Newspaper Page Text
Corner Stone of Capitol W%s Laid 136 Years Ago | BY JOHS CLAGETT PROCTOR. ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY-SIX years cjj lest Wednesday an event transpired in this city which, indeed, had a most important bearing and in fluence upon the future history of the United States; namely, the laying of the corner stone of the United States Capitol by President George Washington. * Prim- to the convening of the second ses sion of the Sixth Congress in the City of Wash lhgton. the Continental Congress and the Con gress under the Constitution had for various periods met in Baltimore. Lancaster. York, Princeton, Annapolis. Tren'on, New York and Philadelphia, and from the last-mentioned city the public offices were moved to Washington in the Slimmer of 1800. On November 17 of that year Congress met in the north wing of the Capitol, but as there was not a quorum in at tendance, it did not take formal possession of the building until four days later. According to section three of the so-called residence act, approved July 16, 1790, the commissioners were empowered, “according to such plans as the President shall approve • • • to provide suitable buildings for the accommodation Os Congress and of the Presi dent, and for the public offices of the Gov ernment of the United States," and it was by virtue of this power 'hat the corner stone of the Capitol was laid. September 18, 1793. L'Enfant, It would seem, was responsible for •electing the site upon which the Capitol stands. In his report to President Washington, dated Georgetown, June 22. 1791, he speaks enthusi astically of Jenkins' Heights, upon which the chief public building should stand, and says: “After much menial search for an eligible Situation, prompted. I may say, from a fear of bringing prejudice in favor of a first opinion, X could discover no one so advantageously to greet the congressional building as is that on the west end of Jenkins' Heights, which stand as a pedestal waiting for a monument, and I am confident, were ril the wood cleared from the ground, no situation could s'and in com petition with this. Seme might perhaps re quire less labor to be rendered agreeable, but, after all assistance of arts, none ever would be made so grand and all others would appear but of secondary nature.” Indeed, the great French engineer not only designed the Capital City itself, but the adop tion of some of his valuable suggestions ma terially added to the perfection and grandeur •f the whole scheme. * In accordance with a request made to search along the lands near the Potomac River “for three acres of land well stored with freestone, and to purchase the same for the United States." he selected and purchased Wiggington's Island, on Aquia Run. Staflord County, Va.. December 3, 1791, which, however, contained 12 acres, and which is still said to b? public prop erty. The price paid for the island is stated to have been $6,060. 'AT the time the Federal Government was planning to take over Maryland's portion Os the original 10 square miles, Jenkins' Heights, Or Jenkins’ Hill, as it was also called, was owned by Daniel Carroll, whose farm extended from Carrollsburg or Buzzard Point, northward to near Florida avenue. On the east it included a part of James Creek and Goose Creek, or Tiber Creek, for some distance. Many years before this, Jenkins' Hill was known as “Rome." its owner in 1663 and for some years later being Francis Pope, for whom it was surveyed on June 3 of that year. Though little is known of the Pope family, yet there is a probability that this farm was patented at an earlier date in the name of Thomas Pope, and that Francis Pope, the son. later became the owner and had 1‘ surveyed. The creek which flowed around what was probably the western boundary of his 400 acres he named ‘‘Tiber," perhaps more in keeping with the '• tl JamXlßtnf 'fcßaßCT^WPvgf^Fwrßl^Bw^B — - Ml Tj^ r Mmaonic profession nt Inying of the corner stone of the Cttpilnl, September 18, 1793. SUNDAY STAR. WASHINGTON. D. C. SEPTEMBER 22, 1020. Washington Officiated With Masonic Cere monies, and Procession Included Military and Chic Features—Land Originally Ozcned by Francis Pope and Farm Is Believed to Have Been Patented by Thomas Pope—Design of Build-- ing Obtained After Competi-_ tion Had Failed. f v •; ; • t '• . * • • •* , . An engraving of the Capitol made during the Civil War period. combination of names than sentiment. The deed to Francis Pope reads in part as follows: “Layd out for Francis Pope of this Province Gentleman a parcel of land in Charles County called Rome lying on the East side of the Ana costian River beginning at a marked oak stand ing by the riverside, the bounded tree of Cap tain Robert Troop and running north by the river for breadth the length 200 perches to a bounded oak standing at the mouth of a bay or Inlet called Tiber.” Dr. William Tindall, in his “Standard His tory,” tells us of a tradition that would impress one that Francis Pope believed he was pos sessed of occult sight. The doctor says: “It is told of this dreamer that he predicted a greater capital than Rome would occupy that hill and that later generations would command a great and flourishing country in the new world. He related that he had had a dream or vision, in which he had seen a splendid par liament house on the hill, now known to us as Capitol Hill, which he purchased and called Rome, in prophetic honor of the great city to be." TT makes little difference what Francis Pipe might have dreamed for the future, his prophecy—or whatever it may be called—surely speaks eloquently for itself today. The design of Dr. William Thornton—whom wife has left u* her very Interesting diary— was accepted, and the work as it progressed was done under the direction of Stephen H. Hallet. James Hoban. who designed the White House: George Had held, and B. H. Latrobe. Dr. Thornton was a self-taught architect and an unusually talented man. and when a de sign for the Capitol was advertised for in March, 1792, he industriously set to work upon the plans for which a lot In the city valued at £IOO and a cash prize of SSOO, or a medal in lieu of the latter, at the option of the win ner, was offered. The advertisement, which first appeared in the Philadelphia papers, reads: “A PREMIUM ‘‘of a lot in the city, to be designated by im partial judges, and SSOO, or a medal of that value, at the option of the party, will be given by the Commissioners of Federal Buildings to persons who, before the 15th day of July, 1792, shall produce them the most approved plan, if adopted by ‘hem, for a Capitol to be erected in the city, and $250 or a medal for the plan deemed next in merit to the one they shall adopt: the building to be a brick and to con tain the following compartments, to wit: “A conference room. “A room for Representatives, (To contain 300 persons each.* “A lobby or antechamber to the latter. “A Senate room of 1.200 square feet of area. “An antechamber and lobby to the latter. “These rooms to be of full elevation. “Twelve rooms of 600 square feet area each for committee rooms and clerks, to be of half the elevation of the former. “Drawings will be expected of the ground plats, elevations of each front, and sections through the building in such directions as may be necessary to explain the material, structure, and an estimate of the cubic feet of the brick work composing the whole mass of the wall. “THOS. JOHNSON, “DD. STUART, “DANL. CARROLL, *. "Commissioners." AS a result of this advertisement, none of the plans submitted were satisfactory, and in October, 1792, Dr. Thornton requested per mission to submit a design, although he knew that the time limit had expired. However, this privilege was accorded him, and early In Feb ruary. 1793, his efforts were rewarded by learn ing of the acceptance of his plans, which were highly praised by President Washington. In deed, of it the President said: “Grandeur, Simplicity and Convenience, ap pear to be so well combined in this plan of Dr. Thornton's, that I have no doubt of its meeting that approbation from you. which I have given it upon an attentive inspection, and which it has received from all those who have seen it and are considered Judges of such things." ■ Though he did not actively superintend all the work oil the original Capitol, yet at times he grave special attention to certain features of its construction. As evidence of this, Mrs.' Thornton.. in her diary for January 4, 1800, says: “ •, *, * Went thence to the Capilol, where we staid 3ome time by a fire in a room where they were glazing the windows—while Dr. T-n laid out an oval, round which k to be the communication to the Gallery of the Senate Room.” Dr. Thornton first came to the District hi March, 1793, and for a while lived in George town in the house which is still standing at 3221 M street, known in Dr. Thornton's time as Palls street, and more recently as Bridge street. Prom here he moved, in 1796, to the site now known as 1331 P street northwest, next door to the site of the residence of Presi dent John Quincy Adams, and opposite the Press Club Building. * In addition to designing the original Capitol, Mr. Allen C. Clark tells us that he drew the plans for the two Washington houses which stood for a long while on the west side of North Capitol street between B and C streets, and superintend their construction. It will be recalled that these houses in more recent years became the Hillman House, this site, now being a part of the Capitol Plaza. . Mr. Clark also Includes among Dr. Thorn ton’s architectural achievements the drawing of the plans for the Octagon, John Tayloe's house at Eighteenth street and New York ave nue; Tudor place in Georgetown, designed foe Thomas Peter, who married the granddaughter of Mrs. Washington; Brentwood, Wood lawn, home of Lawrence Lewis; the University of Virginia and the modified Montpelier. The idea of having a sta'ue of Columbus close to the Capitol was suggested by Dr. Thornton soon after his plans were submitted, but he would have placed it to the east of the Capitol rather than in front of the Union Station, but no doubt artistic judgment has been ex ercised in the present scheme. J)R. THORNTON was appointed by President Washington on September 2, 1794, one of the Federal Commissioners. In addition to his other attainment, he was a physician, and this made him all the more qualified to fill the office, which he did most conscientiously, as testified to by Christian Hines when he speaks of his father attempting to start a tanyard on P street, opposite Woodward & Lothrop’s: “After the chips had been hauled home, we commenced hauling the bark to the lot on T street between Tenth ar.d Eleventh streets * * * preparatory to sinking the vats for the tanyard; but before we had commenced we were informed by Dr. Thornton that the vats would not be allowed there, as it was contrary to law. The doctor, at that time, I believe, was one of the Commissioners, and this infor mation was a great disappointment to my brother Henry; but, as there was no alternative, he had to submit. So. finally, he sold the baric to a Mr. Kurte, in George'own. and then re sumed journey-work with Mr. Hyde.” Dr. Thornton died at his F street house on March 2ft, 1128. and Mrs. Thornton survived him by many years, dying August 16, 1566. When they were married in 1790 he was 29, while she was but 13. The laying of the corner stone of the Capitol was made an impressive event, even for that early period of the Republic. Por the purpose, the President came ail the way from Phila delphia to take part, a trip Involving several days' hard travel at that da‘e. It was a great occasion for the members of the Masonic fraternity and ail the nearby lodge* were represented In the "grand Masonic, mili tary, and civic procession.” which was formed in what is now Lafayette Square, whence It proceeded to the Capitol grounds, "with martial music and flying colors, attended by an Im mense concourse of rejoicing spectators.” VSf ASH IN OTON, who attended the ceremonies both as President and as a Mason, was honored with the chief place in the procession, though the entire exercises were under the ex clusive control of Joseph Clark, worshipful mas ter of Lodge No. 12. of Ann'*polls, Md.. acting as grand master. Pew accounts of the exer cises were printed at the time, the one ap pearing in the Columbian Mirror and Alex andria Gazette of September 23. 1793. being about the most complete. In part it follows: “GEORGE-TOWN. September 21. 1793. ‘‘On Wednesday one of the grandest Masonie processions took place for tiie purpose of lay ing the corner stone of the Capitol of the United States which perhaps ever was exhibited on the like important occasion. About 10 o'clock. Lodge No. 9 was visited by that congre gation so graceful to the craft. Lodge No. 22 of Virginia, with all their Offlc?rs and Regalia: and directly afterwards appeared, on the South ern banks of the Grand River Potowmack, one of the finest companies of Volunteer Artillery that hath been lately seen, parading to receive the President of the United States, who shortly • came in sight with hU suite, to whom the Ar tillery paid their military honors; and his Ex cellency and 3uite crossed the Potowmack, and was received in Maryland by the officers and brethren of No. 22 Virginia, and No. 9 Maryland, whom the President headed, and preceded by ■ a band of music; the rear brought up by the Alexandria Volunteer Artillery, with grand solemnity of march, proceeded to the Presi dent's square, in the City of Washington, where they were met and saluted by No. 15, of the City of Washington, in ail their elegant badges and clothing, headed by Brother Joseph Clark, Rt. W. G. M. P. T.. and conducted to a large lodge prepared for the purpose of their recep tion. After a short space of time, by the vigil ance of Brother Clotworthy Stephenson, grand marshall P. T.. the brotherhood and other bodies were disposed in a second order of pro- * cession, which took place amidst a brilliant . crowd of spectators of both s*xes, according to the following arrangements, viz; l . “The surveying department of the City of Washington. “Mayor and corporation of Georgetown. “Virginia Artillery. * “Commissioners of the City of Washington and their attendants. “Stone cutters. Mechanics. “Two sword bearers.