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Thomas U.

Thomas Ustick Walter (September 4, 1804October 30, 1887) of Philadelphiamarker, Pennsylvaniamarker 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, responsible for adding the north (Senate) and south (House) wings and the central dome that brought the U.S.marker Capitolmarker building to essentially its modern appearance.

Walter received early training in a variety of fields including masonry, mathematics, physical science, and the fine arts before studying architecture in the office of William Strickland. He began practicing architecture in 1830 and was one of the founders and second president of the American Institute of Architectsmarker.

He first came to national recognition for his Greek Revival design of Girard College for Orphansmarker (1833-48) in Philadelphia, among the last and grandest expressions of the Greek Revival movement. His plan for Moyamensing Prison was a humane model in its time. Walter was also the architect of mansions, banks, churches, the hotel at Brandywine Springsmarker, and courthouses, including his design and construction in 1846 of the Chester County Courthousemarker in West Chester, Pennsylvaniamarker, implementing the Greek Revival style.

It has also been suggested that Walter designed the Second Empire styled Quarters B and Quarters D at Admiral's Rowmarker.

Among the notable residences designed by Walter were his own home, located at High and Morton Streets in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker[71442], the Nicholas Biddle estate Andalusia marker, and Inglewood Cottagemarker. Walter also designed the Garrett-Dunn House in Mt.marker Airy, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker[71443], which was destroyed by fire after being struck by lightning on August 2, 2009. [71444]

The US Capitol and its dome

By far the most famous construction of Walter's is the dome of the US Capitol. By 1850 the rapid expansion of the United Statesmarker had caused a space shortage in the Capitol. Thomas U. Walter, a prominent Philadelphia architect of German descent, 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. It is clear that in the those days the term "draftsman" implied a lot more than it does now.

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 Freedommarker was placed on top. He also reconstructed the interior of the west center building for the Library of Congressmarker 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.

Then, when financial setbacks forced him to come out of retirement in the 1870s, he worked as second-in-command when his friend and younger colleague John McArthur, Jr. won the competition for Philadelphia City Hallmarker. He continued on that vast project until his death in 1887.

Other Honors

For their architectural accomplishments, both Benjamin Latrobe and Thomas U. Walter are honored in a ceiling mosaic in the East Mosaic Corridor at the entrance to the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congressmarker.


  2. - Chester county courthouse West Chester, Pennsylvania

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