Home for the Interior Department and
Bureaus Under Its Direction
Wings to Patent Office Authorized March 3, 1849
Pension Office for Long Period Quartered in
Winder Building -- Other Structures Rented

By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 4, 1915 [p. 10]

The act of March 3, 1849, authorizing the new Home or Interior Department, conferred powers of supervision and appeals on the new Secretary over the general land, patent, Indian affairs and pension offices, and also over the census accounts, etc. These bureaus were somewhat scattered, the land office in the third story of the Treasury, the patent office in its own building, the Indian affairs in the War Department and the pension bureau in the Winder building. The last named building was erected on the site of the old yellow printing office of Alexander & Bernard, by Charles H. Winder, about the time the bill was passed. He first rented it to the government for the accommodation of such offices as could not find accommodations in the department buildings. After paying nearly $90,000 in rent, the government purchased the building in 1855 for $200,000. It is still in possession of the government, and has been enlarged.

The patent office having less than half a dozen employes prior to 1836, when it was burned, had increased to about thirty clerks, and it then included the germ of the Department of Agriculture, the museums, etc. The Indian affairs were administered by about fifteen clerks. The pension bureau, located first in the War Department basement, with four or five clerks, had occupied rooms in a building opposite the department, before taking rooms in Winder's building with about twenty clerks.

Eighty Employes in Land Office
The land office had about eighty employes, among them some who had entered the service as messengers and worked themselves up through all the clerical grades to the heads of bureaus. Some who entered the service at small salaries, not only reached prominent places in the departments, but after leaving the government employ were numbered among Washington's most wealthy citizens. In one case, W.J. Sibley, a messenger at $750 per year, became known to the general public as a philanthropist, a hospital endowed by him bearing his name. Others rose in political life, one, William H. English, serving in Congress from 1853 to 1861, and in 1880 Became a candidate for Vice President. Some of the "lame ducks" of the House found places as government clerks.

The government had no building for the new department, but at the time the crowded condition of the Treasury having made rental necessary, a building on the southwest corner of 15th and F streets, occupied by some of the Treasury clerks, afforded accommodations. The new Secretary found a chief clerk was provided for, but the other clerks were detailed from the several bureaus named and the Secretary employed half a dozen others on his own responsibility, looking to the approval of Congress, D.C. Goddard was the chief clerk, and a young man from Ohio was placed in charge of the appointment desk. It was customary for him to file letters asking for places, and letters of endorsement, in the pigeonholes.

Abraham Lincoln an Applicant
Among the applicants for the position of commissioner of the general land office was Abraham Lincoln, whose term as a representative in Congress had just expired. One of the clerks many years ago told the writer that in a little time Mr. Lincoln had filed so many letters with his application as to make it necessary to provide a special receptacle for them on the top of the desk; that Mr. Lincoln called daily with a number of letters and cheerily greeted them with "Good morning, gentlemen; here are some more to add to the pile." Then he would reach his long arm over and drop them into the box.

After a few weeks, when Gen. Ewing was attending a cabinet meeting, a messenger called for the papers on file for this appointment. The clerk hastily did the papers of each applicant up into bundles, and, whether intentionally or by carelessness, he bundled up only a small portion from Mr. Lincoln's box. Those were sent to the President and the result was unfavorable to Mr. Lincoln.

Learning of this, he went to the President and asked if he had seen certain letters and received the reply that he had not. He thereupon called on the Secretary who at once inquired into the matter and found many letters that had not been sent to the President. The Secretary, at once transferred the young clerk to a land office out west. He wanted Mr. Lincoln to accept some other position, but the offer was declined.

"I have often thought," said the old clerk, "that the young man did a good deed for the American people, accidentally or otherwise, for had Mr. Lincoln became commissioner of the land office he most likely would never have been President. But few occupants of that office can serve their full terms without making enemies."

Secretary Ewing Resigns
Mr. Ewing continued as Secretary until after the death of President Taylor, when he resigned. Ex-Senator Pearce of Maryland declined the position and Chief Clerk Goddard acted for a few weeks until Mr. McKennan of Pennsylvania was confirmed. The latter, however, served but a few days in August, and Mr. Goddard again became the ad interim Secretary till September 15, 1850, when A.H. Stuart of Virginia became Secretary and served to the end of the administration.

On the same date, March 3, 1849, the organization of the department was authorized, and appropriation was made toward the erection of the wings to the patent office and but little was expended during the year. This appropriation of $50,000 was followed by others, and in the following year more than $100,000 was expended on the construction.

While the east wing was being erected the office of Secretary of the Interior was separated from the bureaus, but the Secretary proposed that the department should establish its head in this building as soon as there were accommodations therefor. This use was sanctioned by the act of September 30, 1850. The patent office, however, was growing at a rapid rate, and the law at the time calling for models with applications for patents, made it necessary to secure room for them. The further claim was made that the patent office was not only self-supporting, but was accumulating a large surplus, and that if the department moved in there would be no room for that office. Congress, however, thought otherwise and made appropriations for the department, and also an appropriation for the erection of the west wing. The department moved into the east wing, which had been completed about 1853.

Location of Indian Office
Soon after the Indian office was moved from the quarters in the Winder building to a building on the east side of 7th street between E and F streets. The continuation of the west wing of the department building was authorized by act of August 31, 1852, and the erection of the north front by the act of 1856. The whole was about completed in 1867, costing in round figures two and a half million dollars. Owing, however, to a change of grade which placed the south entrance high up in the air a further expenditure of about $250,000 was required. Before the building was entirely taken up for government purposes the uses made of some portions were varied. Long before the entire court was enclosed the Maryland Cadets, a crack military company of Baltimore, held an encampment about the center of the square. There was also held there in the fifties a fair of the Metropolitan Mechanics' Institute. Rhode Island troops in 1861 were quartered here, and in 1865 Lincoln's second inaugural ball took place in the east model saloon. The west wing was completed about 1855 and soon thereafter the land office moved from the twenty-six rooms it had occupied in the third story of the old Treasury building.

Other Public Buildings
The extension of the post office on the northern portion of the square was authorized by the act of March 3, 1855, and the work was continued through war times until about 1866, costing nearly one and three-quarter millions of dollars. It housed that department with its auditor until the erection of the new building south of the Avenue between 11th and 12th streets, covering the entire square.

The extension of the Treasury was authorized by the act of March 3, 1855, and the work extended over the war period, costing somewhat over six millions of dollars. The old State Department there was demolished and the erection of the State, War and Navy building blotted out the two executive buildings remaining.