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Fireproofing the Old Hall of the House

Fireproofing the Old Hall of the House/tiles/non-collection/c/c_062imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Fireproofing the Old Hall of the House/tiles/non-collection/c/c_062imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Fireproofing the Old Hall of the House/tiles/non-collection/c/c_062imgtile3.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Description

In this February 1878 letter to Philip Cook, the chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, Architect of the Capitol Edward Clark stressed the “insecure condition, in case of fire” of the Old Hall of the House (now Statuary Hall). During the Patent Office Building fire of 1877, thousands of models and documents were lost. The destruction prompted President Rutherford B. Hayes to create a commission to determine the risk of fire to public buildings in Washington, D.C. The commission included Clark, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Lincoln Casey of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Department of the Treasury architect James G. Hill. They reported their findings to the President, who transmitted them to Congress as a presidential message. In its report of December 1877 the commission noted that the Capitol was generally well fireproofed, but that fire posed a hazard to the oldest parts of the building, including the Old Hall of the House.

Flames had already damaged the Capitol when British troops burned the building in 1814 and during the 1825 fire in the Library of Congress, which at the time was located in the Capitol. Since 1873, Clark had annually recommended that the areas nearest the dome be fireproofed. The walls, ceiling, and roof of the Old Hall were made of wood. Below were storerooms containing paper and other flammable material, creating the potential for a fire that could cause “great damage.” Clark suggested removing all the timber building material and replacing it with fireproof materials. Congress agreed and appropriated the funds to replace the wooden construction with iron and brick.

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