Image courtesy of Library of Congress
Prior to the completion of the Jefferson building in 1897, the Library of Congress was located in the Capitol. Pictured above is its c. 1880 location.
On this date, the Library of Congress, then located in a room on the west side of the Capitol, caught on fire. Late in the evening Representative Edward Everett
of Massachusetts noticed a suspicious light in the window near the library as he departed a Capitol Hill dinner party. Everett informed a Capitol Police officer who did not have a key to the library door and dismissed Everett’s concern. The Congressman returned to his nearby home. Other officers, however, saw the glow increase in intensity and summoned the Librarian of Congress, George Watterson, to the Capitol. Watterson and the police discovered a fire on the upper level of the library. Representatives Daniel Webster
of Massachusetts and Sam Houston
of Tennessee arrived at the Capitol along with Everett to assist in fighting the growing blaze. Firefighters arrived and extinguished the blaze before it spread to the ceiling and other sections of the Capitol. After the smoke settled, firefighters determined the cause of the fire was an unattended candle. Damage was not as extensive as the August 1814 inferno, when the British destroyed the Capitol (and most of official Washington, D.C.). Listed among those items lost in the fire were duplicate copies of books and an expensive rug. This was the second blaze in roughly a decade and it prompted Congress to request Architect of the Capitol Charles Bulfinch to investigate flame retardant materials for the library and the Capitol as a whole.