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TABLE OF CONTENTS
FIGURE 10.-North wing, plans, elevation, sections, September
1807. Benjamin H. Latrobe. From: Library of Page
Congress, Prints and Photographs Division... 25 FIGURE 11.-Congressional library; plan and portion of eleva
tion, 1808. Benjamin H. Latrobe. From: Office
27 FIGURE 12.-Congressional library, details (ca. 1808). Ben
jamin H. Latrobe. From: Library of Congress,
28 FIGURE 13.-Principal floor, plan, March 18, 1817. Benjamin
H. Latrobe. From: Library of Congress, Prints
“The surest test of the civilization of a people afforded by the mechanical art is to be found in their architecture, which presents so noble a field for the display of the grand and the beautiful, and which, at the same time, is so intimately connected with the essential comforts of life..."
-William Hickling Prescott, 1796–1859 The oldest, continuously occupied portion of the United States Capitol is the northwest corner of the original structure, that segment of the Capitol which now includes the rooms S-230, S-231, S-232, S-233, and S-234.
Thus these rooms date to the original construction of the seat of our nation's government. Originally one large space, these rooms, (currently assigned to the Senate Majority Leader) have a rich history. Over the past century and three quarters this part of the Capitol has served as the Chamber for the House of Representatives, the original location of the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court, the Senate, Congressional committee rooms, office of the Vice President, the Supreme Court Justices robing room, and office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court.
The contents of these rooms provided the fuel for the burning of the Capitol by the British during the War of 1812; books and furniture were taken from the library and used to start a fire set in the chamber.
Although this portion of the Capitol had been standing since the structure was first erected, the area drew its real life and usefulness from the work of the second Architect of the Capitol, Benjamin H. Latrobe. Latrobe had elaborate plans for this section of the Capitol. He envisioned and planned it as an elegant library to serve the legislative branch. The space was to have been the Congressional Library, with an adjoining private reading room for members. Latrobe had very definite ideas about how such a space would have been “fitted up," not only apparent in his drawings which remain, but also visible in other work he performed in the early nineteenth century in the English library architectural styles he inherited and adopted.
Indeed, this area of the Capitol was designated as the Library of the Congress from about 1802 until the fire of August 24, 1814.
Although that Congressional Library was but a fledgling, it was a matter of great importance and a source of great and jealouslyguarded pride to those it served. Of the need for a library, Thomas Jefferson observed, "there is no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer.” Jefferson's interest in the Library of Congress did not arise, of course, merely as a result of the fire of 1814. He had made numerous donations to the Library.
With recommendations by President Jefferson and using his list of desiderata, the Congress stocked its new library with acquisitions from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and London. In 1802, there were 964 volumes and 9 maps on the Library's shelves.
Later in that decade, at the urgings of Senator Samuel Latham Mitchill of New York, Senator John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, and Representative Joseph Clay of Pennsylvania (all members of the Joint Library Committee), the Congress expanded its collection. By 1812, at which time the books were last catalogued before the fire, a total of 3,076 volumes and 53 maps, charts, and plans had been acquired. The collection that Jefferson offered the government to replace that destroyed in 1814 was originally chosen by him with the hope that it would become the library of the University of Virginia. Instead, realizing the wartime difficulty of contacting European booksellers and recognizing the intellectual void which the destruction had created for Congress, he offered it as the nucleus of the revitalized Library of Congress. The Congress did, indeed, purchase the collection in 1815.
This report examines the history of the old library space as it relates to its position in the story of the Library of Congress and the architecture and development of the Capitol. It describes how Latrobe planned the space to be developed.
Extensive original and secondary sources have been consulted to provide a necessary background for our conclusions. On-site inspections were made of Latrobe and related period buildings in Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. A number of outside experts were also consulted who were able to confirm the conclusions that we reached. Many of the original drawings of the Latrobe period are housed in the Collection of the Architect of the Capitol. A recent conservation program has facilitated their cleaning, which has, in turn, yielded more details and information. This drawing collection has been supplemented by other works found primarily at the Library of Congress (Prints and Photographs Division) and the Maryland Historical Society.
Included with the report is a catalog of those books, maps, and charts in the Library of Congress at the time the facility was located in this portion of the Capitol.
Also included with the report is a complete bibliography.