PATENT OFFICE SITE MEANT FOR CHURCH
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, June 27, 1915 [pt. 2, p. 9]
The site of the Interior Department long known as Patent Office Square, between 7th, 9th, F and G streets, was on the original plan of the city designated as the site of the National Church, and before it came into actual use by the government was occupied in the early days by private parties. About the beginning of the last century a butcher, whose descendants are still with us, had his slaughter house at about the northwest corner of the present structure, and later, on the southwest corner of the square was an ice house. Near the corner of 8th and G streets there lived a Scotch gardener by the name of John Orr, and he cultivate some of the land in the lines of reservation No. 8, and a portion of it was known as Orr's orchard.
Before the location of a public building on this ground was dreamed of Mr. Orr was cultivating some of the street beds and about 1820 he was fined for so doing. The highest point was the southeastern portion, the descent being toward a valley made by Sluice run, in the square west. No attempt was ever made to use it as a site for a church, although there were a few religious congregations not far off. St. Patrick's, near 10th and F streets, existing prior to 1800.
Plan for Buildings Approved
The square was enclosed with a wooden picket fence, planted with trees, etc, in 1842, and a greenhouse was erected for some of the botanical specimens brought to the United States by the Wilkes expedition.
The upper story, one vast salon, was arranged for exhibition purposes, and although the fire had nearly completely destroyed the collection of models, etc. with much of the collection of the National Institute, which had succeeded the old Columbia Institute, the models and other articles were accumulating. Therefore this hall was arranged for exhibits, one-half being given to the use of the museum and the other to the models and files with applications for patents. In the main story rooms were the clerks of the patent office, there being twelve rooms on this floor, and one or two of the clerks were located in the east end of the basement.
Patent Office Exhibit Interesting
It was not only attractive to the general public, but to the dishonest, for scarcely a year after it was opened to the public, December 20, 1841, some miscreant by means of false keys got into a case and abstracted a gold snuff box studded with diamonds, a pearl necklace and the gold scabbard of the sword which were presented to Presidents Jackson, VanBuren and others. A thousand dollars reward was offered by the commissioner, H.L. Ellsworth, and they were returned in a shapeless mass. Seven years after, November 8, 1848, these articles and others of value were stolen at night, and they were recovered and for a number of years were locked up in the State Department.
There were fifty-eight cases in the museum in which were to be seen implements of war, and for a number of years the original Declaration of Independence (now locked up in the state Department), Gen. Washington's uniform, sword, camp equipage, etc., were to be seen here. Also collections made by the exploring expedition of Wilkes to the Pacific, and by Capt. Stansbury to the Rocky mountains, the Egyptian mummies of John Varden and, in short, there were specimens of birds, animals and fish from every section from which it was possible to procure them and find room in which to exhibit them.
Old Tavern on Raleigh Hotel Site
There was at this time a tavern on the site of the Raleigh Hotel, called the Fountain Hotel, and, taverns being required to accommodate both man and beast, it had a stable yard adjoining, and here the sales of perishable articles took place. Gen. Macomb, a few years before his death, bought a pair of Arabian horses there.
It is unnecessary to say that both the model exhibition and that of the curiosities had much effect on the general public, aside from affording mere pleasure. There were a number of instances where the boys of the neighborhood undertook to gather small museums, and not far from the building the loft of a stable was fitted up with cases, in which the boys had a number of small wild animals, snakes and insects, as well as stones of odd shapes. It is known also that when there was a national fair season tickets were given the exhibitors, and to secure these some boys, with the aid of clock works, contrived machinery of no earthly use whatever other than to make a noise and excite curiosity. One little fellow was the possessor of such an instrument, which he entered for the sake of getting the ticket, and when he noticed the crowds about his machine, curious to know what it was doing, informed them that it was grinding air. But he had a ticket and the family was admitted almost nightly.
Nucleus for Smithsonian Exhibit
Before the war it was found necessary to engage larger quarters outside the building for this division. It was found necessary also to enlarge some of the bureaus in the other departments.
The land office, owing to the settlement of the territories, was growing, as also the pension office. The customs business, attended to heretofore in the office of the Secretary of the Treasury had been made a bureau, with a commissioner at its head, and the mining interests of the same department were looking to matters other than lead and copper, the gold mines of California then attracting much attention.
New Department Recommended
The committee stated that the immediate considerations which urged the establishment of the new department were the mischiefs, losses and dangers resulting from the existing irrational and ruinous distribution of executive powers and duties.
It added, however, that there were broader considerations of public policy dictating the creation of such a department. Since the establishment of the federal government sixty years before, it said, some $700,000,000 had been expended for purposes of military aggression or defense, and the average expenditure for the War and Navy Departments was then twelve or fourteen millions of dollars.
The whole amount of expenditure during the same period for the promotion of the arts of peace, the development of agriculture and of the mechanical sciences and for the facilitation of internal intercourse and trade, the support of education and the diffusion of knowledge did not exceed $4,000,000.
Rap for War Preparation
In pursuance of the recommendation, Congress passed the act approved March 3, 1849, entitled "An act to establish the Home Department."
The administration of President Polk was succeeded the next day by that of President Taylor, and Gen. Thomas Ewing was appointed to take charge of the new department.