Whereas: Stories from the People’s House

If These Walls Could Talk

A major renovation of the Cannon House Office Building began in late 2014, uncovering some surprises. Artifacts pulled from the trenches and walls of the building during the restoration tell the story of the structure and its workers.

Cannon House Office Building Floorplans/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-floorplan_2002_045_000-1.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Architects drew up these floorplans for the Cannon House Office Building in 1929, 21 years after the building opened.

The House’s First Office Building

The first office building of the House, the Cannon Building opened in 1908. Before its construction, most Representatives had neither an office nor a staff—only a desk and chair in the crowded, loud House Chamber. Speaker Joe Cannon used his influence to push plans for the office building forward in the early 1900s. The structure allotted each Member a room, which quickly filled with bustling staff, hand-carved furniture, and modern amenities like running water and telephones. Although the Beaux-Arts edifice was originally called the “House Office Building,” it was renamed to honor Cannon in 1962.

More than a century after the Cannon Building’s construction, a substantial renovation by the Architect of the Capitol sought to repair its structure and improve functionality. In the House’s walls and elevator shafts, employees have discovered unexpected artifacts dating to the building’s construction.

Finley & Son Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-finleybottle_2016_087_004-2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A bottle from Finley & Son, a local bottling company, was discovered during a renovation of the Cannon Building.

Bottled Up

Inside corridor walls, workers found bottles and cans, evidence of drinks both hard and soft. A broken glass bottle, coated with a layer of dirt, casts an opalescent sheen. F. H. Finley & Son, a local bottler with an address on Massachusetts Avenue only a few blocks from the Capitol grounds, manufactured the bottle around the time the Cannon Building opened. The company bottled beer, soda, and mineral water, among other drinks. Still legible after a hundred years, the glass warns: “This bottle not to be sold.”

Rock Creek Ginger Ale Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-rockcreekbottle_2018_062_005-3-v2.xml Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Based on artifacts found during the Cannon Building renovation, Rock Creek Ginger Ale was a favorite thirst-quencher on Capitol Hill.
Excavations of other corridors uncovered bottles from Coca-Cola, Ball, Old Crow, Nehi, Pepsi-Cola, and Monumental Brewing. Although some drinks appear to have been consumed around the time of the building’s construction, other bottles date from much later. Workers found a ca. 1964 Budweiser can, mildly crumpled, in the building’s old roof. Exterior digging near the south side of the building unearthed several bottles of Rock Creek Ginger Ale. Founded in 1920, the Rock Creek Ginger Ale Company bottled refreshing beverages in Southwest Washington, DC. Workers—or perhaps even Representatives—might have enjoyed their cool, fizzy drinks during a break outside the building and left the bottles without realizing the objects would be exhumed decades later.

Click through the image viewer below to see more photos of found bottles and cans.

Hats Off

Inside a crawlspace near an elevator, work revealed a bowler hat. A layer of reddish dirt caked the black hat, and several large dents studded its rounded top. Under the bowler’s curved brim clung barnacle-like accretions.

Bowler Hat Uncovered in a Crawlspace/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-bowler-found-aoc_2018_124_002.xml
Image courtesy of the Architect of the Capitol
About this object
Workers uncovered a bowler hat in a crawlspace.
Bowler Hat before Conservation/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-bowler-unconserved_2018_124_002-8.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
The hat was covered in dirt, and barnacle-like accretions were visible on the underside.
Bowler Hat after Conservation/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-bowler-conserved_2018_124_002-9.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A conservator reversed the damage to the artifact.
Monumental Brewing Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-monumentalbottle_2018_062_009-3.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Monumental Brewing bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Coca-Cola Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-cocacolabottle_2016_087_005-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Coca-Cola bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Ball Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-ballbottle_2016_087_007-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Ball bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Pepsi-Cola bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-pepsibottle_2018_062_007-3.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Pepsi-Cola bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
National Bohemian Can/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-nationalbohemiancan_2016_087_002-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives National Bohemian beer can found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Nehi Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-nehibottle_2016_087_003-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Nehi soda bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Old Crow Bottle/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-oldcrowbotttle_2016_087_001-2.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Old Crow bourbon whiskey bottle found during the Cannon Building renovation.
Budweiser Can/tiles/non-collection/4/4-4-cannon-found-objects-budweisercan_2018_062_001-4.xml
Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives Budweiser can found during the Cannon Building renovation.
The hat probably dates from the original construction of the Cannon Building. A worker may have worn it while constructing the office building, as hard hats were not developed until later. A leather band inside the hat bears an embossed logo reading: “Abe Minster, Under National Hotel, Washington.” Abraham Minster operated a gentlemen’s clothing and hat store at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW at the National Hotel around the turn of the 20th century. In 1908, the year that the Cannon Building opened, Minster closed his shop. His inventory, including hats, went to another shop, which sold the stock for a bargain at half-price. The hat was most likely purchased from Minster’s shop before it closed in 1908. A thin metal band encircles the hat near the ribbon band. This band may have been an attempt to keep a too-large hat in place atop its owner’s head. If so, the effort was unsuccessful, because the bowler still managed to tumble down into the crawlspace.

Forgotten for more than a century, the hat emerged in 2018. A conservator treated the artifact, removing debris and growths that would have damaged the material. However, the glass bottles recovered during the excavation are unharmed by dirt, so they remain preserved in the House Collection as they were found.

Sources: Washington Post, 23 February 1978; and Washington Times, 18 March 1908.