This section is from the book "The National Capitol. Its Architecture Art And History", by George C. Hazelton, Jr. Also available from Amazon: The National Capitol Its Architecture Art and History.
It is astonishing what evidence is considered as sufficient to establish facts to a mind, that, I am sorry to say, appears preoccupied by a desire to condemn. " The most indisputable evidence was brought before me to prove" (a negation) "that no sections or "detailed drawings of the building had ever existed, excepting those which were from time " to time made by Messrs. Hallet and Hadfield, for their own use in the direction of the " work," p. 10. It will be remembered that one of these gentlemen never superintended the laying of a single stone of the elevation; the other did not make a single section that I ever heard of, but required sections of me, which I drew, and of which Mr. Monroe told me he had informed Mr. Latrobe!
The whole area of the south wing of the capitol might be conceived by some as too extensive for a chamber of representatives, but if we consider the rapid increase of the American people, and that 500 representatives may be required, neither the space allotted for the members nor the gallery for the audience, will be considered as too large. To lessen either would consequently be in my opinion a very important objection.
Mr. Latrobe mentions the want of committee and other rooms. The President of the United States had, some months before Mr. Latrobe's appointment, spoken to me on this subject, and asked if they could not be formed in the basement story, with convenience under the representatives' chamber. Approving much the idea of many accounts, independent of its restoring the building to a greater conformity with my original drawing, from which I had deviated by other advice, I made a design of the north wing, raised the committee rooms under the galleries, and with a lobby to the south; also with chambers for the accommodation of the officers of the house ; besides what was intended over the galleries. The President's idea was carried further, for I drew a plan of the Senate room, raised within a few feet of the base of the columns, and with two good rooms underneath, one on each side, besides two smaller for papers, etc. and a passage from a door in the external centre to the lobby. This would much improve the proportion of the Senate room, the arcade of which is too high for the columns. A coved cieling might be thrown from the entablature, so as to give any required elevation. These alterations were laid before the President many months before Mr. Latrobe's report was written; and if Mr. Latrobe had extended his alterations only to the committee and other rooms, however they might have differed from mine in form, or appropriation, I would not have considered them of sufficient importance to call forth my objections; but under a sincere conviction that the representatives' chamber will be irreparably injured by alteration now in execution, I am compelled by a sense of duty, but with great reluctance on other accounts, to express my disapprobation of the measure.
I have seen Mr. Latrobe's report of December last, and find much stress is laid on the imperfections of the foundation of the south wing, which required it to be taken down. Six feet (in height) of that foundation had been built by a contractor, during whose absence the work was ill-constructed by those in whom he had confided. The work was directed to be examined, and was condemned by the commissioners. The correspondent part in the north wing was taken down, and good bond stones intermingled throughout the new work, by which it was rendered completely solid; and as that and the stone work of the elevation were well executed, if any defect can hereafter be discovered it must depend upon injuries received, by piercing so many large holes through it, or on defects in the lower part of the foundation, which was laid before I was in office. It was a query at the time of its execution whether it would not be better to lay the foundation with inverted arches, but it was thought more expensive and not better than by good bond-stone in the more usual manner ; and I imagine that those who pierced the foundation of the north wing, thereby injuring it, by cutting loose many of the bonds, found it to be unexceptionable work; and that it will yet stand firm I have no doubt, but I think it might have been perfectly aired by tubes, at a trifling expense and without risking any injury whatever.
The roof has been justly condemned. It is next to impossible to put any elevated covering that shall resist the ingress of water when the gutters are filled with snow, or deluges of rain. I objected to the roof as now executed but not solely on that account. By rising so high, the balustrade is darkened behind, till the beholder advance so near the building as to lose the general view: it is thus rendered heavy in appearance. I proposed a flat roof made with a composition that has since been found to answer perfectly by Mr. Foxall, who by varying the ingredients a little has formed a variety of excellent cements. It is made in imitation of terraced roofs though greatly superior. A covering formed in the manner he has executed, is not much dearer than a roof of good shingles, and it will stand for ages without leaking a drop, if even knee deep in water. Its excellence also consists, not a little, in its growing better by age, it becoming as hard as iron itself. Those who have any doubts of the perfection of this kind of covering may be easily satisfied by examining a roof executed by Mr. Foxall the year before last at his own house in Georgetown, or the roof of one of the public stores executed the last year at the navy yard in this city.
Latrobe's Private Letter to the Individual Members of Congress, November 28, 1806.
In the year 1803 . . . that part of the south wing of the Capitol in which the House of Representatives then sat was in such a state as to require building from the very foundation ... In the year 1803, the foundations of the external walls were con-demned and pulled down. The center building occupied by the House of Representatives remained standing.—because in the opinion of many, a further appropriation appeared at least doubtful. The difficulty of working in the narrow space round that building can scarcely be conceived, and as the House met in December, all our men were of course discharged before that time. In 1S04 the session concluded in March, & then first could our works commence. Much time was lost in pulling down and removing the old building, and before any new work could be begun. However, the progress made that year was great, considering all the disadvantages we labored under . . , As I had distinguished the recess from the south wing, the omission to appropriate for that part appeared to forbid its erection. But the plan of the building was necessarily such, that the whole area of the south wing was repaired for the Hall of the House of Representatives. The external walls therefore could receive no support from internal walls:—The south, eas west walls had been built so solidly and were so strengthened in the angles by the stair cases of the galleries, that there could be no danger of their giving way to the pressure of the vaults,— but the north wall which, in relation to the whole building, is an internal wall, and the support of which depended upon the recess, had not been calculated to stand alone. It was therefore carried up one story, and no alteration of consequence could be made.