``Here, sir, the people Govern.''

September 18, 1993|By ALEXANDER HAMILTON

Today marks a bicentennial anniversary in Washington for the laying of the Capitol's cornerstone -- a beginning of sorts not only for the building but the nation it has come to symbolize.

Change for Capitol, as for the nation, seems without end -- from the simple early days when legislators in its damp, dark halls used privies in the courtyard, though eras of expansion, modernization and restoration.

BThe building that visitors see today -- and will see Oct. 23, when the bicentennial will be celebrated with a public ceremony, a picnic and the return of the restored statue of Freedom to the top of the dome -- would hardly be recognized by the lawmakers who moved the capital from Philadelphia to Washington and took occupancy in 1800.

Unlike its European cousins, the Capitol, with sandstone walls and simple furnishings, "was intended to be dignified but built to convey the idea of republican simplicity," said JoAnne McCormick Quatannens .

Its art and symbols, too, were created with the new nation in mind.

Through wars foreign and civil, the union endured and expanded--and so did the Capitol, now being readied to enter its third century .


City planner Pierre L'Enfant selected a spot called Jenkins Hill for the site of the Capitol and the centerpiece of the city plan. At the suggestion of Thomas Jefferson, a competition was announced in March 1792 for the design of a "permanent and grand building" to house the government. All 16 plans submitted were rejected. A late entry provided an exterior design that was deemed suitable; the interior plan was borrowed from one of the original 16 entries. The building we know today is far different from the original design approved by President George Washington.


Finished in 1811, it contained the first House chamber on the second floor and offices below. After the House moved to its current home in the new south wing in 1857, the chamber became Statuary Hall in 1864.

The cornerstone is supposedly under this section. Archaeologists are currently trying to find it.


In 1884, noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead replaced the earth berm on the north, west and south sides of the Capitol with a marble terrace and landscaped the Capitol grounds. The terrace added 100 rooms; the enire project took 18 years.


Over 8 million pounds of cast iron wre used for the construction of the current dome. Total cost: $1 million.


Construction started in 1818. It houses the Rotunda committee rooms and, from 1826 to 1897, the Library of Congress. In 1851 the library buyrned; it was rebuilt from fireproof cast iron.


The first building finished. In 1800, it housed the Senate, the House, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress and the District of Columbia courts. After 1811, only the Senate and the Supreme Court remained. When the Senate moved to its new north wing in 1859, its chamber was taken over by the Supreme Court, which moved to its own building in 1935. The old Senate chamber is now preserved; the rest of the space is offices.


From 1958 to 1962, a marble-clad addition on the East Front was added correcting the illusion that the now larger dome was not adequately supported by the East Portico. The portico was moved outward 32 feet, giving the Capitol 90 new rooms.


Identtical north and south wings connected to old building by corridors. Construction was finished in 1859. Each is three stories high,240 ft. long, 143 ft. wide. Corinthian columns matched old buildings


A low copper-sheathed dome designed by Boston-born Charles

Bulfinch capped the central Rotunda and changed the Capitol's skyline in 1825. The dome had an observation platform at its top. City planner Pierre Charles L'Enfant didn't see the grandeur he'd expected and called the Capitol's hill site "a pedastal waiting for

a monument."


American sculptor Thomas Crawford designed the classical bronze Statue of Freedom. Her helmet bearing feathers and an eagle's head was not the artist's original design. She was to wear a liberty cap -- a headdress modeled after those worn by Rome's emancipated slaves -- but Jefferson Davis objected. Davis, who had charge of Capitol construction as Secretary of War from 1853 to 1857, later led the Confederacy. The statue, built in five sections, is 19.5 feet tall and weighs 7.5 tons.


In 1803, English architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe became Surveyor of Public Buildings, taking over the mammoth construction project and focusing on the Capitol's interior. He is credited with designs that remain popular today, including the tobacco-leaf and corn motifs adorning the capitals on columns.

AS the nation grew, so did the Capitol

East Front

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