Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This is the Old Brick Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 1865. Do you see who is at the window?

Located at 1st and A streets NE in Washington, D.C., the site was originally occupied in 1800 by a two-story brick tavern and hostel called Stelle's Hotel. After the Burning of Washington by the British Army in August 1814, the nearby United States Capitol building could not be occupied. The Congress purchased Stelle's Hotel, tore it down, and built a temporary brick building in the Federal style. Funds for the new building came from private investors, who were worried that the capitol would move from the District of Columbia. They felt that building a temporary structure would keep the government in D.C., and they were right. (Subsequently, their land values did not collapse!) Congress occupied the temporary capitol building from December 8, 1815, until 1819, while the U.S. Capitol Building was rebuilt.

After 1819, the building was called the Old Brick Capitol. The private owners rented it out, and it used as a private school and then a boarding house.

At the start of the Civil War in April 1861, the federal government purchased the building and used it as a prison.

Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant on March 29, 1865, ending the Civil War. John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln on April 15. Conspirators Lewis Powell and Mary Surratt were arrested at Surratt's board house in what is now Chinatown in D.C. on the evening of April 17. Conspirator George Atzerodt was arrested in Maryland on April 20. Booth was shot and killed at a farm in Virginia on April 26. Captured with him was David Herold, another conspirator.

Atzerodt, Herold, Powell, and five other suspected male co-conspirators were initially held aboard the monitors "USS Saugus" and and "USS Montauk" in the Potomac River to prevent escape or rescue.

Mary Surratt was held at the Old Brick Capitol.

All the prisoners were transferred to the Washington Arsenal (present-day Ft. Leslie J. McNair) on April 30. The trial of the alleged conspirators began on May 9 and ended on June 28. Sentence was handed down June 30: Death. The sentence was announced publicly on July 5, and the prisoners told on July 6. On July 7, 1865, at 1:31 P.M., the four condemned prisoners hung on gallows (the spot is now the tennis courts in front of the Africa Building at Ft. McNair).

Henry Wirz, the Confederate officer who commanded the prisoner-of-war camp near Andersonville, Georgia, was hanged in the yard of the Old Brick Capitol for conspiracy and murder on November 10, 1865.

The Old Brick Capitol was sold in 1867 to George Brown, who split it into three rowhouses. The three structures served as the headquarters of the National Woman's Party from its founding in 1917 to 1929, when it moved to the Sewall-Belmont House. The site was acquired in 1929 and the Old Brick Capitol razed to make way for the new U.S. Supreme Court building.

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