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William Thornton (1759-1828)

From an early age William Thornton displayed interest and discernible talent in "the arts of design," to employ an eighteenth-century term that is particularly useful in assessing his career. Although heir to a sugar plantation on Tortola (British Virgin Islands), he was brought up strictly by his father's relations, Quakers and merchants, in and near the ancient castle town of Lancaster, in northern Lancashire, England. There was never any question of his pursuing the fine arts professionally--he was to be trained for a useful life, according to the Quaker ways. Thus, despite the fact that he had a sizeable income, young Thornton was apprenticed for a term of four years (1777-1781), to a practical physician and apothecary in the Furness district of Lancashire (now Cumbria).

The earliest of Thornton's known writings, a journal he began during his apprenticeship (Manuscript Division, J. Henley Smith Collection of William Thornton Papers), records almost as many entries for drawing and sketching as notes on medical treatments and nostrums. His subjects were most often flora and fauna, but he also did portraits, landscapes, historical scenes, and studies of machinery, such as the Franklin stove, and managed to construct a camera obscura. This pattern continued when he enrolled as a medical student in the University of Edinburgh in 1781. The architecture of Edinburgh, especially that of the New Town that was building, surely exerted considerable influence. More direct evidence of his interest in architecture is found in the landscapes and sketches of castles he drew while travelling about Scotland, notably in the Highlands, during these years (see especially his "Notebook" (1782-1783), Manuscript Division, Thornton Papers).

In 1783 Thornton went to London to continue his medical studies; characteristically, he also found time to attend lectures at the Royal Academy. The following year he was off to the Continent, carrying a letter of introduction to Benjamin Franklin, written by his mentor and distant cousin Dr. John Coakley Lettsom. Lettsom sent him to lodge with the distinguished Dr. Jean-Joseph Sue, professor of anatomy at the Royal College of Surgery and the Royal School of Painting and Sculpture. A diary for this period of his life unfortunately does not survive. We know however that in addition to his medical studies he frequented the salon of the novelist Françoise, comtesse de Beauharnais and drew her portrait, of which only the engraving by the London artist Francesco Bartolozzi has survived. The only remnant of Thornton's travels beyond Paris is the landscape he drew and colored of the glacier Mer de Glace, near Chamonix.

After he returned to England late in 1784, Thornton might have pursued a successful medical career in London, while pursuing his parallel interests in the arts. Medicine and the fine arts, which, of course, shared an interest in anatomy, were closely allied in the eighteenth century. But he abandoned this course and the attractions of London in May 1785 to return to his native island. He was intent on seeing his mother for the first time since boyhood and on coming to grips with the source of his income--half interest in a sugar plantation and ownership of some 70 slaves, the possession of which had begun to trouble him.

Thornton quickly felt confined in the Virgin Islands. His passionate nature, shaped by the traditions of Quaker humanitarianism and Enlightenment rationalism, had led him to become a fervent republican. Eager to achieve fame (and undoubtedly some expiation) in the cause of anti-slavery, he went to Philadelphia in the fall of 1786. His unsuccessful efforts to lead a contingent of free black Americans to join the small British settlement of London blacks at the mouth of the Sierra Leone River in West Africa were looked on favorably by Philadelphia's Quaker establishment. Some leaders of the new republic--notably James Madison, with whom he lodged at Mrs. Mary House's prominent boarding establishment in 1787 and 1788--were cognizant of Thornton's abolitionist activities.

Thornton briefly practiced medicine in Philadelphia, but disliked its unspecialized nature among American doctors. From early 1787 his attention and resources were largely devoted to the development of John Fitch's steamboat. The only member of Fitch's company of shareholders who had previously seen a working steam engine, he contributed designs for the cabin of the boat as well as mechanical improvements. After making regular runs on the Delaware River in the summer of 1790, the steamboat Experiment was dismantled during Thornton's absence in the Virgin Islands; the company attempted to build another for the western rivers, but the enterprise collapsed in the effort.

Soon after establishing himself in Philadelphia, Thornton submitted in 1789 a design to the architectural competition for the Library Company of Philadelphia's new hall. His drawings (since lost) were awarded the premium but were departed from somewhat during actual construction. Library Hall was described as the first building in the "modern [classical] stile" to be erected in the new nation's leading city. Thornton later boasted of this success, emphasizing his lack of training in architecture in letters to friends in England. He provided a more accurate statement in the public letter he addressed to Benajmin Latrobe in April 1808:

I travelled in many parts of Europe, and saw several of the masterpieces of the ancients. I have studied the works of the best masters, and my long attention to drawing and painting would enable me to form some judgment of the difference of proportions. An acquaintance with some of the grandest of the ancient structures, a knowledge of the orders of Architecture, and also of the genuine effects of proportion furnish the requisites of the great outlines of composition. The minutiae are attainable by a more attentive study of what is necessary to the execution of such works, and the whole must be subservient to the conveniences required. Architecture embraces many subordinate studies, and it must be admitted is a profession which requires great talents, great taste, great memory. I do not pretend to any thing great, but must take the liberty of reminding Mr. Latrobe, that physicians study a greater variety of sciences than gentlemen of any other profession . . . . The Louvre in Paris was erected after the architectural designs of a physician, Claude Perrault, whose plan was adopted in preference to the designs of Bernini, though the latter was called from Italy by Louis the 14th (Latrobe Correspondence II: 602).

During his visit to Tortola between October 1790 and October 1792, Thornton learned of the design competitions for the U.S. Capitol and the President's House to be erected in the new Federal City on the banks of the Potomac. Because a design for the Capitol had not been chosen, he was allowed to compete upon his return to Philadelphia. Between July and November 1792 the Washington administration examined closely designs submitted by the French emigré architect Etienne Sulpice Hallet and Judge George Turner. The latter was a close friend of Thornton's and a fellow member of the American Philosophical Society. Hallet and Turner had been summoned to the Federal City in August 1792 to present their ideas to the Commissioners of the District of Columbia and local landholders. Both were then encouraged to submit revisions of their designs to accommodate new conditions and requirements. President Washington informed Turner of his best hopes for the building; Hallet had the benefit, or perhaps the misfortune, of receiving hints and suggestions quite regularly from the president, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, and the commissioners. At the beginning of November Turner's new designs were rejected; just previously Hallet was "engaged" by the commissioners in the urgent effort to gain an official design.

The question of what visual evidence remains of Thornton's Capitol design begun on Tortula is a difficult one. He brought his first plans for the Capitol with him to Philadelphia from the Virgin Islands in October 1792. Thornton informed the commissioners the following December that because these had been "calculated upon a five hundred feet front" he was "engaged in making new ones more suited to the situation." He had met with Turner in Philadelphia and must have learned for the first time much about the site itself and prevailing ideas about the nature of the proposed Capitol. By the end of November, when Turner's drawings had been returned to him, Thornton may have had the benefit of studying the design that at one point the commissioners assumed would be selected. Turner's competition drawings and revisions have been presumed lost.

Two elevations identified by Fiske Kimball and Wells Bennett as Thornton's Tortola scheme, however, correspond in significant details to Washington's description of Turner's design in a letter dated 23 July 1792. These drawings, now in the Prints and Drawings Collection of the American Architectural Foundation (but previously in the custody of the Architect of the Capitol), show a five-part, brick building in the Ionic order. This design bears little resemblance to Thornton's known work and expressed ideas about the Capitol's nature. They do, however, correspond to plans bearing his handwriting (ADE - UNIT 2468, no. 1 B size and ADE - UNIT 2469, no. 1 A size) that have survived among his papers, the basis for Kimball and Bennett's identification of the drawings (now owned by the American Architectural Foundation) as the Tortola scheme. To accept that they represent Thornton's original idea for the Capitol one must ignore key documentary and contextual evidence.

There is no reason to doubt Thornton's statement that his Tortola drawings had presupposed an expansive front of 500 feet. To one who knew the great buildings of Europe such a span must surely have seemed appropriate for the new republic's principal public building. The area and site alotted for the Capitol on the earliest maps of Washington (a copy of which Thornton received on Tortola with the printed notice of the competition) suggested a building of at least that size. The plan ADE - UNIT 2468, no. 1 B size which bears Thornton's handwriting and corresponds to the elevation drawings at the American Architectural Foundation is of a building that measures 340 feet in width.

That Thornton took, or was given, sketches showing ideas of other competitors, including a rough copy of Turner's plan, while he was developing his own design would not be surprising or irregular in the public context of the post-deadline Capitol competition. The formal competition had ended by the time he returned to Philadelphia, the commissioners employing Hallet to formulate their preferences (as well as and those of Washington and Jefferson) into an acceptable design. The most significant argument against Kimball and Bennett's attribution is that the so-called Tortola scheme springs from an entirely different conception of the Capitol than inspired Thornton's premiated design. Like most of the other competitive entries, the "Tortola" design derived from the American colonial experience, from state house architecture, rather than from the great models of European public buildings. The general organization of the "Tortola" design was based on Colen Campbell's design for his English country palace, Wanstead, engravings of which were published in his Vitruvius Britannicus (1715), a widely consulted architectural treatise.

The painter John Trumbull handed Washington Thornton's still "unfinished" revised plan of the Capitol on 29 January 1793. (Much of Thornton's time the previous fall had been given to the completion of his essay "Cadmus," a treatise on the elements of written language, which won the prize essay competition of the American Philosophical Society.) While the president's formal approbation was not recorded until 2 April 1793, after more drawings were prepared, his enthusiastic praise of Thornton's design was echoed by Jefferson: "simple, noble, beautiful, excellently distributed." Clearly the two men had made their choice. This response reflected Thornton's success in rendering in architectural form the political order of the new republic.

In determining to construct a national Capitol, rather than a "Congress Hall" of "Federal Hall," Washington and Jefferson had made it clear that they had in mind a national temple. The model they had in mind was an idealized conception of the great Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus that had stood atop the Capitoline Hill in ancient Rome. The principal building of the new republic was to be an emblem of the nation's republican experiment. Somewhat surprisingly, with the exception of Hallet's first, peripteral plan, Thornton alone of the competitors fully developed the reservoir of ideas and sentiment that lay behind the term "Capitol." His central motif was modeled after the Pantheon of Rome; the east front of the Louvre, celebrated for its grand colonnade, provided the solution for gaining the desired expanse.

Soon after the acceptance of the Thornton design, the commissioners hired Hallet to prepare estimates based on it; in a now-lost lengthy critique Hallet fround Thornton's plan too expensive and unbuildable. A conference called by Washington and convened by Jefferson was held in Philadelphia in July 1793, to address objections to the plan--Hallet's ran to "five manuscript volumes in folio." Thornton had prepared his drawings in haste and his lack of experience in architecture and engineering introduced a number of practical problems. This resulted in several alterations being made to the plan of the building, which at least in terms of the idea and general outline of the building must be considered minor.

Thornton's competition drawings for the Capitol have been lost, although his retained copy of the description that accompanied them, directed to the commissioners, has survived. Following the July 1793 conference, alterations were made to the premiated plan of the Capitol, ostensibly to correct engineering problems and to admit more light to the interiors. It also seems that design changes were made because of political differences within the Washington administration. The conferees agreed that work should proceed along the lines of Etienne Hallet's revisions, which reversed the positions of the chambers and altered their forms from Thornton's rectangles to Hallet's hippodrome-shaped rooms.

Hallet, still in the commissioners' employ, was instructed to restore the Thornton's east portico which he had eliminated in his final design made after Thornton's design was chosen. Hallet misconstrued, or more probably was misled by, the instructions that were given him on that point. He reintroduced the portico as a centerpiece before an open square court, and laid the foundations of the building accordingly. It became clear only in the following year that the president had expected the restoration of Thornton's grand vestibule and dome, under which, upon his death, Washington was to be enshrined. Another consequence of the Philadelphia conference, it seems, was the decision, proposed by Jefferson, to drop the floors of the two legislative chambers to ground level.

When Washington appointed Thornton one of the three commissioners in September 1794, he instructed him to restore the central rotunda and other features of the premiated plan. Thornton's surviving plan drawings (ADE - UNITS 2467, no. 1 D size; UNIT 2470, no. 2 and UNIT 2470, no. 3 C size; UNIT 2471, no. 1 B size), which show most of Hallet's changes, date from the post-conference period; none records his original scheme with rectangular chambers. Hallet's successor at the site, George Hadfield, also sought to institute a design more to his own liking. Like Hallet, he preferred a monumental order. Interestingly, Washington considered allowing this change in the fall of 1795, but the question of costs, as well as Hadfield's problems with the workmen and construction execution, militated against it, in the opinion of the commissioners. Because Hadfield served as the Capitol's superintendent from 1795 until 1798, it is significant that he later informed the public that the "engraving of the Capitol in the city plan lately published [1818] by Mr. Robert King" was "acknowledged to be Dr. Thornton's design of the Capitol" and had defined the building during his three-year tenure as superintendent.

The most curious feature of Thornton's design for the Capitol is his treatment or, rather, treatments of the west front of the central block. In plan, it would seem that from the competition period onwards, the central space overlooking the Mall was to be organized as a colonnaded, semi-circular projection behind which was located the grand conference room. The idea of employing a monumental staircase on the west to descend from that portico and the principal story may have occurred to Thornton as early as April 1793. At that time he visited the site and became acquainted with the conference room's problems, it having been fixed below the western crest of Capitol Hill. In any case he enthusiastically suggested the staircase to President Washington two years later, observing that such a feature would give his modified west front "the magnificence of a Roman temple." As long as the conference room remained a part of the design, the west wall of that room overlooked a giant portico. Congressional impatience with the mounting costs and slow pace of construction, however, steadily grew, particularly after 1795, and the design of the central block became increasingly uncertain.

Thornton's idea of placing a high (and apparently light) tempietto-like dome above the conference room seems in part to reflect these changing circumstances as well as the problem posed by the site itself. But the drawings (ADE - UNIT 2466, no. 3 A size; UNIT 2470, no. 1 A size and UNIT 2470 no. 5 C size) for the west front that survive in the William Thornton collection also reflect a cataclysmic event in the history of the early republic, the death of George Washington in December 1799. Several drawings (ADE - UNIT 2465, no. 1 A size; UNIT 2466, nos. 1 to 5 A size) are closely related to Thornton's sketches for free-standing monuments, most of which could only have been intended as memorials to (if not tombs for) the first president. These west front drawings, unlike others that have been lost and a surviving perspective sketch dated 1800 in the White House collection (which probably should be attributed to Thornton), appear to substitute a memorial or mausoleum to replace the conference room. The semicircular west wall was made solid and given decoration consistent with such a monument rather than a working legislative chamber. Thornton's papers contain no description of this radical change, or alternative design, for the central block of the west front. For these reasons, and because of his ideas of good taste in architecture, it is doubtful, in spite of the appearance presented by two surviving elevations drawings (ADE - UNIT 2470, no. 4 and ADE - UNIT 2470, no. 5 C size), that Thornton--or more significantly, any of those in government who had responsibility for the building--ever seriously advocated the idea of constructing two domes atop the Capitol's central section.

The shifting politics of the period does provide a meaningful context for the change from conference room to monument on the Capitol's west front. When Congress convened for the first time in the City of Washington in December 1800, the question of where President Washington was to be buried had not been settled. In early 1800, while still in Philadelphia, members had resolved to bury him in the Capitol, as mandated by Thornton's premiated plan. By the end of the year, however, only the north wing of the Capitol was in a state of readiness. This presented a dilemma that, together with political considerations, gave impetus to the idea of constructing a separate mausoleum. Such a project was sure to siphon off appropriations and further delay completion of the Capitol. These were certainly sufficient reasons for Thornton to attempt to redirect the debate with an alternative design for the west front. In any event, the mausoleum proposal failed to pass the Senate by a single vote in March 1801, and after the inauguration of President Jefferson, the matter of a Washington monument was dropped. Thornton was consulted on design matters relating to the Capitol by President Jefferson and his successors, but after 1802, when the Commissioners of the District of Columbia were abolished, he exerted little influence.

All of the surviving drawings (ADE - UNIT 2465, no. 1 A size; ADE - UNIT 2466, nos. 1 to 5 A size; ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 22; 23; 26; 27; 32; 33) for free-standing monuments in the Thornton collection appear to be designs for memorials to George Washington, who died on 14 December 1799. No other figure of the early republic could have commanded such artistic attention in the United States at this time; this conclusion is strengthened by Thornton's personal feelings for the man he referred to as "my great patron." The changing mood of Congress on how to memorialize the first president provides important context for the dating of these monuments: support for Thornton's original idea of placing a monumental tomb under the dome of the U.S. Capitol gradually eroded in 1800; by the time Congress convened in December 1800 those who sought to memorialize Washington had come to favor a freestanding mausoleum; but in March 1801 the Senate failed by one vote to approve such a monument and discussion ceased.

Thornton's designs for freestanding monuments are closely related to his alternative west front scheme for the U.S. Capitol in technique as well as in theme: his series of wash sketches for monuments seems directly related to the wash sketch drawing of the alternative west front of the U.S. Capitol (ADE - UNIT 2470, no. 1 A size). But Anna Maria Thornton records in 1813 that her husband was working on a drawing for the monument that was to be erected to the first president in Baltimore, and thus that later work and date must also be kept in mind in weighing these drawings, all of which, unfortunately, if characteristically, are unlabeled and unsigned. In September 1794 President Washington appointed Thornton to the board of the three Commissioners of the District of Columbia. At various times during his tenure he was requested to produce additional drawings and studies, and we know that in 1797 he was making drawings of the Capitol for publication, a project that unfortunately he did not complete. Because only six developed drawings by Thonrton survive from 1793 to 1804, and fewer construction drawings done by the three superintending architects, visual records of the early Capitol must always be carefully considered within the context of extensive documentary evidence in assessing Thornton's role.

As a consequence of winning the Capitol competition, Thornton was frequently asked to give ideas for public and residential buildings in the Federal City. He responded with designs on several occasions during his tenure as a commissioner, less so after 1802 when he took on the superintendency of the Patent Office, a position which kept him busy and often besieged in another area of design until his death in 1828. Only a few drawings for these projects survive, and we know of those for which drawings are lost principally through Anna Maria Thornton's diary. Other than his design (ADE - UNIT 2588) for Thomas Peter's Tudor Place, the project best documented by the drawings that have survived, there is no evidence of sustained architectural work in this later period. In 1817, Jefferson wrote to request designs for his projected university (Manuscript Division, Thomas Jefferson Papers). The idea of a university had long inspired Thornton, and it produced from him drawings for two buildings linked by colonnades. They most noticeably influenced Jefferson in his design for Pavilion VII, as well as in his decision to employ rounded columns in the colonnades fronting the lawn at the University of Virginia.

Thornton's interests in residential design antedate his projects for which drawings have survived, and thus it is safe to conclude that he prepared drawings for friends and relations prior to his efforts for Colonel John Tayloe, which can be dated by context to 1799. His plans (ADE - UNIT 2588) for Tayloe's townhouse are nevertheless the earliest of these that we have. Thornton probably first suggested the idea of using a curvilinear element to take an odd-angled corner lot a year earlier, to Thomas Law, who had determined to build a residence on Capitol Hill, at the northwest corner of New Jersey Avenue and C Street S.W., but drawings for that project have not survived (see Benjamin Latrobe's 1815 sketch reproduced in Harris, Thornton Papers I: fig. 38 and 574-95).

The two plan drawings (ADE - UNIT 2581) for Tayloe's house, which became known in the nineteenth century as The Octagon, are more ambitious in their use of curvilinear forms than the modified plan to which Tayloe built. The house was erected between 1799 and 1802 by the architect William Lovering, who in the same year was constructing Law's town house as well as the temporary building over the elliptical foundations in the south wing of the Capitol. A plan of Tayloe's lot, with elevations for the stable and yard buildings, bearing Lovering's handwriting, has survived in a private collection (reproduced in Ridout, Building the Octagon, 70).

Thornton's drawings (ADE - UNIT 2588) for Tudor Place, the residence above Georgetown constructed by his friend Thomas Peter between 1805 and 1816, form the fullest record of his drawings for a single project. His first and simplest idea, of a classical villa or casino, was probably inspired by the site itself, which resembled an ancient sylvan retreat in the early nineteenth century. Thomas Peter's wish to incorporate existing structures on the property in his new mansion house likely explains Thornton's shift to a more complicated design and his reworking of floor plans. Retained throughout this process was the organizing element and distinguishing feature of the house--the circular portico in the south front, which the Peter family called "the temple." The building that was actually constructed departed to a significant extent from the elevation and plan drawings (on one sheet) which Thornton presented to Peter (held in the collections of the Tudor Place Foundation; reproduced in Peter, Tudor Place, after p. 80--Thornton probably gave John Tayloe and other friends similar presentation drawings of his final ideas). Dating of the Tudor Place drawings relies on Anna Maria Thornton's diary entry for 8 May 1808, on which day she recorded: "Dr. T. working on a plan for Mr. Peter"; however, because the Peters and the Thorntons were close friends and saw each other frequently, the possibility that the first design antedates 1808 cannot be dismissed. It should also be noted that three elevation drawings for Tudor Place are held in the Prints and Drawings Collection of The American Architectural Foundation.

Thornton was an active naturalist throughout most of his life. His attention to botanical subjects reflected the pleasure he derived from nature studies as well as his professional and scholarly interests. He made drawings (ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 59, 60, 61, 62, and 63; 65) of botanical specimens from his days as a medical apprentice and, while attending the University of Edinburgh, participated in the founding of the Natural History Society of Edinburgh at that university. His papers, and Anna Maria Thornton's diaries, contain numerous references to his drawings of plants and, occasionally, of animals--however, no finished works have been found, and thus the few sketches of such subjects now in the Prints and Photographs Division's William Thornton collection are by no means representative of the original corpus of his work. Several of Thornton's developed or finished drawings were dispersed as gifts during his lifetime (Harris, Thornton Papers I: 209, and Alexander von Humboldt to Thornton, 27 June 1804, Harris, Thornton Papers II: forthcoming), others were given away or sold prior to the Library of Congress's receipt of his papers; thus there is reason to believe that some of these drawings may have survived, in private and public collections around the world (at present likely attributed to "anonymous"). One of Thornton's nature drawings (ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 62 verso) is possibly of a crown vetch. On 29 June 1805, while traveling in North Carolina, Anna Maria Thornton noted: "Our vetch is called the partridge pea" suggesting that this drawing, like its precisely dated companion on the verso of the same sheet, relates to the travels the Thorntons undertook and commented on during the years 1805-8.

A few drawings found among his papers probably were not done by either Thornton or his wife. They include, ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 39, a manuscript map of the central part of North Carolina, showing landholdings and mines of Thornton's North Carolina Gold Company. County names are misspelled, clearly indicating the map was not prepared by either of the Thorntons. Drawing ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 50 is a view from the northwest of the Hogshead-Hole, near Carlisle, Cumberland, England. Drawing ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 51 depicts Dan o' Deer, ruins of the Scottish abbey. An internal view of the Ear of Dyonisius [sic], the grotto-like rock formation found at Syracuse, Sicily, that was described by Thucydides, is initialed "C.D.C.," possibly C.D. Coxe. ADE 11 - A - THORNTON 24 and 25 are drawings of the Friends' meeting house near Swarthmoor Hall in Cumbria, England. In 1687 George Fox adapted the house for use as a meetinghouse. It was probably drawn by Thornton's cousin, Myles Foster (d. 1779), is based on the manuscript poem "On Death" by Foster (see Thornton's journal, Thornton Papers, Manuscript Division.)

Thornton was a sophisticated designer, endowed with natural talent and exceptional visual memory. He brought a scholarly and painterly approach to architectural design and, for political as well as aesthetic reasons, adhered to neo-Roman classicism in a period increasingly influenced by the neo-Greek. He relied for details on the best published authorities (such as Claude Perrault and William Chambers for the classical orders, probably Robert Adam, in some cases, for floor plans); nevertheless, his drawings were not copied from books but, rather, responded fluidly to conceptual and practical design criteria, albeit within the established classical style of the Europe he had left in 1784. His personal library in fact appears to have been relatively modest. He did, however, have access to the books of friends, and in his work for the Capitol competition must have made use of the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia, a share of which had been his prize for winning the competition for Library Hall.

Thornton's lack of experience in architectural drawing led him, when under pressures of time, into technical errors, and his lack of training proved a handicap in the most difficult engineering problems. Yet even his bitter rival Latrobe would grudgingly acknowledge his talent. Thornton's encyclopaedic interest in the design arts, and his persistence in seeking out the details of composition, materials, and techniques, as well as related information and gossip, renders his papers among the most important collections for the scholarly study of the art and architecture of the early republic.

The Library's J. Henley Smith Collection of the William Thornton Papers, now held in both the Manuscript Division and the Prints and Photographs Division, forms a valuable resource for the art and architecture, as well as the history, of the early republic. This collection of Thornton's personal, retained papers came to the Library of Congress in two gifts to the Manuscript Division in 1904 and 1907. Worthington Ford, then Chief of the Manuscript Division, put drawings of the Capitol on exhibition soon after the first of two gifts was made in 1904, and, it would seem, transferred them with the loose graphics that bear the "42176" accession number to the Division of Prints at some point during the same year. Another transfer was made from the Manuscript Division a few years later, after the remaining collection there had been accessioned and stamped with consecutive-type folio numbers. Other drawings, notably those for the U.S. Capitol which were later annotated by Benjamin Latrobe, joined the William Thornton collection of the Prints and Photographs Division at other times. It should be noted that the seventeen volumes and containers held in the Manuscript Division contain a number of small drawings and sketches and a few graphic works.


Glenn Brown, History of the United States Capitol. 2 vols. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1900-1903); Fiske Kimball and Wells Bennett, "William Thornton and the Design of the United States Capitol," Art Studies (1923): 76-92; Julian P. Boyd, et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950-); Peterson, Charles E. "Library Hall: Home of the Library Company of Philadelphia, 1790-1880." Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. n.s. 43, part 1 (March 1953): 129-47; Armistead Peter, III. Tudor Place (Georgetown [Washington]: privately printed, 1970); Jeanne F. Butler, "Competition 1792: Designing a Nation's Capitol" Capitol Studies 4 (1976); George McCue, The Octagon (Washington: 1976): Elinor Stearns and David N. Yerkes, William Thornton: A Renaissance Man in the Federal City (Washington: The American Institute of Architects Foundation, 1976); Edward C. Carter II et al., eds. The Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, 3 vols. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984-1988); Orlando Ridout V., Building the Octagon. (Washington: AIA Press, 1989); C.M. Harris, ed., Papers of William Thornton, 2 vols. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995 and forthcoming).

Prepared by: Charles M. Harris, 2001. Last revised: Oct. 2015

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