The Capitol

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Ruins of the Hall of the House of Representatives, by Giovanni Andrei, 1814-1815

Mon, 2013-02-18 16:05 -- administrator

Ruins of the Hall of the House of Representatives, by Giovanni Andrei, 1814-1815

While the effects of the fires set by British troops on August 14, 1814, were devastating, the internal structure of the House chamber remained standing after the flames were extinguished. To prepare the room for restoration, wooden poles were used to prop up the stonework until workmen could safely dismantle the colonnade.

Architect of the Capitol

The U.S. Capitol after burning by the British, by George Munger, ca. 1814

Mon, 2013-02-18 16:03 -- administrator

The U.S. Capitol after burning by the British, by George Munger, ca. 1814

On August 24, 1814, British troops defeated a small American force at Bladensburg, Maryland, and proceeded into Washington intent on destroying the public buildings; the unfinished Capitol came first. After the troops left and the fires died out, the local citizenry came to Capitol Hill to inspect the destruction first hand.

Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Art and Artistry

The Capitol is more than a building. It's a showcase for American ideals. B. Henry Latrobe commissioned a figure of Liberty and a magnificent clock for the House Chamber, and Justice, a relief in the Supreme Court. For the Senate, Latrobe designed a gallery supported by statues representing the states—though these were never made.

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.

Bulfinch Takes Charge

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.

South Elevation of the Capitol with Propylaea, by B. Henry Latrobe, ca. 1811

Mon, 2013-02-18 12:23 -- administrator

Latrobe's vision for the completed Capitol included a gatehouse where the doorkeepers of the House and Senate would reside. As seen next to the trees in the left portion of this side view drawing, the gatehouse would have been located downhill from the Capitol's west front with rear yards for the families to dry laundry and grow vegetables. The drawing also shows a preliminary design for the central dome.

Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress

“Details of the Library of the Congress U. S. in the N. Wing of the Capitol Washington,” by B. Henry Latrobe, ca. 1808-1816

Mon, 2013-02-18 12:21 -- administrator

Latrobe was the first Capitol architect to use working drawings to show workmen how his designs should be built. This drawing illustrates construction details of the upper gallery of his Egyptian-styled Library of Congress in the north wing. Due to funding delays, the Fire of 1814, and later design changes, however, the Egyptian library was never built.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress


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