virtual \architectural \archaeology

vir·tu·al \ ar·ch i·tect·ur·al \ ar·chae·ol·o·gy. n 1: the use of documentation, photographs, drawings, and artifacts combined with the latest in computer technologies to virtually model the lost built environment.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Old Brick Capitol and the Old Capitol Prison

Old Capitol Prison, circa 1864
Original Brick Capitol building, circa 1815

Bird's eye views of the prison yard
Birdseye view looking north into the prison.
View towards the gallows and the soldier barracks.
View of the kitchen, laundry, and guard house (first floor) with sentry platform above.

View towards the mess hall and hospital.

A Brief, Brief History

In August 1814, when British forces invaded Washington, they set fire to the United States Capitol building. Suddenly in need of temporary quarters, Congress tore down Stelle's Hotel, a tavern and inn located at 1st and A streets N.E., and quickly erected a brick building to serve as a temporary place in which to convene. Congress occupied the building until 1819, while the original U.S. Capitol Building was being rebuilt.
Library of Congress photo

The building acquired the name “Old Brick Capitol” when Congress and the Supreme Court returned to the restored U.S. Capitol Building. Immediately afterwards, the building was used as a private school, then as a boarding house. John C. Calhoun died in the boarding house in 1850.

With the start of the Civil War, the Union Army acquired the building for use as a prison for captured Confederate soldiers, political prisoners, Union officers convicted of insubordination, as well as a holding pen for local prostitutes.  
The hanging of Henry Wirz in the prison yard. (LOC) 

Many of those arrested following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln were held in the prison, included Dr. Samuel Mudd, Mary Surratt, Louis Weichmann, and the owner of Ford's Theater, John T. Ford. Other famous inmates included Rose Greenhow, Belle Boyd, John Mosby.  

Another infamous inmate of the prison was Henry Wirz, commander of Camp Sumter, the Confederate prisoner-of-war camp near Andersonville, Georgia.  He was tried for conspiracy and murder relating to his command of the camp and was hanged in the prison yard.
Trumbull's Row, circa 1920 (LOC).

The government sold the Old Capitol Prison in 1867 to George T. Brown, then sergeant-at-arms of the U.S. Senate.  Trumbull erected three  row houses on the site of the Old Capitol Building that became known as "Trumbull's Row."   

Trumbull's Row later became the headquarters of the National Woman's Party. In 1929, the site was razed to clear the way for the U.S. Supreme Court building.

An 1860s map provided enough information
to be able to recreate the entire prison


  1. There are copies at Wikimedia Commons, under category "Floor plans of prisons."


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