A closer look: Facing east from the Capitol, circa 1875

This undated image, from an old stereoview, shows how relatively barren the newly landscaped Capitol grounds looked in the mid 1870s. Capitol Hill had been quite a mess during the war years, and an effort was underway to beautify it, just as much of the rest of the city (especially in the northwest) was being modernized with graded and paved streets, shade trees, and sewer lines.

Author's collection.

In the 1850s and 1860s the Capitol building had been dramatically expanded with large new House and Senate wings and a grandiose iron dome. Once finished, it nearly filled the entire length of the square between A Street north and A Street south. Soon there were proposals to close these A Street segments and expand the Capitol grounds to B Street north and south. Of course, as with all District matters, there were many in Congress who were opposed to such a "frivolous" expenditure, so it took until 1872 for the funds to be approved. Then in 1874, Frederick Law Olmsted was commissioned to design the landscape for the newly expanded grounds. What you see in this view are early elements of Olmsted's design, which would include gracefully curving paths on the left and right, low ornamental retaining walls, elegant Victorian lampposts, and other stately fixtures.

Two large red granite planters, designed by Olmsted and his protégé Thomas Wisedell, are in place on either side of East Capitol Street, which runs into the distance in the center of the view. The planter on the left is largely finished, while the one on the right is still incomplete. Three ornate lighted piers are also visible. Overall, the newly graded Capitol grounds in the lower half of the photo appear barren, flat, and empty. Olmsted's artful arrangements of trees and shrubs, ordered to appear as natural as possible, have not yet been planted.

Stereoview of Greenough's George Washington taken shortly before the statue was transferred to the Smithsonian. The caption erroneously attributes the sculpture to Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. (Author's collection.)
In the lower center several carriages and teams of horses are parked around Horatio Greenough's controversial statue of George Washington, completed in 1840. Greenough was perhaps the most prominent American sculptor in the early 19th century, and Congress commissioned him to create a monumental seated statue of George Washington on the 100th anniversary of Washington's birth, in 1832. Greenough based his twenty-ton neoclassical statue on images of a famous lost statue of Zeus carved by Phidias in 430 BC. Though expertly executed in white Carrara marble, the resulting figure, with sandaled feet and loosely draped in classical garb, was awkward. It looked to many observers like Washington was getting ready to take a bath. Nevertheless the statue stood at this spot outside the Capitol for more than half a century, from just before the Civil War until 1908, when it was transferred to the Smithsonian Institution. (The statue is now in the National Museum of American History.)

First Street runs horizontally across the center of the photo. It has recently been graded down about eight feet to make the Capitol Grounds level. As a result, the buildings on the other side of the street now stand behind a low berm. Trees have been planted at even intervals along the street, although they are all too young to even clearly show branches in this hazy view.

A Metropolitan Railroad streetcar poses in front of the Capitol sometime before the tracks were rerouted around the Capitol grounds (author's collection). 
Visible as a blur turning the corner at East Capitol and 1st Streets is a moving horse-drawn streetcar of the Metropolitan Railroad. Chartered in 1864, the Metropolitan was the second streetcar company to operate in Washington, running along a zigzag route that began here on East Capitol Street and worked its way across the city along D street, F Street, and H Street NW. The line originally followed A Street right up to the Capitol building, but with the expansion of the Capitol grounds the route was modified to have the cars turn north on 1st Street, as this one is doing. The slow speed of the camera meant that this and the other moving carriages, wagons, and people are all blurred.

A sea of low buildings on Capitol Hill recedes into the distance from 1st Street. Many of these would be replaced in coming years with row houses. Just out of view on the left side stands the Old Brick Capitol, which was built as a temporary meeting place for Congress after the British burned the Capitol in 1814 and which was used as a prison during the Civil War. It was converted to a boardinghouse after the war and would finally be torn down in 1932 to make way for the new Supreme Court building.

Another view east from the Capitol, taken in the early 1880s, showing the complete Duff Green's Row. Click to enlarge. (Author's collection.)
The tall white buildings on the right side of the photo are one end of what was known as Carroll Row or Duff Green's Row, a set of five large townhouses originally built by Daniel Carroll of Duddington around 1800. Carroll was the original owner of the land that became Capitol Hill, and he had donated the land for the Capitol Building to the federal government. Like other early speculators, he built townhouses as investments in the fledgling city, hoping to make money from senators and congressmen who needed a place to stay close to the Capitol. Boardinghouses became one of the most important businesses on Capitol Hill in its early days, and the Carroll Row boardinghouses were among the most prominent. The first presidential inaugural ball, for James Madison in 1809, was held in the large house on the north end of the row. In the 1830s, Duff Green, a Jacksonian Democrat and publisher of the United States Telegraph, purchased the row, which became known as Duff Green's Row. The middle row house was operated by a Mrs. Ann Sprigg in the 1840s and 1850s, and Abraham Lincoln stayed at Mrs. Sprigg's boardinghouse while he served as a congressman from Illinois from 1847 to 1849. Duff Green's Row served many other purposes, including as home to the city's first local bank, as a sanctuary for escaped slaves, and as a prison for suspected spies during the Civil War. It would finally be torn down in 1887 in preparation for construction of the Library of Congress.

Contemporary aerial view of the U.S. Capitol and grounds. 1st Street is along the right side of the photo. (Source: Architect of the Capitol).
Today, the view from the Capitol is very different, with mature landscaping around the grounds, the new Capitol Visitors Center beneath the pavement, and the Library of Congress Jefferson Building and Supreme Court occupying the blocks on the other side of 1st Street. Frederick Law Olmsted's red granite planters and ornamental piers, not even fully installed in the old stereoview, still stand and serve as a link to the quieter days of the late 19th century.

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Sources for this article included William C. Allen, History of the United States Capitol (2001); John DeFerrari, Capital Streetcars: Early Mass Transit in Washington, D.C. (2015); James M. Goode, Capital Losses: A Cultural History of Washington's Destroyed Buildings (2003) and Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation's Capital (2008); Paul Herron, The Story of Capitol Hill (1963); LeRoy O. King, Jr., 100 Years of Capital Traction (1972); Kenneth J. Winkle, Lincoln's Citadel: The Civil War in Washington, D.C. (2013); and newspaper articles.

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