Thomas Ustick Walter

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Thomas Ustick Walter
Thomas U. Walter - Brady-Handy.jpg
Architect of the Capitol
In office
June 11, 1851 – May 26, 1865
PresidentMillard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
James Buchanan
Abraham Lincoln
Andrew Johnson
Preceded byCharles Bulfinch
Succeeded byEdward Clark
Personal details
Born(1804-09-04)September 4, 1804
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
DiedOctober 30, 1887(1887-10-30) (aged 83)
Washington, D.C., US
ProfessionCivil Engineer
Thomas Ustick Walter
BuildingsMoyamensing Prison
Girard College
ProjectsUnited States Capitol dome
Philadelphia City Hall

Thomas Ustick Walter (September 4, 1804 – October 30, 1887) was an American architect of German descent, 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 and responsible for adding the north (Senate) and south (House) wings and the central dome that is predominantly the current appearance of the U.S. Capitol building. Walter was one of the founders and second president of the American Institute of Architects. In 1839, he was elected as a member to the American Philosophical Society.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born in 1804 in Philadelphia, Walter was the son of mason and bricklayer Joseph S. Walter and his wife Deborah.[2] Walter was a mason's apprentice to his father. He also studied architecture and technical drawing at the Franklin Institute.

Walter received early training in a variety of fields including masonry, mathematics, physical science, and the fine arts. At 15, Walter entered the office of William Strickland, studying architecture and mechanical drawing,[2] then established his own practice in 1830.[3]


Founder's Hall, Girard College, Philadelphia

Professional career[edit]

As Architect of the Capitol[edit]

Late career[edit]

  • Ingleside, Washington, D.C. (c. 1850)[16]
  • Garrett-Dunn House, 7048 Germantown Ave, Mt. Airy, Philadelphia (c. 1850, burned 2009)[17][18]
  • Fifth Presbyterian Church, 500 I Street N.W., Washington, D.C. (1852)[19]
  • Thomas Ustick Walter House, Germantown, Philadelphia (1860–61, demolished c. 1920)[20]
  • Eutaw Place Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland (1868–71)

It has been suggested that Walter designed the Second Empire-styled Quarters B and Quarters D at Admiral's Row in Brooklyn, New York.[citation needed]

The U.S. Capitol and its dome[edit]

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 4, 1861, beneath the unfinished capitol dome

The most famous of Walter's constructions is the dome of the U.S. Capitol. By 1850, the rapid expansion of the United States, and thus the U.S. Congress, had caused a space shortage in the Capitol. Walter 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.[21]

Walter family with servant, circa 1850

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 Freedom was placed on top. The dome's cast iron frame was supplied and constructed by the iron foundry Janes, Fowler, Kirtland & Co.[22] He also reconstructed the interior of the west center building for the Library of Congress 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.[citation needed]

In the 1870s, financial setbacks forced Walter to come out of retirement, and he worked as second-in-command when his friend and younger colleague John McArthur, Jr., won the design competition for Philadelphia City Hall. He continued on that vast project until his death in 1887. He was interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.[23]

Other honors[edit]

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

Walter's grandson, Thomas Ustick Walter III, was also an architect; he practiced in Birmingham, Alabama, from the 1890s to the 1910s.[24]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2021-04-09.
  2. ^ a b Frary, Ihna Thayer (1940). They Built the Capitol. Ayer Publishing. p. 201.
  3. ^ a b Mason, George C. Jr. (1888). "Memoir". Proceedings of the ... Annual Convention of the American Institute of Architects. 21–22: 101–108.
  4. ^ Filemban, Mustafa. "WC History: The Shipwrecked Entrepreneur". Retrieved 2015-12-09.
  5. ^ Tasman, William (1980). The History of Wills Eye Hospital. Harper & Row. ISBN 978-0061425318.
  6. ^ Moss, Roger W. (1998-05-29). Historic Houses of Philadelphia: A Tour of the Region's Museum Homes. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-8122-3438-1.
  7. ^ "St. George's Hall. [graphic]". The Library Company of Philadelphia. Retrieved 2011-06-18.
  8. ^ Building & Furnishing of Christ Church Philadelphia. Christ Church Philadelphia. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-4223-6535-9.
  9. ^ "Bank of Chester County, 17 North High Street, West Chester, Chester County, PA" (Searchable database). Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, Engineering Record, Landscapes Survey Collection. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  10. ^ "Newkirk Monument". Retrieved 2020-04-18.
  11. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (March 1978). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Lexington Presbyterian Church" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  12. ^ Crichfield, George Washington (1908). Foreigners in Latin America and relations with foreign governments. Brentano's. p. 304.
  13. ^ Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (February 1978). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Tabb Street Presbyterian Church" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  14. ^ Archived 2012-02-05 at the Wayback Machine - Chester county courthouse West Chester, Pennsylvania
  15. ^ Curl, James Stevens; Wilson, Susan (2015-02-26). The Oxford Dictionary of Architecture. OUP Oxford. p. 822. ISBN 978-0-19-105385-6.
  16. ^ "Ingleside (Stoddard Baptist Home) - Originally designed by Thomas Ustick Walter, this house is an important example of his domestic design". DC Historic Sites. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  17. ^ "Garrett-Dunn House destroyed". WHYY. Retrieved 2021-09-20.
  18. ^ Caparella, Kitty (3 August 2009). "Garrett-Dunn House, a landmark in Mt. Airy, destroyed in fire". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 2021-09-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ Pressley Montes, Sue Anne (28 August 2007). "Church's Face-Lift Plans Uncover Ties to U.S. Capitol Architect". The Washington Post.
  20. ^ Harrison, Stephen G. (1992). "Documenting a Design: The Thomas Ustick Walter House, 1861-1866, Germantown, Pennsylvania". University of Pennsylvania.
  21. ^ August Schoenborn at archINFORM
  22. ^ Terrell, Ellen (2015-05-20). "The Capitol Dome: Janes, Fowler, & Kirtland Co. | Inside Adams: Science, Technology & Business". Retrieved 2021-08-25.
  23. ^ Laurel Hill Cemetery
  24. ^ Fazio, Michael W. (2010) Landscape of Transformations: Architecture and Birmingham, Alabama. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press ISBN 978-1-57233-687-2
  25. ^ Lukens, Ph.D., Rob (December 11, 2011). "THOMAS U. WHO???". Archived from the original on 2016-03-20. Retrieved 2020-04-18.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Architect of the Capitol
Succeeded by