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 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.

Old Constitution House, Windsor, Vermont

The Old Constitution House on North Main Street in Windsor, Vermont, around 1927. Image from The Birthplace of Vermont; a History of Windsor to 1781 (1927).

The scene in 2019:

Vermont is one of several states that was arguably an independent nation prior to statehood. Although never formally recognized by any foreign nation, the lightly populated, mountainous land between New Hampshire and New York was a de facto country between 1777, when it declared its independence, and 1791, when it voted to join the United States as the 14th state. Since then, Vermonters have retained a high degree of independence, particularly when it comes to political thinking. However, Vermont’s 1777 independence had less to do with lofty political ideals, and more to do with practical necessities.

Prior to the American Revolution, both New Hampshire and New York claimed the territory that would become Vermont, and both issued land grants to settlers here. These grants often conflicted with one another, leading to conflict between the two groups of settlers. The British government recognized New York’s claims, but a band of New Hampshire-affiliated settlers, led by Ethan Allen, formed the Green Mountain Boys in 1770 to protect their interests. Over the next few years this led to instances of violence, most notably the Westminster Massacre, when two protesters were killed by a New York-affiliated sheriff at the Westminster courthouse in March 1775.

The settlers with New Hampshire grants ultimately gained control of much of the territory, and on January 15, 1777 they declared independence, at the same courthouse in Westminster where the massacre had occurred. In the declaration, the new state was named the Republic of New Connecticut, but several months later the name was changed to Vermont, which is based on the French name for the Green Mountains, les verts monts. From here, the next step was to draft a constitution to organize the new government. So, on July 2, 1777 the 72 delegates to the Vermont constitutional convention met here in Windsor, in the tavern of Elijah West. This building, which is shown in these two photos, was originally located on Main Street in the center of Windsor, although it has subsequently been moved twice over the years.

Unlike the United States Constitution, which took an entire summer to draft in 1787, the Vermont delegates created their constitution here in a week. They borrowed heavily from the Pennsylvania constitution, largely copying its structure and, in many cases, its exact wording. Among the features of the Vermont constitution was a declaration of rights, which guaranteed rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, trial by jury, freedom from search and seizure, and free elections for all men in Vermont.

However, perhaps the most significant provision in the constitution’s declaration of rights—and one of the few not copied from Pennsylvania—was the first one, which abolished slavery among adults. This was the first constitution in the present-day United States to do so, although it proved difficult to enforce. Nonetheless, it was an important first step in ending slavery, and within less than a decade many other northeastern states had begun gradual abolition or, in the case of Massachusetts, outlawed it entirely.

The finished document was signed here in this building on July 8, 1777, and it went on to serve as Vermont’s constitution for much of the state’s time as a de facto independent nation. However, it was subsequently replaced by a new document in 1786, which was in turn followed by the current state constitution in 1793, two years after Vermont joined the union as the fourteenth state.

In the meantime, this building here in Windsor reverted to its primary use, and it remained a tavern until 1848. Then, around 1870 it was moved to a new location, where it was used first as a tenement house and then later as a warehouse. By the turn of the 20th century it was in danger of being demolished, but it was ultimately preserved and, in 1914, moved to its current location on North Main Street, just to the north of the village center.

The first photo was taken a little over a decade after the move. At the time, it was owned and operated as a museum by the Old Constitution House Association, which had been responsible for saving the building. Nearly a century later, very little has changed in this scene. The property was transferred to the state in 1961, but it continues to serve as a museum, and it stands as one of the oldest surviving  buildings in Vermont. Because of its significance as the birthplace of Vermont, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, and it is also a contributing property within the Windsor Village Historic District, which was established four years later.

Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia

The Marshall House at the corner of King and Pitt Streets in Alexandria, around 1861-1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Marshall House in Alexandria, VA was built in 1799, originally as a tavern and inn called the Washington Tavern. Some time around the mid-1820s, the name of the tavern and inn was changed to the Marshall House, and by the eve of the Civil War it had become a popular meeting spot for secessionists. One of these secessionists was the recently hired manager of the Marshall House, James W Jackson. Jackson was a fiery secessionist, and months before the firing on Fort Sumter, decided to raise a massive, 18 foot wide Confederate flag up the flagpole that stood at the top of the Marshall House. The flag was so large and conspicuous, that it was reported to have been able to be seen with a spyglass from Washington, DC. To protect his flag, Jackson borrowed a ceremonial cannon from his neighbor and placed it in the backyard of the tavern facing the front door. Exclaiming that the flag would be removed over his dead body, his words would end up becoming perfectly prophetic.

May 24, 1861 marked the day that the Union Army began their advance across the Potomac river into Virginia. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, close friend of President Lincoln and commander of the famous New York Fire Zouaves (11th New York Infantry), was tasked with cutting telegraph wires leading out of Alexandria. As Ellsworth marched past the Marshall House though, he felt it was his sole duty to first remove the flag of secession from the top of the tavern. Taking Private Francis E. Brownell with him, Ellsworth managed to make his way up to the roof of the tavern and remove the flag. On their descent though, they were surprised by Jackson pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Ellsworth. Jackson immediately shot Ellsworth in the chest, killing him instantly. Simultaneously, Private Brownell shot Jackson in the face and bayoneted him, killing him instantly as well. This incident at the Marshall House would mark the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. Ellsworth’s body would be sent to the White House for public mourning, while Jackson’s actions made Southerners view him as their first martyr of the war.

During and after the war the Marshall House attracted many tourists, soldiers and civilians alike. Many took souvenirs of the carpet, floorboards, or the outside signage. In 1873 most of the tavern burned down by an arsonist. Only the brick exterior remained after the fire. The building was restored after the fire, although with many Victorian style decorations added to the exterior. By the time the Marshall House was razed in the 1950s for downtown development, it resembled little of how it did during the Civil War.

Fittingly enough, the spot where the Marshall House was is today a hotel. The latest iteration of the site is The Alexandrian Hotel, owned by Marriott Bonvoy. Nothing currently marks the spot where Ellsworth and Jackson died, although up until recently there was a plaque on the side of the hotel posted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that read:

THE MARSHALL HOUSE
stood upon this site, and within the building
on the early morning of May 24,
JAMES W. JACKSON
was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and
personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
He was
the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.

Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle,
he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and
the sacred soil of his native state.
VIRGINIA

Marriott Bonvoy seems to have quietly removed the plaque after pushback from the community.

Interestingly, the Marshall House also played a much smaller role in the Civil War. In 1859, the tavern issued tokens with an image of Minerva in profile on them. Tokens from private businesses were common before the war in both the North and the South. People hoarded metal coinage, believing their value would go up once war started. To counteract this, many businesses made their own tokens made from less valuable metals to help stimulate commerce. The tokens from the Marshall House eventually made their way down to Richmond, where the engraver Robert Lovett, Jr. used its image of Minerva as an exact model for his Confederate cent prototypes.