Under Construction: The U.S. Capitol

U.S. Capitol with scaffolding partially removed. Photo by Lara Szypszak, March 26, 2016.

U.S. Capitol with scaffolding. Photo by Lara Szypszak, March 26, 2016.

After two years, the U.S. Capitol, or more specifically, its dome, is finally emerging from a scaffolding cocoon. The photo at right, taken in March 2016, captures the partially revealed dome of the Library of Congress’ neighbor across the street. The restoration work started in spring 2014 included new paint, and repairing and replacing damaged, rusted or missing pieces of the ornate ironwork which makes up the dome. During that time, the iconic structure has been covered up while dozens of workers returned it to its full glory.

Witnessing the methodical unveiling of a freshly painted and repaired dome inspired me to look through our collections for other views of the Capitol under construction or being renovated.

While maintenance is a continual affair for the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) staff at the sprawling Capitol building, sometimes more intense attention is required, as seen in the 1960 photo (below left) of a column being hoisted into position. Also, on a memorable day in 1993, the Statue of Freedom was airlifted from the dome to be restored at ground level instead of nearly 300 feet in the air atop her normal perch. (Photo, below right.)

 

[Workmen hoisting a column during restoration work on the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.] Photo by Warren K. Leffler, 1960 May 26. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.04924

[Workmen hoisting a column during restoration work on the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C.] Photo by Warren K. Leffler, 1960 May 26. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ds.04924

View of Statue of Freedom airlifted off of the dome - U.S. Capitol, Statue of Freedom. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1993. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1054/photos.361159p

View of Statue of Freedom airlifted off of the dome – U.S. Capitol, Statue of Freedom. Photo by Jack E. Boucher, 1993. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.dc1054/photos.361159p

 

Giving the dome a fresh coat of paint in the 1920s clearly required nerves of steel and no fear of heights!

Painting Capitol dome, 8/26/22. Photo by National Photo Company Collection, 1922 August 26. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/npcc.23293

Painting Capitol dome, 8/26/22. Photo by National Photo Company Collection, 1922 August 26. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/npcc.23293

The interior of any building as old as the Capitol needs attention as well. Here we have the 1857 tile floors being replaced in 1924 with marble.

The tiling which has been in the corridors of the Capitol since 1857 is now being torn up to be replaced by marble. All of the presidents since Lincoln's time have trod this famous flooring and the old tile is much in demand by souvenir hunters. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1924. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.32446

The tiling which has been in the corridors of the Capitol since 1857 is now being torn up to be replaced by marble. All of the presidents since Lincoln’s time have trod this famous flooring and the old tile is much in demand by souvenir hunters. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1924. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.32446

And naturally, the press are a part of the life of the Capitol, and here the press gallery gets refreshed while Congress is out of session in September 1937. (Note the technology used to share fast breaking legislative news – the telegraph!)

New finish for Capitol press gallery. Washington, D.C., Sept. 28. Newspapermen will hardly recognize the house press gallery when they resume "covering" the Hill the next session. Taking advantage of the silent typewriters and telegraphic instruments workmen are busy re-plastering and painting the gallery from top to bottom, 9/28/37. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1937 September 28. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.23424

New finish for Capitol press gallery. Washington, D.C., Sept. 28. Newspapermen will hardly recognize the house press gallery when they resume “covering” the Hill the next session. Taking advantage of the silent typewriters and telegraphic instruments workmen are busy re-plastering and painting the gallery from top to bottom, 9/28/37. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1937 September 28. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.23424

[Construction of Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol, west front], Photo, between 1860 and 1865. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b39203

[Construction of Senate wing of the U.S. Capitol, west front], Photo, between 1860 and 1865. hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b39203

The dome that has recently received so much attention is actually the second dome to grace the U.S. Capitol. When new wings were added to the building in the 1850s and 1860s, the towering cast iron dome replaced the original, smaller copper and wood dome. The photo at right, taken during the U.S. Civil War, offers a view of one of the new wings and the nearly complete dome rising in the background.

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2 Comments

  1. Bruce F
    May 6, 2016 at 10:09 am

    THANK 2 ALL ! bf 5

  2. Martin Patrick
    August 23, 2016 at 1:47 am

    An engaging read I must say. Thanks to the description (with photographs) which shows a light on how the specially perforated dome of the U.S Capitol emerged from a scaffolding cocoon with the help of professional constructors. The phenomenal transition is the result of their blood, sweat, and tears. I’m looking forward to reading such more engaging blogs on home construction and/or remodeling services.

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