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Concerned about maintaining the United States Navy ready for action even in peaceful times, he had conceived of an enormous dry dock capable of preserving a dozen frigates under one roof. The grand sweep of the scheme excited Latrobe. The President was greatly pleased, but this was thinking too big for the Congress of They voted the project down after sarcastic speeches denouncing its Brobdingnagian dimensions and astronomical cost. The dry-dock scheme at any rate drew Latrobe and Jefferson closely together, and despite inevitable frictions between two men equally strong-minded, they remained good friends.
Jefferson was most anxious to get on with the construction of the federal buildings, especially the Capitol, and in the spring of he appointed Latrobe Surveyor of the Public Buildings of the United States. Latrobe was unwavering in his determination to build a capitol worthy of his own soaring conception of the American destiny; and this he largely achieved against a long series of heartbreaking obstacles. The almost constant complaints and monetary reluctance of Congress, however, at times made his career in Washington almost unendurable; and worse than that, he was working from the start under the disadvantage of plans left by half-successful predecessors.
Latrobe would have been among the first to acknowledge Thornton as a gifted amateur—but he also understood perhaps better than anyone that the design of such a building was not the province of the amateur.
Mister Rogers' real neighborhood: Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the town that forged Fred Rogers
Now the Doctor was convinced that the newcomer was a usurper out to rob him of his reputation and ruin his design for the Capitol. The trouble went far beyond the level of personalities, moreover, for Latrobe found it impossible to correlate precisely the few drawings he was able to get from Thornton with the work actually done on the unfinished south wing—everything was in a state of uncertainty. One problem was the shape of the House chamber. The new federal capital was a bustling place. In the new houses that went up at a brisk and fairly steady rate, a broad variety of social entertainments spun themselves into an exhilarating social whirl.
In addition to the Madisons and the Jeffersons, they visited or were visited by the Joel Barlows, the Bushrod Washingtons, the Henry Clays, Robert Fulton, Washington Irving, Gilbert Stuart, and scores of others whose names are far less familiar but whose social attributes were no less delightful. Like most parents, however, the Latrobes occasionally had reason to doubt the wisdom of their offspring. The thing was impossible, the Latrobes felt, and they made almost desperate efforts to discourage it.
Education from LVA: Slaves Steering a Bateau
Their attempts were strikingly unsuccessful. Roosevelt and Lydia had become so violently enamoured that nothing short of stark prohibition would have deflected them; and Latrobe, who loved them both, was not much inclined to prohibit. But Roosevelt was a houseguest not long after the Latrobes moved to Washington, and immediately the attachment was fervently resumed. Dispelling all the fears of the parents, it turned out to be not only happy but full of excitement.
One highlight was the fantastic maiden voyage of the New Orleans , first steamboat on the Mississippi, which Roosevelt built for Robert Fulton see Leonard V. By the time the War of hovered on the political horizon, Benjamin Latrobe had finished a major contribution to the architecture of the United States Capitol. Under his direction the south wing was carried to completion as the most beautiful legislative chamber in the Western world. But the war was to leave most of his work in ruins.
Not only did the British burn the White House in , but the Capitol, too, was put to the torch, and its interiors thoroughly gutted. According to a story repeated by John H. It was a time of multiple distress for Latrobe. The product of thousands of hours of devoted labor went up in smoke, and his financial affairs, never really prosperous, had recently taken the worst turn in years.
For all his professional acumen Latrobe was a poor businessman, and time and again private venturesseveral of them in connection with Nicholas Roosevelt—ended in minor disaster. On top of that he was an easy touch for any friend wanting to borrow money, and by Latrobe had decided that to remain longer in Washington would mean bankruptcy. The most hopeful prospect for reviving his fortune seemed to be the steamboat business, in which both his son-inlaw and his friend Robert Fulton were heavily engaged.
Fulton had set up a company to navigate the Ohio River by steam, and Latrobe arranged to move to Pittsburgh to superintend the construction of some of the boats. An account of his enterprises in Pittsburgh would be a tedious tale of further business failure, for zooming construction costs, rough competition, and serious misunderstandings with Fulton soon brought the steamboat company to absolute collapse. He had reached the bottom of his luck, and his letters in the spring of reveal a man sick in mind and body and almost at the point of giving up.
It was his brave wife Mary who saved him in this crisis. By July of they were back in Washington, with Latrobe surveying the rubble left by the British and already turning out dozens of drawings for the reconstruction. The south wing had been so fully demolished that he was able to redesign the House chamber in the shape he had always thought it should haveone large semicircle; and in many other matters the havoc of the British gave Latrobe scope for imaginative improvements.
Yet his old troubles soon returned to vex him anew, this time aggravated by the fact that President James Monroe, who took office in , gradually became convinced that Latrobe was extravagant with public money and slow to achieve results because of overattention to his private interests.
These questionable conclusions were actively promoted by Colonel Samuel Lane, the official intermediary between Latrobe and Monroe. The young man had done extremely well in advancing the project; but in September, , he suddenly fell sick and died, a victim of the disease he had dreamed of defeating.
The Virginia Journals of Benjamin Henry Latrobe 1795-1798 (Series 1)
It was all too much to bear, and in November, , Latrobe submitted his resignation. He did it with dignity, and he saw to it that Monroe received a full set of drawings so that his successor—who turned out to be Charles Bulfinch—could profit by them in finishing the work on the Capitol. Once more Latrobe left Washington under a pall, his prospects darkly in doubt; and this time he filed legal notice of bankruptcy. There followed a quiet interval in Baltimore, where he had been engaged since to design, in partnership with Maximilian Godefroy, a mercantile exchange—a big, airy building which was not torn down until This brought in some cash for current expenses; and he also had the satisfaction of seeing his great cathedral rise to three-dimensional beauty.
But his best work was now behind him. He suffered the humiliation, in , of taking second place in a competition for the design of a new Bank of the United States, the award going ironically to William Strickland, who had received much of his training as an apprentice under Latrobe. Nothing else in the East looked promising, and meanwhile construction of the New Orleans waterworks was languishing.
About American Heritage
There were two remaining sons, both so gifted that they would one day be wellknown in their own right, but too young to help in The older, John H. Latrobe, became a renowned lawyer; the younger, Benjamin Henry, Jr. There seemed no solution short of parting from his family for a while, and in December, , Latrobe set sail for New Orleans on a brig suggestively named the Clio.
With exposed red brick, Roman classic columns, and double-hung windows, it was a radical departure from the established architectural traditions of New Orleans. Completed in , the building did not last long owing to a poor foundation, the use of soft local brick, and poor construction techniques. By the building needed repairs; four years later, it was in a ruinous state. Plans for its replacement were prepared in by Benjamin Buisson.
Latrobe sent his eldest son, Henry, an architect, to New Orleans that year to present a plan for a municipal waterworks, which the city accepted the following year.
It is a play on geometric massing with few ornamental details. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, —. Article published January 31, David Johnson. Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, 31 Jan Latrobe, Benjamin.
New York: Columbia University Press, Author Latrobe, Benjamin Henry, Physical Description p. Subjects Latrobe, Benjamin Henry, United States -- Description and travel. Language English Dewey Number View online Borrow Buy. Set up My libraries How do I set up "My libraries"? La Trobe University Library. Borchardt Library, Melbourne Bundoora Campus. Open to the public ; Open to the public Book; Illustrated English Show 0 more libraries None of your libraries hold this item.