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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, September 22, 1929, Image 104

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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.

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