Original Plan of City Called for Such a National Edifice
Strange Surrounding of Present Structure
Abattoir and Ice House at Corners of Square
Thrifty Gardener Cultivated Streets
Old Public Buildings No. 4

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 old Treasury Department and the patent and post office buildings having been burned, appropriations were made July 4, 1836, for the Treasury and patent office buildings, and in 1839 for the post office. The plans of William P. Elliott were accepted, and these provided for a building 270 feet in length, 90 feet in width, of two stories and basement, and the work was commenced the same year, Robert Mills being the architect. It was completed in 1840 and occupied by the patent office force, then consisting of about a half dozen clerks.

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
Cases were arranged for the exhibition, with some against the walls, and very rapidly they were filled up, so rapidly, indeed, that the question of requiring drawings only, instead of models, was being considered. The articles in the museum, although but a handful compared with those in the National Museum, were extremely interesting and valuable, and in those days the patent office was known better to the sightseer than any other building.

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
The museum was crowded and some of the exhibits of the National Institute were unboxed. Not the least interesting was the great Persian carpet presented to President VanBuren by the Imam of Muscat and shawls presented to various government officers by Asiatic monarchs. These gifts, under the Constitution, could not be accepted from "any foreign prince or potentate," and it was the custom with such gifts, if they could not be returned to deposit them in the State Department. Sometimes, however, perishable gifts, such as Arabian horses, wild animals, etc., were received. Their reception necessitated the passage of a law authorizing their sale by the Secretary of State, as in his custody "they ate their heads off."

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 1850 there were about thirty clerks and a half dozen watchmen, the building being carefully guarded day and night. From the museum here those now under the Smithsonian were developed, and from the collection of agricultural statistics, the annual appropriations for which were increasing, in 1839 an agricultural division of the patent office was recommended, and later this recommendation was carried into effect.

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
It was soon after the termination of the Mexican war that Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury, called attention to the enormous work devolving upon the head of that department and that some of the duties had no connection with commerce or public finances. He also said that the patent office work had no proper connection with the State Department that Indian affairs and applications for pensions could be better administered outside the War and Navy departments, and , and he accordingly recommended a new department to manage the offices named. The committee on agriculture of the House, February 12, 1849, presented a report indorsing Mr. Walker's views and a bill for the creation of the Home Department or Department of the Interior.

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
The report continued, "The general fact remains unaffected that war and preparation for war have been practically regarded as the chief duty and end of this government, while the arts of peace and production, whereby nations are subsisted, civilization advanced and happiness secured, have been esteemed unworthy the attention or foreign to the objects of this government. It seems to us that this should not always continue, but that we should, as a wise people, reorganize the government so far as to fulfill these duties also, which are suggested by the nature, aspirations and wants of our race as physical, moral and intellectual beings, that it should do something toward protecting the people against those internal enemies ignorance, destitution and vice - - as well as against those foreign foes who may invade or who it is apprehended may assail us."

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.