B.B. French – Blogger Extraordinaire
Long before the advent of Twitter, Facebook and blogs – there were journals. 150 years ago this month saw one of the most transformative periods in the construction of the United States Capitol along with the historic address by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. One individual captured these events both as a witness, and as participant, capturing first-hand details of moments that shaped history.
Benjamin Brown (B.B.) French served as Commissioner of Public Buildings in 1863. In this role, he was responsible for oversight of all federal buildings in Washington, D.C., including the U.S. Capitol.
150 years ago today, on Friday, November 6, 1863, French witnessed the installation of the iron columns of “lanthorn” [tholos] at the top of the Capitol Dome, and the placement of the Columbus Doors in the Capitol. He captured his thoughts of these events in his journal:
“We have not had so disagreeable a day by the way of wind and dust for months, as this is. I was down in the city for two or three hours this forenoon and came near being suffocated. Pa Avenue was one cloud of dust from end to end, and it was nearly as much as one’s life was worth to pass up or down 7th St. the wind being N.W. seemed to whirl all through that street in every direction.
For the week past the workmen have putting up the bronze doors made by Randolph Rogers, between the old and new Halls of the Ho. Reps. in the Capitol. The doors are now in place and are magnificent. They embody in the semicircle over the transom, and in the panels, the history of Columbus. They are a study for a month, and after the brick work is filled in & the entire job finished, I intend to study them at my leisure.
The first iron column of the lanthorn of the Dome was put in its place this morning. The others will follow, and the place for “Freedom” to stand upon will soon be ready. The outside of the Dome will now be completed in a few weeks. It will take at least a year to finish the inner Dome, which is to be very highly ornamented.
When the Capitol is finished, if ever such an event occurs, it will be in every respect, a noble building, and will contain hundreds of things worth the study of the connoisseur in the Fine Arts – Mechanics – etc….”1
These remarkable insights provide us further inspiration as the Architect of the Capitol prepares to restore the Capitol Dome and celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Statue of Freedom’s placement atop the Dome on December 2.
1Excerpted from: French, Benjamin B., Donald B. Cole, and John J. McDonough. Witness to the Young Republic: A Yankee's Journal, 1828-1870. Hanover, NH: University of New England, 1989. Print.