began soon after the fires of 1814 were out. B. Henry Latrobe, who had been Jefferson’s "surveyor of public buildings," was hired to restore the two wings.
The project went beyond simple restoration, however. Changes in Congress prompted changes in the building’s interior. Chief among these were eight new rooms in the north wing for Senate committees. Latrobe also enlarged the House and Senate chambers, modifying their layout to better suit their operations. In plan and decoration, these spaces recalled the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. To ensure that the work was both elegant and economical, one of the sculptors returned to Italy—where labor was cheaper—to supervise the carving of column capitals.
Bulfinch Takes Charge - 1818
Charles Bulfinch of Boston took over the restoration from Latrobe in 1818. The north and south wings reopened in the fall of 1819. Work on the middle building (connecting the wings) began on August 24, 1818, the fourth anniversary of the British fire. It concluded eight years later.
Bulfinch designed and built the rotunda, or "grand vestibule," which stood 96 feet across and 96 feet high—the proportions of Rome's ancient Pantheon. On the outside, he built a very tall wooden dome, responding to President James Monroe's request for a prominent and visible structure. Bulfinch also landscaped the Capitol's 22-acre garden and built earthen terraces on the west front. When Bulfinch retired in 1829, the Capitol was finished—36 years after George Washington had laid its cornerstone.
A Splendid Capitol - 1815
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.
Competition of 1850-1851 - 1850
Congress was outgrowing its home. There were 15 states in the Union when the Capitol was designed. By 1850, there were 31 states. House membership increased during that period from 106 to 237.
In 1850, the Senate Committee on Public Buildings offered $500 to the architect with the best solution to the Capitol's space problems. Senators liked the idea of putting wings on the original building. House members preferred adding to the east front. Unable to agree, the House and Senate left the decision to the president. In a politically savvy move, President Millard Fillmore gave each a small victory. He asked the architect favored by the House, Thomas U. Walter of Philadelphia, to enlarge the Capitol by adding wings—as the Senate preferred.