The 1911 Capitol Fire

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The 1911 Capitol Fire
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    (TEXT VERSION - About the New York State Capitol Building)

    The New York State Capitol Building

    The Capitol Building was constructed between 1867 and 1899. This photograph, taken prior to the 1911 fire, shows the northwestern side of the building (as viewed from Washington Avenue).

    Capital District Map

    The Capitol Building was built at the heart of downtown Albany, surrounded by neighborhood homes and businesses. Three teams of architects worked on the Capitol during its thirty-two years of its construction: Thomas Fuller (1867-75), Leopold Eidlitz and Henry Hobson Richardson (1875-83), and Isaac G. Perry (1883-99).

    Development Plan for Capitol Hill

    Franklin B. Ware, New York State Architect from 1907-1912, drafted this development plan of Capitol Hill. In addition to the Capitol Building, also visible are the State Education building (completed in 1912), City Hall and All Saints Cathedral. The Court of Appeals (top center) and five smaller structures to its left were not constructed according to this plan.

    Capitol Construction Underway (1867)

    Construction of the Capitol Building began on December 9, 1867. Most of the work was undertaken by Irish laborers who had to break through the frozen ground with pickaxes and shovels.

    Capitol Construction (1867-1869)

    Workers utilize wooden cranes powered by horses to set the large granite blocks into place for the foundation.

    Capitol Construction (1869)

    This photograph was taken on August 7, 1869 at 11:45 a.m. Visible are the large granite blocks of the foundation which, at places, reached over sixteen feet thick.

    Capitol Construction (1870)

    The aggregation of workers pauses momentarily to pose for this photograph. A giant granite block hangs precariously overhead as a steam-powered crane readies to set it in place.

    Observing the Foundation (1871)

    On September 22, 1871, dignitaries pose for this photograph of the nearly complete foundation.

    Laying the Cornerstone (1871)

    On June 24, 1871, ceremonies conducted by Governor John T. Hoffman to lay the cornerstone were delayed by rain. Oddly, to this day the exact location of the cornerstone is unknown.

    Thomas Fuller's Original Design (1867)

    Fuller's original design called for a colossal dome. However, time and expense made it impossible to complete. Only one of ten other state capitols without a central dome, the finalized Capitol's three separate architectural styles adds to its uniqueness.

    The Completed Capitol (1899)

    Thirty-two years after breaking ground, Governor Theodore Roosevelt declared the Capitol Building complete in 1899. The exterior is made of white granite from Maine, and the building incorporates marble cut by state prisoners at Sing Sing. At its highest point, the granite structure is 220 feet tall.

    Louis Josiah Hinton and the Million Dollar Staircase

    Master stone carver Louis Josiah Hinton oversaw construction of the Great Western Staircase, famed for its elaborate carvings in red Corsehill sandstone. Known as the "Million Dollar Staircase," it took $1.5 million and sixteen years to complete.

    Elite Stonecutters and Carvers

    Over 500 stonecutters and carvers worked tirelessly from 1883-1897 to complete the Great Western Staircase. They were primarily tasked with the carving of seventy-seven prominent figures directly into the stone walls of the stairwell.

    Stone Carvings in the Great Western Staircase

    The seventy-seven faces exquisitely carved into the sandstone staircases include famous Americans such as Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Susan B. Anthony. Pictured here is author James Fenimore Cooper.

    Stone Carvings in the Great Western Staircase

    The face of Christopher Columbus is clearly visible in this carving. In addition to the portraits of famous figures, the stone carvers also included the likenesses of family members and friends!

    General Reading Room of the State Library

    The New York State Library occupied the third and fourth floors and attic of the western section of the Capitol. The general reading room measured seventy-three by forty-two by fifty-two feet and spanned two floors.

    General Reading Room of the State Library

    Visible in this photograph are the two tiers of galleries supported on red granite columns and arches.

    Gallery of the General Reading Room

    Throughout the years, as space for additional books became limited, Library staff would create ad hoc shelving in any available space, including over the railings in stairwells, in the archways, and even along the railing side of the galleries.

    Central Room of the State Library

    The ceiling of the two-story central room displayed a handsome mural of flying cupids and garlands.

    Empire State Plaza

    The ninety-eight-acre Empire State Plaza was constructed between 1965 and 1978 under the guidance of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Today, the Capitol sits at the northernmost end of the plaza and is joined by the Performing Arts Center, the Corning Tower, the Cultural Education Center and various other state office buildings.