Thomas Ustick Walter
|Architect of the Capitol
June 11, 1851 –May 26, 1865
| Millard Fillmore
|October 30,1887 83) (aged
Thomas Ustick Walter
| Moyamensing Prison
| United States Capitol dome
Philadelphia City Hall
Thomas Ustick Walter (September 4,1804 – October 30,1887) was the dean of American architecture between the 1820 death of Benjamin Latrobe and the emergence of H.H. Richardson in the 1870s. He was the fourth Architect of the Capitol and responsible for adding the north (Senate) and south (House) wings and the central dome that is predominantly the current appearance of the U.S. Capitol building. Walter was one of the founders and second president of the American Institute of Architects. In 1839,he was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.
Born in 1804 in Philadelphia,Walter was the son of mason and bricklayer Joseph S. Walter and his wife Deborah.His grandfather,Frederick Jacob Walter emigrated from Germany in 1749 and arrived as an orphan after both parents died at sea. Walter was a mason's apprentice to his father. He also studied architecture and technical drawing at the Franklin Institute.
Walter received early training in a variety of fields including masonry,mathematics,physical science,and the fine arts. At 15,Walter entered the office of William Strickland,studying architecture and mechanical drawing,then established his own practice in 1830.
It has been suggested that Walter designed the Second Empire-styled Quarters B and Quarters D at Admiral's Row in Brooklyn,New York.[ citation needed ]
The most famous of Walter's constructions is the dome of the U.S. Capitol. By 1850,the rapid expansion of the United States,and thus the U.S. Congress,had caused a space shortage in the Capitol. Walter was selected to design extensions for the Capitol. His plan more than doubled the size of the existing building and added the familiar cast-iron dome.
There were at least six draftsmen in Walter's office,headed by Walter's chief assistant,August Schoenborn,a German immigrant who had learned his profession from the ground up. It appears that he was responsible for some of the fundamental ideas in the Capitol structure. These included the curved arch ribs and an ingenious arrangement used to cantilever the base of the columns. This made it appear that the diameter of the base exceeded the actual diameter of the foundation,thereby enlarging the proportions of the total structure.
Construction on the wings began in 1851 and proceeded rapidly;the House of Representatives met in its new quarters in December 1857 and the Senate occupied its new chamber by January 1859. Walter's fireproof cast iron dome was authorized by Congress on March 3,1855,and was nearly completed by December 2,1863,when the Statue of Freedom was placed on top. The dome's cast iron frame was supplied and constructed by the iron foundry Janes,Fowler,Kirtland &Co. [ citation needed ]The thirty-six Corinthian columns designed by Walter,as well as 144 cast iron structural pillars for the dome,were supplied by the Baltimore ironworks of Poole &Hunt. Walter also reconstructed the interior of the west center building for the Library of Congress after the fire of 1851. Walter continued as Capitol architect until 1865,when he resigned his position over a minor contract dispute. After 14 years in Washington,he retired to his native Philadelphia.
In the 1870s,financial setbacks forced Walter to come out of retirement,and he worked as second-in-command when his friend and younger colleague John McArthur Jr.,won the design competition for Philadelphia City Hall. He continued on that vast project until his death in 1887. He was interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.
For their architectural accomplishments,both Walter and Benjamin Latrobe are honored in a ceiling mosaic in the East Mosaic Corridor at the entrance to the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress.
Walter's grandson,Thomas Ustick Walter III,was also an architect;he practiced in Birmingham,Alabama,from the 1890s to the 1910s.
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