US Capitol, Washington, DC

The dome of the United States Capitol, seen from the southwest side of the building, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The history of the United States Capitol dates back to 1793, when George Washington laid the cornerstone of the building. It was first used by Congress in 1800, when the south wing was completed, and the north wing followed in 1807. However, the Capitol was burned by British forces during the invasion of Washington in 1814, and it would not ultimately be completed until 1826. At the time, though, the building looked very different from its current appearance. As shown in this earlier post, it consisted of only rotunda, topped by a low dome, and a small wing on either side of it.

It was not until the 1850s that the Capitol began to take on its current exterior appearance. As the nation grew, so did the size of Congress, and this required the construction of new legislative chambers here in the Capitol. This led to new, larger wings next to the old chambers, along with a larger dome to better suit the scale of the expanded building. The new House and Senate chambers were completed in 1857 and 1859, respectively, but the dome would take longer. As discussed in another previous post, it was still very much unfinished at the outbreak of the Civil War, but it was ultimately completed in 1866.

This dome would become the most distinctive part of the Capitol, serving as a symbol for both Congress and the federal government as a whole. Unlike the rest of the building, the dome is made of cast iron, and at 288 feet it is the tallest cast iron dome in the world. It was the work of architect Thomas U. Walter, who based his design on notable European domes, such as those of the Pantheon and St. Paul’s Cathedral. At the top of the dome is the Statue of Freedom, a 19.5-foot, 15,000-pound bronze statue that was designed by sculptor Thomas Crawford and installed in 1863.

By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the Capitol had largely assumed its modern-day appearance. Aside from a late 1950s expansion of the east front, on the opposite side of the building, nearly all of the work done to the building since then has involved conservation and restoration. Today, more than 115 years after the first photo was taken, this particular scene has remained virtually unchanged. However, perhaps the only difference is the level of security at the Capitol. The first photo shows a group of five people descending the steps, but today these steps are closed, and the only public access to the Capitol is through the Capitol Visitor Center, located on the opposite side of the building.

Lyceum, New Haven, Connecticut

The Lyceum, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo was the work of noted photographer William Henry Jackson. Although best known for his late 19th century views of the American West, Jackson later became the president of the Detroit Publishing Company, a leading postcard company of the turn of the 20th century. During his time with the company, he continued to photograph sites around the country, including a visit to New Haven around 1901, where he took the first photo, showing the Old Campus of Yale University.

The dramatic changes at Yale during the late 19th century have been discussed in earlier blog posts, but perhaps no view better illustrates this transition than the first photo, which contrasts the old, soon-to-be-demolished Lyceum on the right, and the new Phelps Hall on the left. The Lyceum was built in 1803 as part of the Old Brick Row, a group of seven brick buildings that once comprised most of Yale. It was originally designed as a recitation hall, but it also served other functions over the years, including housing the school library from 1804 until 1824. In addition, the building received several distinguished visitors in the early 19th century, including the Marquis de Lafayette in 1824 and President Andrew Jackson in 1833.

In 1870, Yale adopted a new campus plan, which called for new buildings along the perimeter of the Old Campus, and a quadrangle in the center. The Old Brick Row stood in the middle of this proposed quadrangle, so the old buildings were steadily demolished in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in order to clear the site. By the time the first photo was taken, many of these buildings were already gone, including North Middle College and the Second Chapel, which had stood in the foreground before being demolished in 1896.

The Lyceum was still standing when the first photo was taken, although the modest Federal-style building looked very out of place in a setting that was otherwise dominated by large, Gothic-style buildings. These included Phelps Hall on the left, which was completed in 1896 with a design that resembled a medieval gatehouse. To the right of Phelps Hall was Welch Hall, a dormitory that was completed in 1891, and in the distance on the far right side was Vanderbilt Hall, another dormitory that was built three years later.

The Lyceum was ultimately demolished in 1901, along with the nearby North College. This left South Middle College, which was located directly south of the Lyceum, as the only remaining building from the Old Brick Row. It too was threatened with demolition in the early 20th century, but it was ultimately preserved, undergoing a major restoration in 1905. Although hidden from view behind the Lyceum in the first photo, it is now visible on the right side of the scene in the 2018 photo. Renamed Connecticut Hall, it now stands as the oldest building on the Yale campus, and it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1965.

Alpha Delta Phi House, New Haven, Connecticut

The Alpha Delta Phi house at 15 Hillhouse Avenue, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This building was designed by local architect William H. Allen, and was completed in 1895 for the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. The Yale chapter of this fraternity had been established in 1836, but it was disbanded in 1873. However, it was revived in 1888, and in 1895 it became one of the school’s junior societies – as opposed to the senior societies such as the Skull and Bones. It moved into this building around the same time, and remained here until the early 1930s. During this time, notable fraternity members included author Stephen Vincent Benét, University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, Time magazine and Life magazine publisher Henry Luce, Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Robert R. McCormick, and playwright Thornton Wilder.

Alpha Delta Phi again disbanded in 1935, and at some point around this time the property here on Hillhouse Avenue was sold to Yale. The fraternity would again return to Yale in 1990, although not to this building. Since 1960, it has been the home of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, and during this time its exterior has seen few changes from the first photo. However, the surrounding area is very different from the turn of the 20th century, and the old fraternity house is now flanked by much larger academic buildings, birth of which are part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Alumni Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Alumni Hall on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Alumni Hall was completed in 1853, at the northwest corner of Yale’s Old Campus. Its was designed by noted architect Alexander Jackson Davis, and its exterior featured Gothic Revival architecture that was similar to the nearby library building, which was completed a few years earlier. On the interior, the building had just a single large room on the first floor. It measured 98 feet long and 46 feet wide, with a 24-foot-high ceiling, providing ample open space for a variety of functions, including alumni meetings. It was also the site of the school’s entrance examinations, along with the biennial examinations that every student had to take at the end of his sophomore and senior years.

Lyman Hotchkiss Bagg, an 1869 Yale graduate, provides a lengthy account of these entrance exams in his 1871 book, Four Years at Yale, including the following description:

At nine o’clock of a summer’s morning, the “candidate for admission to Yale College” presents himself, with fear and trembling, at the door of Alumni Hall. Just within the entrance, he finds a long table behind which two or three officials are seated, and here he hands in his name and “character.” The envelope containing the latter – which is simply a recommendation of his general morality, signed by the principal of his preparatory school, a clergyman, or other responsible person – is laid aside for future examination, and the candidate is forthwith escorted to his seat. This is at a small octagonal table, the counterparts of which, to the number of a hundred or more, are grouped, in rows of four, at convenient intervals throughout the hall.

Further in his account, Bagg explains how only a few candidates finished on the first day. The rest worked until around 6:30 or 7:00, and then returned to Alumni Hall at 8:00 the following morning in order to finish working. Upon completion, students would receive their results. Some would receive a white piece of paper, which indicated that he was accepted into the school, while others would receive a blue paper, which offered only a conditional acceptance. These latter students would then need to retake certain portions of the exam before he could be be admitted into the freshman class.

While the first floor of Alumni Hall had just a single open room, the upper floor was divided into three different rooms. These were originally intended for use by the school’s three major literary and debating societies: the Linonian Society, the Brothers in Unity, and the Calliopean Society. Each contributed toward the $27,000 construction costs of the building, and upon completion the Linonian Society moved into one of the rooms, and the Brothers of the Unity into another. In between these was a third room, which had originally been intended for the Calliopean Society. However, this organization, which had already been struggling to survive, ended up dissolving before the building was completed, and its share of the construction costs was ultimately returned to its donors.

The other two societies remained active throughout the 1850s and 1860s, but they dissolved in 1870, and their sizable libraries were donated to Yale. The college also took over their former meeting spaces, and the three large rooms were subdivided into recitation rooms. By the time the first photo was taken around 1901, Alumni Hall was not yet 50 years old, but it was already one of the oldest buildings at Yale, following the large-scale campus redevelopments of the late 19th century. Nearly all of the old buildings were demolished in order to construct a quadrangle surrounded by new dormitories, which included Durfee Hall on the far right side of the scene. Alumni Hall survived longer than most, but it was was ultimately demolished in 1911 in order to make room for Wright Hall, the dormitory that now stands on the site.

Unlike the nearby Connecticut Hall, whose threatened demolition a decade earlier had provoked a significant outcry, there was little call for the preservation of Alumni Hall. Some of this may have been due to changing architectural tastes, as this style had largely fallen out of favor by the early 20th century. It also may have been due to the building’s long association with grueling exams, as discussed by Clarence Deming in his 1915 book Yale Yesterday. Reflecting on the building’s demolition, Deming wrote about the impression that it made on students:

And as the same mediæval stronghold had its identity with dungeon, rack and thumbscrew, the undergraduate, less in love with the Hall, could readily span the void of fancy and fir the academic castle to the mental tortures of examination – especially the hated and dreaded “biennials,” covering two full years of the curriculum of the time and on which so many an undergraduate bark went to wreck.

Several pages later, he continued on this medieval theme by writing:

. . . [F]ifty years ago, and for three decades after that, each class, for the awful biennials or not much less awesome annuals, was hived in Alumni Hall under conditions of scrutiny which, if reports of the graduate greybeards are true, rivalled the watch and ward of the cardinals at a papal election. It used to be a tradition, probably untrue, that the octagonal tables, originally square, were sawed off as to their corners and octagonized so that the corners might not cover the hidden “crib.” However that may be, it is certain that the examination agonies and glooms of those college times centered in the Hall where the portraits of the college benefactors looking down from the walls seemed redolent of the Spanish Inquisition and Torquemada. With its dull-hued panellings and massive effects, the Hall has indeed offered little æsthetic and visual relief to the chief of its solemn functions.

Today, the only surviving remnants from Alumni Hall are the two towers, which were salvaged when the building was demolished. They were incorporated into Weir Hall, which is located a block away from here at Jonathan Edwards College, and they are partially visible on the right side of the 2018 photo in this earlier post. Otherwise, the only remaining feature from the first photo is Durfee Hall on the right side. It is now used as a freshman dormitory, as is Wright Hall in the center of the present-day scene. It was completed in 1912, a year after Alumni Hall was demolished, and it was renamed Lanman-Wright Hall in 1993, following a renovation of the building.

Vanderbilt Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Vanderbilt Hall, seen from Chapel Street on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

Vanderbilt Hall was completed in 1894, and is named for William H. Vanderbilt II, who died of typhoid fever in 1892, while he was a student here at Yale. He had been the oldest son of Cornelius Vanderbilt II, who donated this four-story dormitory to the school in honor of his son. At the time, it was one of several expensive building projects that Vanderbilt was undertaking, which included a massive expansion of his Fifth Avenue home in New York City, and the construction of The Breakers in Newport. As was the case in these other two projects, Vanderbilt spared no expense in this dormitory. It was built at a cost of about a million dollars – nearly $30 million today – and was designed by noted architect Charles C. Haight, who designed many buildings at Yale and in New York City.

Upon its completion, it was hailed by the Springfield Republican as “The costliest and most magnificent college dormitory in America,” and the newspaper provided a glowing description of the building’s interior:

The halls are spacious, circular in plan, and the staircases are of iron and marble. On entering the hallways, one finds the walls lined with white enameled brick, while the iron stairs have marble footsteps and an artistic railing with wooden top. The floors are paved with tines, some in mosaic work. On each floor are washstands set in a recess, with hot and cold water. In the further part of the entries are the bath-rooms, each of which has a porcelain tub and is lined throughout with handsome gray marble. There are also in each entry trunk elevators running from the top to the bottom of the building. The rooms are wainscoted to a hight [sic] of four feet in paneled oak. The fireplaces are large and constructed with handsome brick, surrounded by wood-work, which extends up over the mantel to a hight of bout [sic] eight feet. A feature of each suite of rooms is the window seat. These seats are made of fine grained oak, and the lower part of each contains two sets of drawers and two closets. The suites will consist in general of a study, 18 by 14 feet, and two bedrooms, each 16 by 8 feet. Most of the sitting-rooms face the court and are lightel [sic] by three windows. A number of the rooms facing the quadrangle have oriel windows, and private vestibules are provided for each apartment where it is practicable. The bedrooms are large, and each is provided with a closet and a small cupboard with shelves.

The construction of Vanderbilt Hall was part of a dramatic shift in Yale’s campus plan. For much of the 19th century, the school consisted of a group of seven brick buildings known as the Old Brick Row. These buildings were constructed between 1752 and 1824, but by the late 19th century they had begun to be surrounded by newer, more ornate Gothic-style buildings. The first to go were South College and the Atheneum, both of which stood on the site of Vanderbilt Hall. They were demolished in 1893, and most of the other buildings in the Old Brick Row soon followed. By the time the first photo was taken less than a decade later, all were gone except for Connecticut Hall, which stands directly behind Vanderbilt Hall and has been preserved as the oldest surviving building on the Yale campus.

Vanderbilt Hall was designed to house about 130 students, and in its early years these included Cornelius “Neily” Vanderbilt III and Alfred Vanderbilt, two of the younger brothers of the building’s namesake. Neily would become estranged from his parents in 1896, when he eloped with Grace Wilson. She had been secretly engaged to William before his death, and Neily subsequently fell in love with her, over his parents’ strenuous objections. As a result, 21-year-old Alfred inherited the bulk of his father’s estate upon his death in 1899. However, like his eldest brother, Alfred also died young. He drowned in the 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, and he is regarded as a hero of the disaster for giving his life jacket to a woman and then attempting to tie life jackets to babies as the ship sank.

Today, Vanderbilt Hall continues to be used as a dormitory. The interior has been renovated several times, but very little has changed in its exterior appearance since the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. Even the fence is still here, and the only significant difference between the two photos is the loss of the massive elm tree in the courtyard. In 1969, when Yale became coeducational, Vanderbilt Hall was used to house the school’s first freshman class of women. It now houses both men and women, with the freshmen of Branford College on one side of the building, and those of Saybrook College on the other side.

Osborn Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Osborn Hall, at the northwest corner of College and Chapel Streets on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This site, at the corner of College and Chapel Streets, was the location of the first building on Yale’s New Haven campus. Established in 1701 as the Collegiate School, it was originally in modern-day Clinton, Connecticut, and it moved several times before eventually coming to New Haven in 1716, where it was subsequently renamed Yale College. The first building, known as the College House, was completed here in 1718. It was the only building on campus during its early years, and it stood here until its demolition in the late 18th century.

By the 1830s, the perimeter of the Yale campus was marked by a rail fence that ran along the streets. Aside from serving as both a literal and symbolic boundary between Yale and the rest of New Haven, the fence also became a popular spot for socializing, where up to several hundred students could be found seated on the rails at any given time. At the time, the fence encircled the Old Brick Row, a collection of late 18th and early 19th century buildings that were set back from the streets. By the late 19th century, though, the school had adopted a new campus plan, consisting of new buildings on the edges of the streets, with a quadrangle where the Old Brick Row had once stood.

As a result, the old fence was steadily replaced by these new buildings, which were constructed over a period of several decades. The last surviving section of the fence was here on this corner, and it remained a popular gathering place into the 1880s. However, this busy intersection was too prominent a space to have occupied by just a rustic rail fence, especially when the school was in the midst of dramatically transforming its appearance. The fence was ultimately removed in 1888, in order to make room for Osborn Hall, which was built on the site.

Osborn Hall was a gift of Miriam Osborn, who gave $150,000 to construct a recitation hall in memory of her husband, Charles J. Osborn. The building was designed by prominent architect Bruce Price, whose subsequent works include the adjacent Welch Hall, and its exterior was an excellent example of Romanesque-style architecture. Even Yale’s rival school praised the design, with the Harvard Crimson declaring, shortly before its completion, that “when finished will be one of the finest buildings belonging to the college, as well as the best equipped building of the kind in the country,” and that “In every way the building is to be as near perfection as it can possible be made.”

The building was largely completed by the end of 1889, and was formally dedicated on January 7, 1890, with college president Timothy Dwight V delivering the keynote address. However, despite its architectural grandeur, the construction of Osborn Hall was highly controversial, especially since it replaced the humble yet much-beloved rail fence. Among the many critics was Isham Henderson, who wrote about it less than a decade later in the February 1899 issue of the Yale Literary Magazine. He viewed the loss of the fence as a sign of the times, epitomizing the Gilded Age emphasis on money, progress, and ostentation. Henderson believed that tradition, such as fence sitting, was more important than a grand new building, writing:

It is by these class customs that college spirit is fostered, and it is in them that a large part of the college training, by many considered larger and more valuable than all the curriculum of the recitation room is acquired. . . . Osborn Hall set a precedent for displacing the old Yale for the new. . . . It lies with the next president to decide whether internal arrangement is to be sacrificed to external show, whether traditions and customs and ‘spirit’ are to go down before the demand for luxuries – or whether the old Yale is to be made into the new by rearranging the interior instead of decorating the exterior, and the old spirit preserved in defiance of wealth and aristocracy.

Regardless of nostalgia for tradition, though, Osborn Hall proved to be further from perfection than the Crimson had predicted. Its location at a busy intersection made it a prominent landmark on the Yale campus, yet this same intersection also made it difficult to hold classes here, because of the unceasing traffic noise just outside the windows. As the first photo shows, this included pedestrians, horse-drawn carriages, and trolleys, and within a few years automobiles would also be added into this mix. This problem was mentioned in the 1915 Reports of the President and Secretary of Yale University, which noted:

There are numerous requests from members of the Faculty for better recitation rooms. Osborn Hall grows more and more unpopular and this building is used under protest. During the year the route of the Winchester Avenue cars has been changed, and this heavy traffic now passes along College Street directly beneath the windows of Osborn, rendering it almost useless for lecture purposes. In order to meet the very reasonable requests of the instructors assigned to these noisy recitation rooms, a large hall on the second floor of the University building on High Street is being fitted up for lecture purposes and will be used for certain classes now held in Osborn Hall.

Osborn Hall was ultimately demolished in 1926, just 36 years after its completion. Its much larger replacement was Bingham Hall, an eight-story dormitory that was named in honor of Cleveland businessman, philanthropist, and Yale graduate Charles W. Bingham, whose children provided funds to construct it. The new building was completed in 1928, with a Gothic-style exterior that blended in with the rest of the campus much better than the Romanesque-style Osborn Hall had managed to do. Bingham Hall is still standing today, as are the neighboring Vanderbilt and Welch Halls, which are barely visible on the far left and far right sides of the first photo.