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Construction, History and Tour of the U.S. Capitol

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Begun in 1793, the United States Capitol has been built, burnt, rebuilt, extended, and restored. The Capitol that we see today is the result of several major periods of construction. In accordance with the "Residence Act" passed by Congress in 1790, President Washington in 1791 selected the area that is now the District of Columbia from land ceded by Maryland. French engineer Pierre L'Enfant was chosen to plan the new city of Washington. He located the Capitol at the summit of what was then called Jenkins' Hill.

In March of 1793 a competition was announced, suggested by Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, which would award $500 and a city lot to whoever produced "the most approved plan" for the Capitol by mid-July. Of the 17 plans submitted, none were entirely satisfactory. In October, a late submission by Dr. William Thornton was accepted by the Commissioners; Washington gave his formal approval on July 25. Thornton's plan depicted a building composed of three sections. The central section, which was topped by a low dome, was to be flanked on the north and south by two rectangular wings (one for the Senate and one for the House of Representatives). The cornerstone was laid by President Washington in the building's southeast corner on September 18, 1793, during a Masonic ceremony.

The Senate wing was completed first in 1800 to which resided the Senate chambers, the House chambers, the Supreme Court, the District courts, and the Library of Congress. Benjamin Henry Latrobe was appointed architect to oversee the construction effort and the House wing was completed in 1811. The House moved its chambers to the new south House wing in 1809 (now known as Statuary Hall – where in 1864 Congress invited each state to contribute two statues of prominent citizens for display). In 1808, Latrobe began the rebuilding of the north Senate wing, which had fallen into disrepair. Among his changes was the addition of a chamber for the Supreme Court, occupied from 1810 and 1860. The Supreme Court chamber is now a museum open to tours.

The War of 1812 left the Capitol in ruin. August 24, 1814, British troops set fire to the building, and only a sudden rainstorm prevented its complete destruction. Latrobe began to make repairs to the remains of the Capitol and took advantage of this opportunity to make further changes in the building's interior design by an enlargement of the Senate Chamber and introducing new materials such as marble discovered along the upper Potomac.

On January 8, 1818, Charles Bulfinch, was appointed Latrobe's successor as architect. Bulfinch continued the restoration of the north Senate and south House wings and also redesigned and supervised the construction of the Capitol's central Rotunda. A copper-covered wooden dome topped this section. After completing the last part of the building in 1826, Bulfinch spent the next few years on the Capitol's decoration and landscaping. The Capitol's length was 351 feet 7-1/2 inches and width was 282 feet 10-1/2 inches. Records show the up to the year 1827 the project cost was $2,432,851.34.

By 1850 the Capitol's size could no longer accommodate the increasing numbers of senators and representatives from newly admitted states. President Millard Fillmore chose Thomas Walter to supervise the construction of the extensions and new dome. Marble was chosen for the exterior in lieu of the deteriorating Aquia Creek sandstone.

The House of Representatives was able to meet in its present chamber in 1857, and the Senate first met in its present chamber in 1859. A new fireproof 8,909,200 pound cast-iron dome was completed in 1865 at a total cost of $1,047,291. The bronze "Statue of Freedom" arrived from its sculptor's studio in Rome at a height of 19 feet 6 inches, to be placed on the crown of the new dome. The interior of the dome was completed in 1866 with the fresco, "Apotheosis of Washington," hanging 180 feet (or 18 stories) above the Rotunda floor.

It has taken nearly 75 years to get to the appearance of the U.S. Capitol Building that we see today. Not to mention the on going up keep and renovations taken on by the Architect of the Capitol. Current construction to the grounds is the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center scheduled to be completed late 2007. At nearly 580,000 square feet, the visitor center is the largest project in the Capitol’s 212 year history and is approximately three quarters the size of the Capitol itself. The entire facility is located underground on the east front of the Capitol so as not to detract from the appearance of the Capitol.

North Carolina has two state statues on display in the U.S. Capitol as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection. One of Governor Vance located in Statuary Hall and the other of Governor Aycock located in the Senate main corridor on the first floor.

Zebulon Baird Vance(May 13, 1830 – April 14, 1894) was a Confederate military officer in the American Civil War, twice Governor of North Carolina, and U.S. Senator. A prodigious writer, Vance became one of the most influential southern leaders of the Civil War and postbellum periods.

Zebulon Vance was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, the third of eight children. In order to improve his standing, Vance determined to go to law school at the university of North Carolina. By 1852 Vance had begun practicing law in Asheville, and was soon elected county solicitor (prosecuting attorney).

At the age of twenty-four, Vance ran for a seat in the State House of Commons as a Whig, beating a man twice his age. He was defeated for State Senate and for Congress in 1856. But he went on to win election to the United States House of Representatives, first by a special election in 1858 caused by the resignation of Thomas L. Clingman to become a Senator. 1856 was the last time Vance would be defeated in an election.

At the age of twenty-eight, Vance (now a member of the American Party) was the youngest member of Congress. While in Congress, Vance was a staunch supporter of both the Union and states' rights. In March 1861, however, when indications were that the North Carolina legislature was going to vote for secession, he resigned his seat and returned home.

In September 1862, Vance won the gubernatorial election. In the Confederacy Vance was a major proponent of individual rights and local self-government, often putting him at odds with the Confederate government of Jefferson Davis. For example, North Carolina was the only state to observe the writ of habeas corpus and keep its courts fully functional during the war. Also, Vance refused to allow supplies smuggled into North Carolina by blockade runners to be given to other states until North Carolinians had their share. Vance's work for the aid and morale of the people, especially in mitigating the harsh Confederate conscription practices, inspired the nickname "War Governor of the South." Vance was re-elected in 1864.

Governor Vance was arrested by Federal forces in May 1865 and spent time in prison in Washington, D.C. He was soon paroled, however, and began practicing law in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1870, the state legislature elected him to the United States Senate, but as he was still on federal parole, he was not allowed to serve. In 1876, Vance was elected Governor once again (during which time he focused on education), and in 1879 the legislature again elected him to the United States Senate. This time, he was seated, and he served in the Senate until his death in 1894. After a funeral in the U.S. Capitol, Vance was buried in Asheville. (source:  Visit the Vance Birthplace in Weaverville, NC.

Charles Brantley Aycock(1 November 1859 -- 4 April 1912) was the Democratic governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from 1901 to 1905. During his tenure as governor, he was an advocate for the improvement of the state's public school systems, and following his term in office, he traveled the country promoting educational causes.

Prior to his rise to governorship, Aycock participated as a primary conspirator in the murderous Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, which proved to be the one and only coup d’etat in United States history.

According to John Beck, Wendy Frandsen, and Aaron Randall of Vance-Granville Community College, "Charles B. Aycock--the same Charles B. Aycock who helped lead the White Supremacy Campaign--is generally considered the state’s first progressive governor. Despite Aycock’s unsavory role as a white supremacist, he is still remembered and honored in the state today as the father of public education, and there are few counties in the state where one cannot find a public school named after him."

As governor, Aycock became known as the "Education Governor" for his support of the public school system. It was said that one school was constructed in the state for every day he was in office.

Charles B. Aycock was the youngest of the 10 children of Benjamin and Serena Aycock. His family lived near the present-day town of Fremont, NC, then known as Nahunta. Aycock studied law at the University of North Carolina and opened a practice in Goldsboro, NC after graduating in 1880.

After leaving the governor's office in 1905, he was persuaded to run for the Senate seat held by fellow Democrat Furnifold M. Simmons in 1912. But before the nomination was decided, Aycock died of a heart attack while making a speech to the Alabama Education Association on April 4, 1912.

In Greensboro, NC, the auditorium at UNC-Greensboro, as well as a street, a neighborhood, and a middle school are all named for him. There is also a dormitory on the Duke University campus named after him. In Goldsboro, NC, there is a high school named after him as well. (source:  Visit the Aycock Birthplace in Fremont, NC.

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