Growth of Capitol
Twice Has the Building Been Found Inadequate
Extension of Grounds
Proposed Removal of the Supreme Court
Story of Historic Building
At First Easily Accommodated Both Branches of
Congress, Courts and Court Officials Trials There

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, April 11, 1909 [pt. 7, p. 10]

The removal of the Congressional Library from beneath the roof of the Capitol, leaving that building to the legislative branch of the government and the Supreme Court of the United States and the recent erection of the two fine marble structures for the use of the senators and representatives adjacent, but not within the Capitol grounds, will doubtless lead to the enlargement of those grounds. And it will not be surprising if on the private property on 1st street between East Capitol and B streets another government building is erected for the judicial branch of the government, for such has been suggested.

The present conditions of the Capitol and it surroundings were not in the wildest dreams of the people a hundred years ago, and had one at that time asserted that the time would come when the building would be too small for the legislators his sanity would have been questioned. For then, besides the members and Supreme Court of the United States, the Circuit Court of the District, the clerk, marshal, grand and petit juries had apartments.

When, in the summer of 1800, the government located here, with John Adams at the head, the work on the Capitol had been in progress some years, the foundations in the walls of the south wing built up a few feet, and the work on the north wing so far advanced that November 17, the second session of the Sixth Congress was convened therein. There were but thirty-four senators and less than 150 representatives. Mr. Jefferson was Vice President; Gen. John E. Howard of Maryland, president pro tem, of the Senate; Theodore Sedgewich of Massachusetts, Speaker of the House; S.A. Otis of Massachusetts, secretary of the Senate, and J.W. Condy of Pennsylvania, until December 9, 1800, and John Beckley of Virginia, until 1807, clerks of the House. The Senate was permanently in this wing, but not always in one, and the case was the same with the House. In January 1801, the courts, with their clerks and the marshal, moved into the lower rooms, and in 1802 the first case of murder was tried there, that of McGirk for the murder of his wife, for which he was hanged near where the Botanic Garden is now.

This was a more than ordinary Congress, inasmuch as for the first time it became necessary for the House to decide the presidential contest, there having been a tie on the electoral vote between Mr. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, and in the House the latter was chosen. There was much other important business relating to foreign relations. Indian affairs, etc., and from then till each house became settled in the chamber the members made the best of their surroundings, legislating amid the noise, dust and the other customary accompaniments of building operations. Some of the prominent members were Aaron Burr of New York, Gene Sumter of South Carolina, Roger Nelson and Howard of Maryland, J.B. Varnum of Massachusetts. John Langdon of New Hampshire, C. Pinckney of South Carolina, Return J. Meigs of Ohio, W.H. Harrison, afterward President, Henry Clay and Col. R.M. Johnson of Kentucky, John Randolph of Roanoke and others.

South Wing Occupied
The south wing was covered in 1806-7, and on October 26 following the House in the first session of the Tenth Congress was there convened, Gen. Varnum being the Speaker, though the chamber was not completed. It was discovered at once that there was so much echo as to render it difficult to conduct business, but this was partially overcome by the hanging of draperies. Thus the "whispering stones," to which Capitol guides are wont to take strangers, now that the walls are to take strangers, now that the walls are bare of drapery, are accounted for, the discovery was then made. There were then but seven standing committees of the House, but the committee on the District was added, and needed a larger room, and there was a demand for accommodation for special committees. In the north wing, after the House in 1807 had vacated the library, it was taken by the Senate, and the work in the Senate chamber, as well as on the rooms occupied by the courts, was completed. The Senate in the meantime, occupied the library, but February 10, 1810, it was again in its chamber. In 1811 both wings were reported substantially complete, but subsequently appropriations were made for finishing the north wing.

Thus stood the Capitol at the time of the invasion by the British, August 21, 1814; two wings covered in and occupied, and across the foundation of the center building, laid before 1808, was an enclosed walk connecting the two. After the war, while Congress occupied temporary quarters, the damage was repaired and the central building erected, being finished about 1828.

The grounds, really the east end of reservation 2, included the territory bounded by I street east and ninety-foot streets north of squares 686 and south of 687, A streets north and south, but on the west the lines were undefined. The hill was mostly covered with scrub oak and the soil of a stiff clay, over which wagon tracks were worn. For some years a few houses stood north and south of the Capitol buildings, in which some of the doorkeepers and other employes lived. Originally it was proposed that the square east should be enclosed, that the space now the plaza should be kept open and separated from the building, and that a semi-circular space should extend half the distance to 1st street west. It was not until 1816 that an appropriation was made therefore and some work done. The ground, however, was so lumbered by shops and material that the work was not completed. About 1800, these shops and material having been removed, the extension was proposed of the semi-circular area to 1st street west, enclosing this and the square east, laying Seneca stone flagging and grading and improving the grounds but not until 1836 were the improvements begun. About the same time water was brought from Smith's spring. A gatemen's lodge stood at the Pennsylvania avenue entrance to the grounds, and the gates were closed nightly at 10 o'clock when Congress was not in session. At times persons in the grounds, failing to hear the gateman's warning of "Ten o'clock, the gates will close," would be locked in. The reason given for enclosing the space was to keep the cows from browsing on the shrubbery.

Enlarging the Capitol
In 1813 plans were asked for enlarging the accommodations of the House, for the number of members had increased three fold. Several plans for a new building were submitted. Later the Senate desired more room and in 1850 the standing committees on public buildings of both Houses were authorized to act jointly on the subject. In the civil and diplomatic bill for the year 1850 an appropriation of $200,000 was made for the extension on such plan as the joint committee might adopt. Shortly after plans were invited, and the one being satisfactory it was concluded to adopt the advantages of several and Thomas U. Walter of Philadelphia was chosen as architect. The corner stone was laid July 4, 1851, and in 1838 the new halls for the Senate and House were put in use. But members and committees had increased so that the two wings with their many additional rooms were taxed.

It was forseen that the old dome of wood would not be in harmony with the enlarged Capitol, and in 1855 the removal of the old dome and the erection of the present iron structure was proposed to the House. An appropriation was made on motion of R.H. Stanton of Kentucky. Under subsequent legislation the work was carried on to completion, and December 2, 1863, the bronze statue of Freedom was in place. When the fifth and last section was attached the display of a flag was the signal for a salute of thirty-five guns by a light battery near by, which was followed by a like salute from each of twelve forts in the vicinity of the city.

Extension of Grounds
In 1860 the committees on public buildings in each house agreed on a bill to enlarge the grounds, and the civil bill that year directed that the district attorney ascertain the value of the land needed. This included triangular pieces 67 by 180 feet at the corners of 1st street west and Pennsylvania and Maryland avenues, and square 687 and 688, the latter squares east of the building, carrying the lines to north and south B street west of 1st street east. It was not until June 1866, that a bill for the purpose was introduced, though five years before the appraisement of $417,504 had been reported. By the acts of May 8, 1872, and March 3, 1873, the authority was given, and subsequently, under the plan of F.L. Olmstead, the entire grounds were greatly improved.