It is entered at the south door from the Rotunda. This beautiful hall was occupied by the House of Representatives until the new legislative hall, in the house extension, was completed. It is ninety-five feet long, and sixty feet high to the top of its magnificently painted dome. It has a colonnade of twenty-six massive columns and pilasters of the variegated Potomac marble called ” breccia,” and a wide sweeping arch. It was designed by Latrobe to resemble the ancient Greek theatres, and for its ornamentation he secured the services of a number of prominent Italian artists, among whom were the Franzoni brothers, and Valperti and Causici. After the British troops had partially burned the hall, Latrobe reconstructed it in finer proportions, adding the marble columns and works of art. It was declared ” so perfect and so grand” that a writer early in the century quaintly said,” Its defects of construction with reference to acoustics, is a happy circumstance for the worthy fellowship of fault-finders, who would otherwise have to hang them-selves from the galleries in despair.” The congressmen who used it found it was a badly constructed hall for public speaking, as it had very provoking echoes and at certain points “a whisper scarcely audible to the ear into which it was breathed, would resound over the entire hall.” But with all its bad acoustic properties, many of the most eloquent and effective speeches ever heard in the halls of Congress have been delivered in this old legislative chamber, by renowned statesmen, whose names will live forever in the annals of the Republic.
Under the arch near the dome is a large plaster figure of Liberty, by Causici, and beneath it is the American eagle with outspread wings sculptured in stone by Valperti. Over the main entrance is a marble statue of History recording the events of the Nation, while rolling over the globe in a winged car, the wheel of which serves as a clock. This was executed by Carlo Franzoni, and is known as ” Franzoni’s Historical Clock.”
When the House of Representatives removed to its new hall it was suggested by Senator Morrill, of Vermont, then a member of the House, that the old hall should be taken for a National Gallery of Statuary, and that each state should be permitted to send the effigies of two of her chosen sons, in marble or in bronze, to be placed permanently here.” The suggestion was adopted, and the states were invited to send contributions of statues.
The first to respond to the invitation was the State of Rhode Island, which contributed a statue of Roger Williams, her great Apostle of Religious Freedom,” and a statue of Gen. Nathanael Greene, a distinguished soldier of the Revolutionary War. Connecticut followed with statues of Gov. Jonathan Trumbull, the last colonial governor of the State, to whom Washington familiarly applied the sobriquet of ” Brother Jonathan”; and Roger Sherman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. New York sent statues of George Clinton, Vice-President of the United States in 1804; and Robert R. Livingston, who, as Chancellor of the State of New York, administered the oath of office to President Washington. Massachusetts contributed statues of Gov. John Winthrop, of colonial fame, and Samuel Adams, who was called The Father of the Revolution.” Vermont is represented by statues of Col. Ethan Allen and Jacob Collamer; Maine by a statue of Gov. William King, her first governor; and Pennsylvania by a statue of Robert Fulton and Muhlenberg, the heroic Revolutionary Minister; Ohio by a statue of Garfield, and one of Governor Allen. Doubtless before many years all the states will be represented in this silent assembly of chosen sons.”
The statues are regarded as fine works of art, and as highly creditable to the states which have placed them in the care of the Nation. They are supplemented by statuary and portraits purchased by the government. Prominent in the collection is a plaster copy of Houdon’s famous statue of Washington, carefully taken from the original in Richmond, Va. Here also is Mrs. Vinnie Ream Hoxie’s statue of Lincoln.