Franklin and Armfield Office, Alexandria, Virginia

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, around the early 1860s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia was built in 1810. It was originally built as a private residence for Brigadier General Robert Young of the Second Militia of the District of Columbia, but he was forced to sell the home in 1820 due to financial problems. By 1828, the home was leased, and eventually bought by infamous slave traders, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. Franklin and Armfield were the largest slave traders in the United States between 1828 and 1836, and the Duke Street home was turned into their main office.

Since the transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1808, Franklin and Armfield would send agents across Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in search of slave owners who were willing to part with their slaves for relatively cheap prices. The enslaved people would then be shipped back and held in the high-walled courtyards surrounding the offices (Seen to the left and right of the house in the top picture). In these courtyards, the enslaved people were subject to brutal beatings, rapes, and countless other forms of cruel control. Rapes were so frequently done by Franklin and Armfield to their slaves, that they bragged about them in letters between each other, and both men would father children to enslaved women in their captivity. Franklin would later go on to sell the woman he raped and the child he fathered with her. A two-story extension was added to the back of the building to serve as jail cells. These cells could be used to isolate certain slaves but were more often rented out by travelling slave owners who wanted to keep their slaves on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

Due to a surplus of enslaved people in the Upper South, slaves did not fetch high prices in Alexandra. The enslaved people were typically kept in the home’s courtyards until enough of them were bought for them to all be shipped together or marched to their offices in Natchez and New Orleans. Once in the Deep South, they could be sold at much higher prices than they were bought for in Virginia. It’s estimated that Franklin and Armfield sold between 1,000-2,000 people each year, transporting all of them by way of cramped slave ships or forced marches across the South.
By 1836, Franklin decided to retire, and his partner Armfield decided to sell off most of the business. He sold the Duke Street offices to another slave trader, George Kephart. He would continue the practice of selling slaves until he sold it to yet another slave trading firm, Price, Birch & Co. in 1858.

Price, Birch & Co. would become infamous not for their volume of slaves sold, but rather for one particular man that they enslaved. Solomon Northup, a freed slave from Saratoga Springs, New York was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841. He was shipped down to New Orleans where we was bought by a planter and re-enslaved. It would take Solomon 12 years before he would once again gain his freedom with the help of Samuel Bass. A Canadian working on the plantation, Samuel was able to get word back to New York about Solomon’s re-enslavement. After an appeal to the Governor of New York, Solomon was granted his freedom in 1853. Solomon would later go on to write his famous memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. In his memoirs, Solomon named his kidnapper as “Burch”, but it’s largely been accepted that the man he was talking about was James H. Birch, of Price, Birch & Co. in Alexandria. It should be noted though that Solomon Northup does not appear to have actually passed through the Alexandria slave pens, only that Birch used the building as his offices. Price, Birch & Co. would go on to own the building until the Civil War, when it was occupied by Union Forces in 1861. During the Civil War the slave pens were ironically, used as jail cells for captured Confederate soldiers.

After the Civil War, a railroader by the name of Thomas Swann bought the property in 1870 and tore down the slave pen extension. The buildings exterior also underwent changes that give it its modern appearance, such as the fourth story windows being added as well as the arches over the windows on the front façade. The property changed hands multiple times over the last century, serving as apartments for most of that time before being sold in 2017 to the Northern Virginia Urban League. Today, the building has been re-named the Freedom House, and features a museum to the building’s history on the first floor, and offices for the Northern Virginia Urban League on the upper floors.

Vermont State House, Montpelier, Vermont (2)

The Vermont State House, seen from State Street in Montpelier, around 1865-1875. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The scene in 2019:

As explained in more detail in an earlier post, the current Vermont State House was completed in 1859, replacing an earlier building that stood here on this same site. The older state house had been built in 1838, and was designed by prominent architect Ammi B. Young. It burned in 1857, leaving only the outer granite shell still standing, and it was subsequently reconstructed by architect Thomas Silloway, who incorporated the columned portico and portions of the old walls into the new building.

The first photo was taken within about a decade or two after the building was completed. In front of the building is State House Park, which featured a liberty pole, as shown in the foreground. Behind the state house is Hubbard Hill, which provides a pastoral backdrop for the smallest capital city of any state in the country.

Today, around 150 years after the first photo was taken, the state house remains in use as the seat of Vermont’s government. The liberty pole is long gone, and Hubbard Hill is now far more forested than it had been in the 19th century, but the state house itself has seen few changes. The dome was gilded in the early 20th century, and the statue of Ceres above the dome has been replaced several times, but overall the building remains well-preserved on both the exterior and interior.

Senate Chamber, Montpelier, Vermont

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

The scene in 2019:

Vermont originally had a unicameral legislature, but in 1836 the state added a senate, which consisted of 30 members elected from Vermont’s 14 counties. Each county was guaranteed one senate seat, and the remaining seats were allocated to the counties based on population. By contrast, the Vermont House of Representatives was comprised of one representative from each town, regardless of population, which gave a disproportionately large voice to the state’s many sparsely-populated towns. In this sense, representation in the Vermont state legislature was essentially the opposite of the U. S. Congress, where each state has two senators but a varying number of representatives.

The present state senate chamber, shown here in these two photos, has been in use since 1859, when the current state house was completed. It is located in the eastern wing of the building, and these two photos show the view looking down the central aisle from the rear of the chamber. Shortly after the state house opened, the Vermont Watchman & State Journal published an article about the building, which included a lengthy description of the senate chamber:

The Senate Chamber . . . is elliptical in form, 46 by 38 feet, 22 feet high, adorned with Corinthian fluted columns, having carved capitals, supporting an entablature, from which springs a cove ceiling, continuing the outline of the ellipse.

This ceiling is moulded and enriched in panels, having counter curved heads ornamented in stucco, and bead and button mouldings in the beams, terminating in a moulded rim of elliptical form, surrounding yet other ornamental panels, with circular returns and ornaments in between, on the flat of the ceiling, converging to the centre piece, from which is hung a massive twelve light chandelier. The lobbies are adorned with fluted columns, having bases and Corinthian capitals, resting on a pedestal, and supporting an entablature and open balustrade of the gallery. In front of the balustrade and fitted between the rails and base is a neat marble-faced clock.

The lobbies are parallel to the curve of the room, returned by a quarter circle to the wall. The President’s desk is of solid black walnut, of highly ornamental pattern, designed by the Architect especially for the place, and made, as was also the Secretary’s table, and the furniture and upholstery of the entire building, by Blake & Davenport, of Boston, under the immediate direction of John A. Ellis. The desk is curved and irregular in outline, paneled and cvarved, and has at each projection in front a carved buttress, and in the centre panel the coat of arms of the State of Vermont is elegantly carved.

The Senators’ desks and chairs are designed and arranged so as to give ample space for the comfort and convenience of Senators. The furniture throughout the building is of black walnut. The carpeting, which was furnished by Lovejoy & Wood, of Boston, is excellent in quality and well adapted to the various rooms.

The first photo was taken within a decade or after this description was published. Like the nearby House of Representatives chamber, the Senate chamber has remained largely unchanged since then. In this scene, the only significant difference is the addition of two computer desks in front of the rostrum.

The Senate itself has also retained the same basic structure over the years, unlike the House, which was dramatically altered by reapportionment in 1965. The only major difference is that the Senate districts no longer strictly follow county lines; some districts include towns from neighboring counties, in order to ensure equal representation. In addition, two of the smaller counties, Essex and Orleans, have been combined into a single district, making 13 total districts. However, as was the case in the 19th century, these districts continue to have multiple members based on population. They range from the three smallest, which only have one senator each, to the largest, Chittenden, which has six senators in its district.

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.

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.

Keene Mansion, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The Keene Mansion at the northwest corner of Tenth and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia, on March 5, 1860. Image courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia, Frederick De Bourg Richards Photograph Collection.

The scene in 2019:

The three-story brick house in the first photo was completed around 1815 as the home of Major David Lenox, a Revolutionary War officer who became a prosperous merchant after the war. Lenox had also held several government positions during the late 18th century, including as U.S. Marshal for the District of Pennsylvania and as a diplomat to the United Kingdom. He lived here for a little over a decade, until his death in 1828, and after his wife Tacy’s death in 1834 the property went to her niece, Sallie Lukens Keene.

Keene was still living here when the first photo was taken in 1860, having carefully maintained the original appearance of the house, including its exterior architectural details and its interior furniture. However, by this point the city had begun to grow up around the elegant mansion, which was joined here by less fashionable buildings, including a billiards hall across the street on the far left side of the photo.

Sally Keene died in 1866, and her heirs subsequently sold the property, which had become valuable commercial real estate. The old house was demolished in 1872, and the site was redeveloped as the offices of the New York Mutual Life Insurance Company. This building was completed in 1873 and subsequently expanded in the early 1890s with the addition of the top three floors. It is still standing here today, and although it is much different than the Federal-style mansion that it replaced, the building has become an important landmark in its own right, having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.