United States Capitol, Approved Extension Design

Washington, DC

1851

On June 10, 1851, President Millard Fillmore approved Walter’s design for the extension wings, each with three porticos and each connected to the original capitol structure with narrow corridors. The cornerstone of the new work was laid on July 4, 1851, the 75th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

 

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United States Capitol, Extension Wings and New Dome

Washington, DC

1855

Construction of the design as depicted here would occupy Walter’s time for the next ten years. During that time he prepared designs for an additional fourteen Federal Buildings including alterations to the Treasury Department and Patent Office, and St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. During his lifetime, Walter was never fully compensated for this additional work. After suing the government, his widow was ultimately awarded $14,000— $1,000 for each of his other Federal commissions.

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United States Capitol Dome, Section

1855

By 1854, Walter convinced both the President and the Congress that the old Bulfinch dome was out of proportion with the significantly larger building. The devasting consequences of the Library of Congress fire caused Congress to look at even more pressing reasons for its replacement.  One congressman noted the “dome over the center building of this Capitol…invites fire. There is a nest of dried materials there...that seems almost to threaten conflagration without the use of the torch—a spontaneous combustion.”

The new dome, based on that of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia, provided a structure that was twice as tall as the original dome, but only 20% heavier. Additionally, the cast iron allowed for the opening of hundreds of windows, thus forever changing the rotunda from a dark and stuffy area to one well ventilated and flooded with light.

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United States Capitol , Library of Congress, Detail of Console

1852

Shortly after work commenced on the Capitol extension in 1851, a catastrophic fire destroyed the Library of Congress, then housed in the central portion of the building. Walter took this opportunity to design what he called “the first room ever constructed with a complete iron ceiling.”  The neoclassical console shown here was also executed in cast iron. The Library of Congress moved out of the Capitol and into its own building in the 1890’s.

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Crowds at Capitol Steps for Lincoln Inauguration

March 4, 1861

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Column Shaft Installation

November 26, 1860

Seen here is Walter, (with hand on hip) and Senator Jefferson Davis. Within a few weeks Davis had left the Senate when Mississippi left the Union .

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Capitol Dome Under Construction

May 15, 1861

By the date of this photo more than 3000 Union troops were quartered in the Capitol, driving Walter from his office, complaining of both odor and lice. All work on the building was halted that day, and the iron contractors were told that they would not be paid until the country’s financial outlook improved. With more than 1.3 million pounds of iron stockpiled on the site, the contractors, Janes, Fowler & Kirtland continued the work without pay. Thus “the sound of the hammer [was never] stopped on the national Capitol a single moment during all our civil troubles.”

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United States Custom House, Elevation

San Francisco, California

1851  

This grand institutional design was the largest of three unsuccessful submissions that Walter made for the San Francisco Custom House in early 1851. By the end of that year he would have a much more lucrative Federal commission, the United States Capitol Extension.

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Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul, Façade Design

Logan Square

Philadelphia, PA

1850

This Romanesque façade design was made after Walter’s protegé,  Napoleon LeBrun, was fired from the Cathedral project. The façade as executed was designed by John Notman but by 1860 the Archdiocese rehired LeBrun to oversee the Cathedral through completion.

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