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The Capitol Dome: The Competition

The exterior restoration on the Capitol dome is winding down. The scaffolding is coming down, and the dome got a fresh coat of paint. Since the interior work is still ongoing, I wanted to write another post.

The first post I wrote two years ago contained an image with a list of some of those people and businesses involved in erecting the dome. Instead of focusing on one firm, Janes, Fowler, & Kirtland, as I did for my second post, this time I wanted to see what the competition was for those firms that got contracts. While the 1863 Washington, D.C. city business directory only provided information for businesses listed in that year and not necessarily all the companies that were in business for the entire project, it still seemed like a good place to start.

Turners1863I started with the turners, where I had expected to see a number of people listed. But as it turns out, there were only three, one of whom was William P. Webb, who ultimately got the job. Maybe the skills involved in turning meant there weren’t many who went into that line of business.

plumbers gassfitters1863Then I moved on to plumbers to see what the competition was like for J. W. Thompson & Co.. It seems that he at least faced a bit more competition, because there were fourteen “plumbers & gasfitters” listed, including Thompson.

I had wanted to focus on the paint and glass sellers separately, but in the directory they were grouped together under “paints, oils, and glass.” I had expected to find more businesses than the four that were listed. I was looking for several firms, including J. N. McGregor, A. Hatch, H. H. McPherson, W. H. Gilman, and S. Roe & Co., none of which were listed. glass oil1863But I had some luck with two of the other names – Howell & Morsell and C. S. Whittlesey. C. S. Whittlesey was listed and sold paints, oils &c., and while Howell & Morsell was not listed, there was one for John W. Morsell who provided glass for the project.

saddles1863The last thing I looked at were the saddle makers. Here I got what I expected, because there were eighteen firms in Washington and Georgetown that sold harnesses, saddles, and tack. While I didn’t see Lutz & Beall listed as a single firm, there were separate listings for Francis A. Lutz and Horatio Beall.

I have read about Washington’s history, written posts, and answered questions about the people, places, and businesses in the nation’s capital, but what I still find interesting, is how much the city has changed geographically. During the war, “Washington” was much smaller than many people may realize. Georgetown was its own place within the District of Columbia while the city of Washington consisted mostly of what is now downtown, the area nearest to the Capitol, and the land down to the Potomac and southwest near the navy yard and the Arsenal. The work of those who lived in Washington and built the Capitol dome lasted over 150 years. Hopefully the work being done now will last even longer.

Early photographic view of Washington, D.C. from Capitol Hill, looking northwest. ca. 1863 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c27628

Photograph of the view of Washington, D.C. from Capitol Hill, looking northwest. ca. 1863 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c27628

If you are interested in knowing more about the current dome restoration project, the Architect of the Capitol has a web page and a page on Pinterest devoted to the restoration as well as a Twitter feed and information on their Facebook page.

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