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.
In 1807 Latrobe sent a letter to Congress, and the following extracts are worthy of perusal, not only for their description of the south wing, but for their pfcture of some of the difficulties under which the early Congresses labored :
" In the distribution of the House, it is provided that the access of those citizens who attend in the gallery, solely for the purpose of being present at the debates, is on the south front, at a distance from the eastern entrance, which leads to the apartments appropriated to legislative business. Between these parts of the buildings there is no communication whatever, excepting by a small door from the lobby, which door is only intended to admit the Doorkeeper into the gallery, in order to execute an order of the House for the exclusion of strangers.
" Thus all intrusion upon the business of the House and of its committees, may be effectually prevented by regulating admissions by the eastern entrance.
" The ground floor is entirely appropriated to the use of the committees of the House, and of the Clerk. The committee rooms ranged on the east and west fronts have an antechamber or waiting room, to each range, for the use of those citizens who have to attend the committees, and who, heretofore, had no accommodation but such as the lobby or the gallery of the House afforded. Such persons must of necessity enter at the eastern door.
'* From this entrance also the staircases lead up to the door of the House. Within the House the lobbies are to the right and left. The position of the Doorkeeper gives him an immediate view of every one who enters, while the interior of the House cannot be seen excepting from the galleries of the lobbies. There is, therefore, no temptation to continuance in the lobby, but for the sake of hearing the debates from its galleries, in which the presence of the House will preserve order and silence.
" Within the colonnade of the House there is no room for any persons not members of the House, excepting on the seats under the northern part of the wall. Those seats were erected on the presumption that the House might appropriate the same to the use of the Senators of the United States, when attending the Mouse, and of such other persons, distinguished by their official characters, as the House might judge proper to admit to them.
" It will be in the recollection of the members that, in the north wing of the Capitol, in which were all the committee rooms and the Clerk's office, even during the sitting of the House in the temporary building, erected on the site of the south wing, every one, without discrimination, had access to all the passages of the building. It was, indeed, impossible to distinguish those who ought from those who ought not to have entered. The consequence was, that every part was crowded by those who had and by more who had no business in the House. There are annually from four to five hundred persons whom their affairs bring to the seat of Government during the sitting of the National Legislature ; for these citizens the interior of the House afforded the only shelter during the severity of the Winter. The lobby of the House was, therefore, usually filled with a part of them, to the great inconvenience of the members, and sometimes to the interruption of the legislative business. Besides these, idle and dissolute persons ranged the whole building ; the walls were defaced by obscenity and libels ; the public furniture and utensils of the House were considered as fair objects of depredation ; and, were I to state the amount of some of the depredations, it would appear almost incredible. The committee rooms themselves have not been secure from the most improper intrusion ; and, to particularise only one fact, much of the leakage of the roof arose from the smaller pieces of lead, called flashings, being stolen. . . ".
It is evident that the propensity of boys in those days was much the same as it is to-day; for the architect adds, in the same report, "some restriction might probably be laid upon the intrusion of boys of all colors beyond the outer door, by regulating the occupancy of these lobbies".
In March of the following year, Latrobe tells us, the south wing was virtually complete. The wood-work, though primed, and the walls, however, required painting; while only two of the capitals of the Corinthian columns were entirely finished, eight in a state of forwardness, and fourteen only rough-hewn. Also the moulding of the cornice, the sculpture over the entrance, two small capitals in the circular vestibule and other minor details still needed attention.
On December n, 1809, Latrobe reports:
" When the House first occupied the south wing, the number of committees and committee rooms was only seven. The Committee of the District of Columbia has since then been created and great inconvenience has been experienced for want of a room sufficiently spacious for their increasing business. At present, their sittings are held in the small chamber fitted up for the use of the President whenever he comes to the Capitol".
After the completion of the permanent quarters for the Representatives, Latrobe turned his attention to the north wing, which had been constructed previous to his appointment as architect. The main appropriations, of $20,000 each, for this portion of the building were made March 3, 1809, and May 1, 1810. The former act contained also an appropriation of $5,000 " for completing the staircase, and providing temporary and adequate accommodations for the Library, in the room now used for that purpose, and in the one in which the Senate now sit".
Iatrobe, in the report of 1809, thus describes the progress of the work :
" The court room, the office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court, and the office and library of the judges have also been nearly completed, and may be occupied the approaching session of the court [February Term, 1810] . . . the court room and those offices on the ground story, which support the Senate chamber, and other apartments of the Senate above, were necessarily constructed out of the general fund of the north wing. . . .
" The whole east side and centre of the north wing being now permanently completed, excepting the part deficient in the Senate chamber, the iron work of the staircase, and some minor details, I again beg leave to call your attention to the west side of this wing ; it is intended to contain the library, and is in such a state of decay throughout, as to render it dangerous to postpone the work proposed. It is now the only part of the Capitol that remains to be solidly re-built.
" But independently of this consideration, the increasing extent of the library of Congress induces me to represent to you the necessity of constructing the rooms intended permanently to contain it. Should the work be commenced in the appropriate season, the books may be removed, and the library and reading rooms fitted up for use by the session after the next".
These repairs had been much needed, as is shown by Latrobe's report* of March 23, 1808 :
" The accommodation of the Senate and of the Courts is very far from being convenient for the despatch of public business . . . the present chamber of the Senate cannot be considered as altogether safe, either as to the plastering, of which the columns and entablature consist, or as to its floor and ceiling . . . rooms in the third story, which have never been finished, but which will be highly useful apartments whenever the wing shall be completed".
The same report informs us why these repairs had not been begun under the appropriation of March 3, 1807, for the general repair of the wing:
" The floors and ceilings of the Senate chamber and library being also rotten, it was judged most prudent and necessary to begin with a thorough repair of the centre from the foundation, and not to disturb these apartments, the use of which could not be dispensed With the ensuing session ; for, had the roof of the Senate chamber been opened, no exertions could have completed the repairs in proper time, ...
" In the great staircase the old wooden skylight and cove was entirely taken down, and a solid brick cupola turned over this large area of forty-five by thirty-five feet, and crowned by a lantern light".
* See Jefferson's letter, Appendix, p. 252.
The repairs in the Court room in 1809 seem to have been made during a recess of the Court and not to have interfered with its sittings. It was far otherwise with the repairs in the Senate Chamber. On Washington's Birthday, 1809, that body resolved that the surveyor of the public buildings, "with as little expense as may consist with the reasonable comfort of the members, and with the convenience of spectators," prepare "The Library Room" for its accommodation at the next session. This began, by a special act of Congress, on May 22d, but lasted until only the 28th of June, when both Houses adjourned to meet on the fourth Monday in November. On New Year's Day, 1810, the Senate returned to its chamber. Six months before, it had appropriated $15,000 to finish and furnish its permanent abode, together with the committee rooms, lobbies and other apartments. An additional appropriation of $1,600 had been made to defray the expense incurred in fitting up the temporary chamber, and in providing and repairing articles of furniture.
Both wings were built of freestone from quarries upon an island in Acquia Creek, in the State of Virginia, which island the government had purchased in 1791 for the sum of $6,000. They were connected in 1811 by a wooden bridge, running north and south, 100 feet in length; and in this condition, save for certain repairs and for some sculpture in the House and finishing touches to the Senate Chamber, the Capitol remained until the fire in 1814.
The official estimates show that $491,194.19 were the net expenditures upon the old building, out of Congressional appropriations, from 1803 to 1819. A goodly part of the cost of the old Capitol was defrayed from donations of the State of Maryland, which contributed $72,000 to the fund for the erection of public buildings in Washington, and of the State of Virginia, which voted $120,000 for the like good cause. In this connection it is amusing to reflect upon the candid expression of Washington in his letter of August 29, 1793, to the Commissioners of the Federal District: "Query— In what manner would it be proper to state the accounts with the States of Virginia and Maryland, they having advanced monies which have not been all expended on the objects for which they were appropriated ? "