House of Representatives Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

The House of Representatives chamber in the Vermont State House, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

The current Vermont State House opened in 1859, replacing an earlier building on the same site that had been gutted by a fire in 1857. The layout of the building consists of two floors, with most of the major government functions here on the second floor. The east wing of the building houses the Senate chamber, and the ceremonial governor’s office is on the opposite side of the building in the west wing. In the center of the building, located beneath the dome, is the House of Representatives chamber, which is shown in this scene looking down the central aisle toward the rostrum.

This building was used for the first time during the October 1859 session of the state legislature. Shortly after it opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published a lengthy article about the state house, including the following description of the House chamber:

The Representatives’ Hall is 69 9 by 67 feet, 31 feet high, and is in the form of the letter D. The walls are relieved by pilasters fluted, having bases supported by pedestals and carved capitals, of the Corinthian order, supporting an enriched entablature, from which springs a cove to the flat ceiling, terminating in a moulded border and stopped at each intersection by a moulded pendant. The panels of the cove and ceiling are double sunk, exceedingly well proportioned, moulded and ornamented, and are continued in curves parallel to that of the wall. The centre piece is very graceful in outline and is eighteen feet in diameter, and bears unmistakable signs of originality.

The rear end of this room is finished like the sides, but without the cove at the top of the entablature, and by the skilful treatment of the Architect, has not the heavy stolid appearance of the attic base usually accompanying the natural order of finish. It has neat plain panels proportioned to the place, and in the centre one, directly over the Speaker’s desk, is placed the Coat-of-Arms of the State, carved in wood, gilded and painted, with scroll work at base. It was executed by John A. Ellis of Cambridge, Mass., and is a piece worthy of any artist. The various cornices and panels in the ceiling of the room are enriched with stucco ornaments just sufficient for an easy relief and to give a graceful effect to the whole.

The rear of the Hall has a raised platform, 7 feet wide and 67 feet long, approached by a flight of four stairs on either side of the Speaker’s Desk, protected in front by a black walnut moulded rail rising 6 inches above the floor. The seats on this platform, for the use of the Senate in Joint Assembly, were designed for the place and are appropriate to it. The Bar of the House is 17 by 38 feet, and from it rises at each side the inclined plane, on which are secured the Representatives’ desks and chairs. These are placed on circles, corresponding to the shape of the room. By the arrangement of desks, each Representative has ample room for writing and speaking. The Speaker’s and Clerk’s desks, tho’ plainer in style than that of the President of the Senate, are well proportioned and beautiful in finish.

Although not specifically mentioned in this description, perhaps the most notable decorative feature in the chamber was the massive portrait of George Washington, which is seen here in these two photos. It was painted in 1837 by George Gassner, based on an earlier painting by Gilbert Stuart, and it had originally hung in the old state house. It was rescued from the building during the 1857 fire, and it was subsequently placed in the House chamber of the new state house, where it has remained ever since.

At the time of this building’s completion, the state had 239 representatives, with one representing each town, regardless of population. This meant that Burlington, with an 1860 population of 7,713, had the same representation here as Glastenbury, which had a population of 47. This system would remain in place for the next century, even as the imbalanced worsened, with the state’s cities growing larger, and the small towns getting smaller. Eventually, though, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in the 1960s that established the one man, one vote principle for state legislatures, requiring Vermont and many other states to reapportion their legislatures based on population.

The first photo was taken within about a decade or two after the building was completed, probably in the late 1860s or early 1870s. Perhaps the most notable representative during this period was John Calvin Coolidge, who represented the town of Plymouth from 1872 to 1878. At the time, Coolidge had two young children at home, including his son Calvin, the future president, who was born in 1872. Many years later, the elder Coolidge would serve in the state senate from 1910 to 1912, and his last government position was as a justice of the peace, in which capacity he swore in his son as president in 1923.

Today, around 150 years after the first photo was taken, the House chamber now has far fewer desks for representatives. This was the result of the 1965 reapportionment, when the state legislature reduced the size of the House from 246 to 150, with electoral districts that were based on population rather than town boundaries. Overall, though, the House chamber has remained remarkably well-preserved in its original appearance. It is still in active use by the Vermont House of Representatives, and it is one of the oldest state legislative chambers in the country that has survived without any major remodeling.

Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont

The Vermont State House in Montpelier, around 1904. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The State House in 2019:

With a population of under 7,500, Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the United States, but it has served as the seat of the Vermont state government since 1805. Up until that point, the state had no formally designated capital, so legislative sessions were held in a variety of locations, including at least 13 different towns over the years. The government finally found a permanent home here, and in 1808 the first state house was completed in Montpelier. It was used for the next 30 years, but in 1838 it was replaced by a new, more substantial capitol. Designed by noted architect Ammi B. Young, it featured a granite exterior with a Doric portico, and it was topped by a low, rounded dome.

This second state house stood here until January 6, 1857, when it was destroyed in a fire that had originated in the building’s heating system. By the time it was discovered, the fire had already spread throughout much of the building underneath the floors, and firefighting efforts were further hampered by the below-zero temperatures, which froze water before it could even reach the fire. Many of the books in the state library, along with a number of other important documents were saved, as was a large portrait of George Washington. However, the building itself was completely gutted, leaving only the granite walls and portico still standing by the time the flames were extinguished.

In the aftermath, there was talk of moving the capital elsewhere. The citizens of Burlington wasted no time in throwing their hat in the ring, and within two weeks they had selected a location for a new state house and had pledged $70,000 towards its construction. Ultimately, though, the state legislature chose to remain in Montpelier, and the state house was reconstructed around the surviving walls and portico of the old building. The architect for this project, Thomas Silloway, retained the same basic appearance of the State House, although he expanded it with an extra window bay on either side of the building, along with a larger dome above it. The dome was topped by a gilded wood statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, which was designed by noted Vermont sculptor Larkin Mead.

The new State House was constructed at a cost of $150,000, or about $4.4 million today, and it was completed in the fall of 1859. The beginning of Governor Hiland Hall’s second term coincided with the opening of the building, and he acknowledged the occasion in his inaugural address on October 14:

We meet also for the first time in the new State edifice, and can hardly fail to be favorably and agreeably impressed with its fine proportions and the beautiful style of its finish, and also with the convenience of its arrangements, and the appropriate fitness of its furniture and appendages. The building is indeed a noble and imposing structure, and we may justly be proud of it as our State Capitol. I congratulate you on its completion, and I doubt not you will concur with me that much credit is due to those who have been concerned in its erection, as well for the rapidity with which the work has been pushed forward, as for the neat and substantial manner in which it appears to have been executed.

Upon completion, the first floor of the building housed a mix of offices and committee rooms, along with exhibition space for a natural history collection. The second floor housed the Senate chamber in the east wing, on the right side of the building in this scene, with the House of Representatives chamber in the center beneath the dome, and the governor’s office in the west wing on the left side of the building. The library was also located on the second floor, as were offices for state officials such as the clerk of the house, secretary to the governor, and secretary of state.

The first photo was taken a little under 50 years after the building was completed. By this point, it had been expanded several times, with additions to the rear in 1888 and 1900, as shown in the distance on the left side. Another addition would eventually be constructed in 1987, but overall this view of the state house has hardly changed in more than a century since the first photo was taken. Aside from the dome, which was gilded in the early 20th century, and the statue atop it, which was replaced in the 1930s and again in 2018, the state house has had few exterior alterations. The interior has also remained well-preserved, including both legislative chambers, and the building remains in use as the seat of the Vermont state government.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens at the Little Studio, Cornish, New Hampshire

Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens sitting on the pergola of his Little Studio in Cornish, around 1905. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 2 (1913).

The scene in 2019:

As explained in the previous post, this building was the primary studio of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the last three years of his life, from its completion in 1904 until his death in 1907. It was built on the site of an earlier barn, which Saint-Gaudens had converted into a studio. The new building was similar in size to the old barn, but with a higher roof with more windows for natural light. The barn also had a pergola that Saint-Gaudens had added to the south side, and the new studio featured a similar one, as shown here in these two photos.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens had begun spending his summers here at this property in Cornish in 1885, and it became his full-time residence in 1900, after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Hoping that the rural setting and fresh air would improve both his health and his spirits, he continued his sculpture work here at Cornish. However, his health continued to deteriorate, as shown by his gaunt appearance in the first photo around 1905. By this point, he was working on an ambitious project to redesign American coinage, having been commissioned by Theodore Roosevelt a year earlier. He was only able to finish the designs for the $20 and $10 gold coins before his death, but his $20 coin would go on to become one of the most celebrated coin designs in American history.

After his death in 1907, the property remained in the Saint-Gaudens family until 1921, when his widow Augusta transferred it to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial. This organization maintained the house, grounds, studio, and other outbuildings until 1965, when the National Park Service acquired the property as the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park. Throughout this time, the studio has remained well-preserved on both the interior and exterior, with essentially no visible changes here in this view of the pergola.

Hay Barn Studio, Cornish, New Hampshire

The Hay Barn Studio at the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around 1900. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 1 (1913).

Its replacement, the Little Studio, on the same site in 2019:

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this property in Cornish was the home of prominent sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The main house was built sometime in the early 1800s, and Saint-Gaudens began renting it as a summer home in 1885. He subsequently purchased it in 1891, and it served as his year-round residence from 1900 until his death in 1907. During this time, he made a number of improvements, including building several studios, one of which is shown here.

The first photo shows Saint-Gaudens’s original studio, which was known as the Hay Barn Studio. As the name suggests, it was originally a barn, and it was already standing here when he arrived in Cornish in 1885. He soon converted it into a studio, in a project that included cutting skylights into the roof on the north side. Then, in 1894 he added a pergola to the south and west sides of the barn, as shown in the first photo.

By the turn of the 20th century, the studio was in poor condition, so around 1903 it was demolished and a new studio was built on the site. Completed in 1904 and shown here in the second photo, this building was similar in size and style to the old barn, but with a higher roof and more windows. This was Saint-Gaudens’s personal studio for the last three years of his life, and it was known as the Little Studio, in contrast to the larger building that his assistants used.

The larger studio building burned in 1904, and its replacement, named the Studio of the Caryatids, likewise burned in 1944. However, the Little Studio has remained here ever since, remarkably well-preserved on both the exterior and interior. In 1921, Saint-Gaudens’s widow Augusta transferred this property to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial. This organization maintained the house, studio, and other buildings on the grounds until 1965, when the National Park Service acquired the site as the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens House, Cornish, New Hampshire (2)

The home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around the early 20th century. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 2 (1913).

The house in 2019:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this house was the home of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, who used it as a summer home starting in 1885, and as his full-time residence from 1900 until his death in 1907. The house itself is far older, dating back to the early 19th century, but Saint-Gaudens made substantial improvements to both the house and the grounds. Here in this scene, this included piazzas on both sides of the house, a dormer window above the front door, and stepped parapets next to the chimneys. He also planted Lombardy poplars at the corners of the house, and a honey locust to the right of the front steps.

The first photo was probably taken soon after Saint-Gaudens’s death, and it was published in his biography in 1913, which was written by his son Homer. In 1919, his widow Augusta established the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial, and two years later she transferred the property to this organization, which preserved the house and grounds. Then, in 1964 the site became the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, and it was subsequently acquired by the National Park Service.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene has hardly changed, except for the loss of the Lombardy poplars. The exterior of the house still looks essentially the same as it did in the early 20th century, and even the honey locust is still here, although it has grown substantially larger than the house. The site is still run by the National Park Service, and it remains the only National Park System unit in the state of New Hampshire.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens House, Cornish, New Hampshire

The home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish, around 1885. Image from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Volume 1 (1913).

The scene in 2019:

Augustus Saint-Gaudens was one of the most prominent sculptors in American history, with a body of work that includes many important public monuments, along with the designs for several United States coins. Born in Ireland to an Irish mother and French father, Saint-Gaudens came to America in 1848 when he was six months old, and he subsequently grew up in New York City. Then, in the late 1860s he studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and by the mid-1870s he had established himself as a successful sculptor.

It was a good time to be a sculptor in the United States at the time, given the large number of Civil War monuments that were being built around the country. Many of Saint-Gaudens’s most celebrated works were created in honor of Union heroes from the war, including statues of David G. Farragut, John A. Logan, Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, William T. Sherman, and Abraham Lincoln. In addition to these statues, his other major works included Diana for Madison Square Garden, The Puritan in Springfield, Massachusetts, and the Adams Memorial in Washington, D.C. Near the end of his life, Saint-Gaudens was also commissioned to redesign American coinage, and he supplied designs for new $10 and $20 coins before his death in 1907.

In 1885, in the midst of his career, Saint-Gaudens came to Cornish for the summer, at the suggestion of his friend Charles Cotesworth Beaman. A prominent attorney, Beaman owned several farms in Cornish, including this property, which was known as Huggins’ Folly. Saint-Gaudens and his rented it for the summer, and the first photo was taken on the front lawn at some point during the summer. In the photo, Augustus Saint-Gaudens himself is kneeling in the lower right corner. Standing in the foreground is his wife Augusta, and further to the left is their son Homer, who would have been about five years old at the time. Just to the left of Homer is Saint-Gaudens’s assistant Frederick William MacMonnies, and furthest to the left is his younger brother Louis Saint-Gaudens. Both of these men would become accomplished sculptors in their own right, and MacMonnies also had a successful career as a painter.

The Saint-Gaudens family would return here to Cornish for subsequent summers, and in 1891 he purchased the property from Beaman for $2,500 plus a bronze bust. He renamed it Aspet, after his father’s birthplace in France, and over the years he made a number of improvements, including landscaping the grounds and constructing studios and other outbuildings. As part of the landscaping, a honey locust was planted just to the right of the front steps, probably around 1886. This tree is still here, and now towers over the house in the center of the 2019 photo. Saint-Gaudens also made alterations to the main house, some of which are visible in this scene, including piazzas on either side of the house, a dormer window above the front door, and stepped parapets to replace the earlier sloped ones.

Saint-Gaudens moved into this house year-round in 1900, and he lived here until his death in 1907. This period marked the heyday of the Cornish Art Colony, which flourished in large part because of Saint Gaudens’s influence. During this time, dozens of prominent artists and other public figures spent summers in Cornish and the surrounding towns. Even Woodrow Wilson spent time in Cornish during his presidency, leasing the home of novelist Winston Churchill. The importance of the art colony steadily diminished after Saint-Gaudens’s death, but the town would continue to see prominent residents over the course of the 20th century, including writer J. D. Salinger, who died in Cornish in 2010.

In the meantime, this property remained in the Saint-Gaudens family until 1921, when Augusta transferred it to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens Memorial, an organization that she had established two years earlier. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1962, and then in 1964 it became the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, with the National Park Service acquiring the property a year later. It has remained open to the public ever since, and it features landscaped grounds and gardens, walking trails, several galleries, and one of Saint-Gaudens’s studio buildings. The main house, shown here in this scene, is also open for tours, and its appearance remains much the same as it did when Saint-Gaudens lived here more than a century ago.