Legislative Branch

Guide to Senate Records: Chapter 16 Buildings and Grounds

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Chapter 16. Records of the Committee on Public Works and Related Committees, 1820-1968

Records of the Committee on Public Works and Related Committees, 1820-1968 from Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States

Committee records discussed in this chapter:
Records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, 1838-1946

16.6. Legislation and other matters relating to public buildings and grounds, especially concerning the accommodations afforded the Senate in the north wing of the Capitol and the appropriations to secure these accommodations, were referred to a number of select committees during the first 50 years of the Senate. The few records of these select committees that have survived are found among the committee reports and papers and the petitions and memorials of various select committees; the only exception to this is a petition from artist Julia Plantou asking Congress to purchase her painting of the signing of the Treaty of Ghent (16A-G12). In the 2d session of the 25th Congress (1837), a joint committee was established but was replaced less than 1 year later, on December 6, 1838, by a standing Committee on Public Buildings, which continued until its termination at the end of the 79th Congress. Under Senate Rule XXV, as approved in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, jurisdiction over public buildings and grounds was given to the newly created Committee on Public Works.

16.7. The records of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds (15 ft.) consist of committee reports and papers, 1838 (1/4 in.); committee papers, 1847-1946 with gaps (10 ft.); petitions, memorials, and resolutions of State legislatures that were referred to the committee, 1839-1946 with gaps (5 ft.); minutes, 1935-46 (1 vol.,1/2 in.); and legislative dockets, 1935-38 (3 vols., 3 in.). There is only one original report among the committee records. The committee papers, from the 30th through the 57th Congresses (1847-1903), contain legislative case files on bills and resolutions referred to it and such accompanying papers as correspondence, building plans, and land plats. The records also include a small number of original transcripts of hearings, Presidential messages, executive communications, and copies of minutes of committee meetings. Some petitions and memorials also have supporting papers. For many Congresses, the amount of records in either the committee papers or petitions and memorials series may be negligible. The bound records of the committee consist of a minute book, which contains summaries of committee meetings for the 74th-79th Congresses (1935-47), and three legislative docket books, one for the 74th Congress and two for the 75th Congress.

Records, 1838-1901 (25th-56th Congresses)

16.8. Nineteenth century records of the committee focus on improvements to and expansion of the Capitol and the Capitol Grounds; construction of Federal office buildings for use as post offices, customshouses, courthouses, hospitals, and offices throughout the country and in Washington, DC; the acquisition of land for and the construction of memorials; and in a few instances, the acquisition of statuary.

16.9. Among the earliest records of the committee are a small number of petitions from laborers on Federal buildings and employees on the Capitol Grounds. By the late 1840's, however, the emphasis of the records is on more substantive matters. One of the primary purposes of the committee was to investigate the need for legislation to expand and modernize the Capitol. Among the subjects of the records are improvements in the heating and ventilating (29A-G18, 30A-E9, 42A-E18, 42A-H23, 48A-E20, 49A-E24) and lighting (35A-H16, 49A-E24) of the Capitol; enlargement of the Library of Congress, which was in the Capitol (37A-E11); and acquisition of land for the Senate stable (48A-E20). Expansion of the Capitol led to at least one claim for damages; the Israel AME Church on Capitol Hill petitioned the Senate for compensation, submitting a survey of their property and evidence supporting their claim (42A-H23). Also among the records relating to the Capitol and Capitol Grounds are reports (3OA-E9) and memorials (31A-H18) of Architect of the Capitol Robert Mills and letters from landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead concerning his proposed redesign of the Capitol Gardens (43A-E17).

16.10. The committee was also concerned with the construction of other Federal buildings both in and out of Washington. Beginning with the 32d Congress (1851-1853), there are legislative case files for such projects, arranged for each Congress by type of bill and thereunder by number. Many of these are for local post offices, court houses, and other Federal buildings, from those in the largest cities to those in the most isolated outposts. Among the latter, for example, are files relating to four bills to authorize money for a small post office in Mammoth Hot Springs, WY, in Yellowstone National Park (51A-F26, 52A-F23, 53A-F28, 55A-F26) and one for a Federal building in Helena, MT (52A-F23), which includes a detailed justification of the building and a description of the community in the early 1890's. There are also records concerning construction of the Patent Office Building (now the National Portrait Gallery and Museum of American Art), including lists of workers and copies of payrolls (32A-E13); papers relating to a proposed new Presidential mansion on land north of the Capitol (40A-E12); papers explaining Mrs. Benjamin Harrison's plans for enlargement and extension of the White House (51A-F26); and numerous legislative case files for bills proposing construction of a hall of records for the archives of executive agencies (49A-E24, 53A-F28, 56A-F32).

16.11. The records include correspondence between the committee and the Joint Committee for the Completion of the Washington Monument (45A-E19); a petition supporting establishment of a national park at Valley Forge, PA (51A-J25); and petitions (44A-H20, 52A-J23, 56A-J34) and a legislative case file (52A-F23) relating to purchase of land at Yorktown, VA, for a Revolutionary War memorial. The committee was also involved in the selection of a sculptor to create a statue of Adm. David G. Farragut for a square in Washington. The records include several letters from Wilson MacDonald and other sculptors contending for the Farragut statue commission (42A-E18, 43A-E17).

Records, 1901-46 (57th-79th Congresses)

16.12. Twentieth century records of the committee differ from earlier files because the legislative case files are no longer filed with the committee papers. As a consequence of this change in the Senate's filing practice, the committee papers consist largely of miscellaneous correspondence and executive communications and Presidential messages that were usually printed. There are, however, a few exceptions.

16.13. For the 57th Congress (1901-03), there are files relating to bills proposing to authorize the construction of Federal buildings in various cities. These files are arranged alphabetically by name of city, but are in other respects similar to the legislative case files for earlier Congresses. Each project was originally proposed in a separate Senate bill; however, the bill that passed, H.R. 14018, included all of the approved building projects (57A-F27).

16.14. The committee papers also include the records of an investigation in 1919, under the direction of committee chairman Bert M. Fernald of Maine, of alleged mismanagement in the construction and maintenance of public buildings by the United States Housing Corporation (USHC). These records include correspondence, copies of contracts, tabulations and notes, copies of USHC records, and printer's copies of hearing transcripts and of the committee report (66A-F20).

16.15. The committee papers include very small subject files, including copies of agenda and minutes of some committee meetings for the years 1933-44, covering the chairmanships of Thomas T. (Tom) Connally of Texas, 1933-40, (73A-F23, 74A-F21.1, 75A-F21, 76A-F21), and Francis T. Maloney of Connecticut, 1941-44 (77A-F26, 78A-F26). There is also a single executive session transcript, June 19, 1944.

16.16. Very few petitions and memorials were referred to the committee after 1900. Over a third of these favored prohibition of sales of intoxicating beverages in Federal buildings (57A-J60, 59A-J99, 60A-J121), and a few supported construction of a national archives building (62A-J78, 64A-J71). The remainder concerned a variety of other subjects.

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Bibliographic note: Web version based on Guide to the Records of the United States Senate at the National Archives, 1789-1989: Bicentennial Edition (Doct. No. 100-42). By Robert W. Coren, Mary Rephlo, David Kepley, and Charles South. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1989.