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The Capitol Dome: Janes, Fowler, & Kirtland Co.

The New York firm of Janes, Fowler, Kirtland Co. who supplied and constructed the cast iron frame for the Capitol dome was primarily known as a supplier of ornamental iron work as well as the Beebe Range when they were awarded the contract for the dome by the Architect of the Capitol. Chapter 7 of Capitol Builder – The Shorthand Journals of Montgomery C. Meigs, 1853-1859, has more detail about the bidding and the project itself.

From Miscellaneous Documents of the Senate of the United States for the First Session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress (p. 61)

From Miscellaneous Documents of the Senate of the United States for the First Session of the Thirty-Sixth Congress (p. 61)

East Front of Capitol Dome under Construction at the Intersection of North, South, & East Capitol Streets & Capitol Mall. From Historic American Buildings Survey. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/dc0253.photos.025929p/

East Front of Capitol Dome under Construction at the Intersection of North, South, & East Capitol Streets & Capitol Mall. From Historic American Buildings Survey. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/dc0253.photos.025929p/

The Civil War started several years after work on the dome began, but work on the dome continued and workers continued to be paid.  In 1865/1866 the Secretary of War submitted to Congress a report urging them to pay the firm for their work and any damages and additional costs that were not covered by the original contract. The report included the amount and cost of iron used, as well as information about the contract situation and increases in costs for salaries and materials. The very last page contained this quote “But, they had done a considerable amount of work upon the Capitol extension, and they desired the honor and reputation of having their names associated with a work which, in design and execution, has no equal in the ornamental architecture of the world.” They were eventually paid everything owed, including $60,000 that was a result of a special relief act in 1870 – H.R. 1667.

This was just one – albeit huge – project for Janes, Fowler, Kirtland Co, but I wondered who were they and what became of them.

An early article in the October 19, 1859 Commercial Advertiser indicated that the firm of Janes, Beebe & Co. was being dissolved because one of the principles, William Beebe, died (though the Beebe name continued to be used) and its new name was going to be Janes, Fowler, Kirtland. An advertisement from this time period indicated they were located at 356 Broadway at the corner of Reade and Centre where they stayed for a number of years.

Capitol Dome under construction. May 1861. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009631449/

Capitol Dome under construction. May 1861. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2009631449/

Advertisements provided images of their products, like the Beebe Range, bed frames, fountains, flower vases and garden ornaments, gate posts and fencing, roof cresting, railings, as well as the Fox, Janes & Walker Furnace. An advertisement in an 1879 edition of the  Jewish Messenger indicated they also did installation and furnace work for churches, stores, banks, and homes.

Advertisement from Trows Directory, 1890.

Advertisement from Trows Directory, 1890.

A New York Times article on August 17, 1900 indicated that the firm, by then known as Janes & Kirtland and located at 725/727 6th Avenue, failed after debt problems. However, the sons were able to continue operations under that name because there were articles and advertisements that indicated they were still producing iron beds and other furniture. Edward R. Janes, who was head of the firm, died in 1902. His obituary published in the Hartford Courant in 1902 indicated that the firm supplied much of the iron for the Brooklyn Bridge (designed by John A. Roebling who also worked on the Capitol dome). The April 14, 1940 edition of the Herald Tribune ran a piece about the firm’s 100th anniversary which indicated the firm had also supplied iron for the Library of Congress building (now the Thomas Jefferson Building) and the ceilings of the House and Senate chambers. The article indicated their archives also included correspondence about the dome project and Adrian Janes’ 1850 patent for an “apparatus for heating air by hot water.”

By the 1920’s, advertisements for the WHITE HOUSE Units (steel dressers/cabinets enameled in white) indicate the firm moved to the metal kitchen cabinets market. One advertisement was published in the December 1921 issue of Architecture and another in the September 1922 issue of House & Gardens. In 1925 patent 1,560,255 for metal cabinet construction was issued to H.E. (Henry E.) Janes. They continued to make cabinets for a number of years – a February 1940 issue of American Builder and Building Age indicated they had been appointed as a distributor for General Electric Company’s steel kitchen cabinets.

City business directories can be good sources for information and can be used to illustrate the movement and name changes of the firm. But it can still be confusing!

  • Doggett’s 1844/45 directory only listed William Beebe selling ranges at 105 Fulton. However, the next year Adrian Janes was selling furnaces at 120 Fulton and William Beebe selling ranges at the same address, but there was no single firm listed. The 1850/51 Doggett’s lists Janes, Beebe & Co. at 314 Broadway under Gothic Hall, near Duane, and Centre at Reade. The 1857 Wilson directory gave the address as 356 Broadway and 25 ½ Centre.dome3
  • The 1862 Wilson directory listed Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co. still at Broadway and Centre with the principles being Charles Fowler and Charles A. Kirtland and Adrian, Edward R., & George Janes.
  • A New York State Business Directory from 1870 had the firm as Janes, Kirtland & Co. at “Reade Elm Centre” but in the 1876 Trow’s, the firm was listed as Janes & Kirtland at 12 Reade & Winchester Ave. and also has the address as 4, 6, 8, and 10 Reade. An 1879/1880 Trow’s lists Beebe Ranges at 1293 Broadway at the corner of West 33rd and 15 Murray Street & Westchester Ave.
  • An 1884 Trow’s lists them at 19 East 17th and 774 Westchester and Edward and Henry Janes were still officers. Four years later the directory listed them on Westchester, as well as 1346 Broadway and 609 6th Avenue.  A full page advertisement for Beebe Ranges in the 1889/90 New York City Directory clarified locations somewhat — the office and shipping department was at 242 Water, the show room and sales was at 110-116 Beekman, while the foundry was at 744-774 Westchester. The Boyd’s classified directory for 1899 listed the firm at 725-727 6th Avenue – Henry E. and Herbert Janes were principles.
  • I found them in the 1919 and 1929 Phillips’ classified directories under Furnaces, Heaters & Ranges at 133 W 44th but in the 1925 Trow’s the firm was under its own name, as well as under kitchen cabinets and as distributors of WHITE HOUSE LINE Steel Enamel Dressers. A classified directory for New York City and the surrounding areas listed them in the 1939 and 1942 editions under Kitchen Cabinets at 101 Park Avenue – likely a showroom. However, I did not find them in the 1943 edition.

The company records for Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co. for the years 1859-1863 that cover the Capitol project are held by Cornell, but for those that are interested in the architectural aspects, books like Zinc Sculpture in America, 1850-1950, Cast-iron Architecture in America, and a reprint of their 1870 catalog may be of interest.

If you are interested in following the progress or 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.

4 Comments

  1. Steven C. Swett
    August 16, 2015 at 11:24 am

    Dear Ellen – Most grateful for your very fine May 20 piece on Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co. – supplier of the skin and other ironwork for the dome of the US Capitol. I am researching JFK in connection with book on Robert Poole of Poole & Hunt of Baltimore (Woodberry, Md then), who provided columns for peristyle and structural pillars for the dome. Would be most grateful for an opportunity to talk with you outside of this vehicle: by phone, by email, personal visit. Please suggest. Thank you so much.

  2. JE Piper
    February 24, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Very interesting — I think I had been the first one to write about Janes & Kirtland back in 1974 for The Bronx County Historical Society Journal. There was so little material available back then (especially with the limited resources I had at the time, also), and it’s just amazing to find even more on the Internet. It is something I would love to revisit as a writer one day.

  3. Ann Waigand
    December 17, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    I would be interested in getting in touch with the author of this post as well as the two commenters. I have been researching, with the help of a U.S. Capitol Historical Society fellowship, the close personal relationship between Thomas Walter and Charles Fowler, the iron foundry owner who had principal responsibility for the projects at the U.S. Capitol, as well as the iron foundry’s history in general. My research was initially inspired by a collection of Janes, Beebe ornamental ironwork located in South Carolina (an abstract of a presentation I gave on this ironwork is in the References section of the Adrian Janes listing on Wikipedia). Is there a way we can all communicate outside of this blog?

  4. Laura DeGrazia
    August 21, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    I am a descendant of William Beebe, who was born in Hartford, Connecticut, about 1793 and died in Saratoga, New York, July 1859. I wrote about him and his family in “The Family of Adin and Lucy (Crocker) Beebe of New London and Hartford, Connecticut,” published in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register 152 (Oct. 1998): 415-29. Piper’s article in the Bronx County Historical Society Journal was a great help! Charles Kirtland, who became a partner after William’s death, was married to William’s daughter Jane.

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