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.
Writing in 1842 of the Library room in the central building, Librarian Watterston says it " consists of twelve alcoves, supporting two galleries running along the whole length of the apartment from north to south, and containing the same number of recesses as alcoves in the lower room. The arched alcoves are ornamented in front by fluted pilasters, copied from the pillars in the temple of Lysicrates at Athens. Two columns of freestone, the capitals like those of the pilasters, support the gallery near the main entrance, and two corresponding columns stand near the window which leads into the logged or western colonnade, extending the whole length of the apartment. Each end of the room, as well as the ceiling, is richly decorated with stucco ornaments and three wells or sky lights, the wells of which, also richly ornamented, admit the light from above. A large room on the south, connected with this apartment, contains an extensive and valuable collection of law books exclusively, and a room adjoining it is used by the Judiciary committee. The library room was designed by Mr. C. Bulfinch, then architect of the public Buildings, and does great credit to his taste.
" Several presents have been made to the library since its origin. Among these is a splendid and valuable collection of medals, designed by M. Denon, and executed by order of the French Government. The series commences in 1796 and ends in 1815, and embraces all the battles and events which occurred during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte. These are beautifully executed, and arranged with a small collection of American medals in Parisian bronze, in neat cases on either side of the mantlepiece, at the South end of the room. All of these were presented by Mr. Irving, the brother, it is said, of George W. Irving, who obtained them while in Paris, at considerable difficulty, and at a cost of five thousand francs.
" An original likeness of Christopher Columbus, presented by Mr. Barrel 1, American consul at Madrid,* and found by him in an old castle in Spain, is hung up on the south end of the room. Marble busts of Washington, Jefferson, Lafayette, Judge Marshall, John Quincy Adams, Van Buren, and plaster busts of Jackson and Moultrie, and a medallion of Madison, most of them standing on pedestals, are placed in different parts of the room".
Another fire, on December 24, 1851, destroyed over three-fifths of the entire Library, which at that time numbered about 55,000 volumes. The Intelligencer of the next day says : " Besides the books, a number of superior paintings, hanging around the Library walls and between the alcoves, were included in the destruction. Of these we can call to mind Stuart's paintings of the first five Presidents; an original portrait of Columbus; a second portrait of Columbus; an original portrait of Peyton Randolpn; a portrait of Bolivar; a portrait of Baron Steuben by Pyne, an English artist of merit; one of Baron De Kalb > one of Cortez; one of Judge Hanson, of Maryland, presented to the Library by his family. Between eleven and twelve hundred bronze medals of the Vattemare exchange, some of them more than ten centuries old, and exceedingly perfect, are amongst the valuables destroyed. Of the statuary burnt and rendered worthless, we recollect a statue of Jefferson; an Apollo in bronze by Mills ; a very superior bronze likeness of Washington ; a bust of Gen. Taylor by an Italian artist; and a bust of Lafayette by David." The year following this second conflagration, a lump appropriation of $75,000 was made to replenish the collection. In 1853, according to plans of Walter, whom Clark assisted in the execution, the room was remodeled and rendered as fire-proof as possible, with iron cases and iron ceilings, and the books replaced. The wings were later added from space previously devoted to committee rooms.
The library of copyright books, formerly kept in the Patent Office, was removed to the Capitol in 1870, when the Librarian was made Registrar of Copyrights. Besides the recruiting of the Library in this way and by the regular appropriations of Congress, which have lately averaged about $11,000 a year, the most extensive additions to the Library have been the 45,000 books, mostly scientific, belonging to the Smithsonian Institution ; later contributions from the same institution, which it had received by means of exchange from scientific men and societies throughout the world; and many thousands of volumes, principally relating to American history, purchased from Peter Force for the sum of $100,000. Dr. Joseph M. Toner, of Washington City, in 1882, generously contributed his private library also, numbering over 27,000 volumes, and nearly as many pamphlets, which, especially for its rare Washingtoniana, is considered a valuable acquisition to the government collection.
G. G. Barrell was Consul at Malaga from 1818 to 1838, when he died.
The growth of the Congressional Library was most marked during the reign of Ainsworth Rand Spofford * of Cincinnati, who was appointed Librarian in 1864 by President Lincoln after a service of three years as assistant. At the time of its removal, it was supposed to number in the neighborhood of 755,000 volumes, besides a collection of many thousands of pamphlets, maps, photographs, etchings and music, making it the sixth library in size in the world. The Library possesses, besides, a rich collection of engravings, illustrated works and art treasures; and its files of bound newspapers and periodicals, both foreign and American, are a mine of wealth for those who desire to read the diary of the world. A large proportion of such volumes were necessarily stored in the crypt and adjacent rooms until the completion of the new building, when the temporary storerooms, which much disfigured the crypt, were torn away, again opening to view its forty columns.
While primarily for the use of Congress, even the justices of the Supreme Court not having the privilege of the books conferred upon them until 1812, the entire collection was, previous to July, 1897, as it is now, a reference library for the public as well. Between the hours of nine and four, daily except Sunday, and until the hour of adjournment during the session of either branch of Congress, any person may consult the books, and, in some instances, take them from the Library, upon making a reasonable deposit to insure their replacement in case of loss. Such deposit is not required, however, from Senators or Representatives, nor from about thirty other officials of the government.
The necessity for a new building for the Library was first formally suggested to Congress in a report made by the Librarian in 1872. For fourteen years, however, nothing definite was done by Congress, though Mr. Spofford says "various schemes for continuing the Library within the Capitol were brought forward. One was to extend the west front of the edifice one hundred feet, to hold the books ; another, to project the eastern front two hundred and fifty feet, thus making a conglomerate building out of what is now a purely classic edifice; a third, and more preposterous scheme, was to accommodate the Library growth within the great inner concave of the dome, which was to be literally honeycombed with books from the floor of the rotunda to the apex: a plan which would have given space for only twelve years' growth of the Library, besides increasing incalculably all trie difficulties of its administration. Every plan for enlarging the Capitol would have provided for less than thirty years' increase, after which Congress would be confronted with the same problem again, and forced to erect a new building after all the cost (estimated at four millions of dollars) of such enlargement. .At length a commission of architects reported against disturbing the symmetry of the Capitol, and that elusive spectre was laid to rest. ... At length all differences between Senate and House were harmonized; the act for a separate building received over two-thirds majority in 1886; a site of ten acres was purchased on a plateau near the Capitol for $585,000, thus providing for an ample and thoroughly equipped edifice, with ultimate accommodations for four and one-half millions of volumes." To-day, after the lapse of twenty-five years, the new building, the most palacious edifice in the world, may be called completed, and there the books and works of art have found a permanent home where they all can be enjoyed.
* The list of Librarians, not above mentioned, with the dates of their appointments, is; as follows : Patrick Magruder, 1807 ; George Watterston, 1815 ; John S. Meehan, 1829 -John G. Stephenson, 1861 ; John Russell Young, 1897.
From the west portico of the central building, which is accessible through the former Library hall, an extensive view may be had of the growth of the city westward, of the chain of parkings extending to the monument and White House, and of the surrounding hills and country. This view should not be lost, especially by those who have not the strength to ascend the dome.