Most people know what the United States Capitol building looks like, and many have seen it, and even been inside it, but I wonder how many people know that is almost wasn’t completed. Yes, you heard me right. I almost wasn’t completed. As a young nation, the United States had no permanent capitol, and Congress met in eight different cities, including Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia, before 1791. In 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which gave President Washington the power to select a permanent home for the federal government. The following year, he chose what would become the District of Columbia from land that had been provided by Maryland. Washington picked three commissioners to oversee the capital city’s development and they in turn chose French engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant to come up with the design. However, L’Enfant clashed with the commissioners and was fired in 1792. A design competition was held, and a Scotsman named William Thornton submitted the winning entry.
Then, on this day, September 18, 1793, Washington laid the Capitol’s cornerstone and the lengthy construction process, which would involve a line of project managers and architects, got under way. One would think that is due time, the capitol building would be finished, but in reality, it took almost a century to finish…almost 100 years!! During those years, architects came and went, the British set it on fire, and it was called into use during the Civil War. In 1800, Congress moved into the Capitol’s north wing. In 1807, the House of Representatives moved into the building’s south wing, which was finally finished in 1811. During the War of 1812, the British invaded Washington DC. They set fire to the Capitol on August 24, 1814. Thankfully, a rainstorm saved the building from total destruction. Congress met in nearby temporary quarters from 1815 to 1819. In the early 1850s, work began to expand the Capitol to accommodate the growing number of Congressmen. The Civil War halted construction in 1861 while the Capitol was used by Union troops as a hospital and barracks. Following the war, expansions and modern upgrades to the building continued into the next century.
Today, the Capitol building, with its famous cast-iron dome and important collection of American art, is part of the Capitol Complex, which includes six Congressional office buildings and three Library of Congress buildings, all developed in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Capitol, which is visited by 3 million to 5 million people each year, has 540 rooms and covers a ground area of about four acres. I’m sure that those who visit the United States Capitol Building probably hear all about it strange past and its construction history, but maybe not. I suppose that it depends on what the tour guide finds interesting. Personally, I like the unusual construction. Thankfully, the United States Capitol did finally get built and has become the beautiful building we know today.
As I was looking through some old pictures, I came across one of a house. It was old, with it’s windows and doors boarded up. At first I thought that it was sad that so many houses around our country are left to fall apart, right in a town where people are using the homes all around it. I couldn’t figure out why this house had some significance, when so many others don’t. Then I looked at the back of the picture and I was surprised at what I found. First of all, so many of the pictures I have looked at, were not written on at all, leaving so much of the family history to the imagination…frustrating to say the least, and I know too that I have been guilty of that myself. We think that we will know the people in the picture, and we will, but what of the people in years to come…our children and grandchildren or even, great grandchildren…what will they know of the people or places in the picture.
So, what of the house in the picture I found…well, it was the house that Bob’s grandmother, Vina Nona Leary Schulenberg Hein was born in, 105 years ago today. It’s strange to think that you are looking at a house that was the specific location of a specific event over a century earlier, but that is exactly the case. Most births took place in the home back then, and this one was no different, in fact, it was probably completely routine…to them. To most of us today, that seems incredible, even though home births are making a comeback.
Grandma Hein’s birthday was always easy for me to remember, because it came on Groundhog’s Day. I’m sure that was always something her whole family thought was a cool thing too. Having a birthday on a special day or holiday can be fun, with the possible exception of Christmas. I have heard that a Christmas birthday, or even close to it, can be a real bummer with the whole gift thing and all, but any other special day is a cool thing. Grandma’s birthday being on Groundhogs Day, marked the day of either the promise of an early spring or 6 more weeks of a dreary winter. I don’t know, that one might depend on the outcome, as to whether it was a cool birthday or not. Nevertheless, being able to look at the very house that was aflutter with activity on this Groundhog’s Day 105 years ago is a cool thing to me. I have to wonder what the walls of this old house could tell us of that day. Quite a bit I expect. It’s a bit sad to think that no little children run and play in it’s rooms, no wonderful smells fill it’s rooms, no family enjoys the warmth of it’s rooms, but rather it has become a sad empty structure left to fall apart. Still, it was an important place in it’s day…Grandma’s day of birth 105 years ago today. Happy birthday Grandma!! We love and miss you very much.
With the advent of the railroad in America back in the early 1820’s, came the fascination with trains and the railroad in general. It is a fascination that has never really ended. Even though some of our railroad tracks are now being dismantled, I don’t believe that the railroad will ever really go away. So many things are transported by rail, many of which could not feasibly be transported any other way…coal being one of the biggest industries to which the railroad is vital. My family worked in the lumber industry back in the early 1900’s, and at that time lumber and lumber products were transported by rail. There were no semi-trucks to transport things, so most things were transported to other areas of the country by rail.
Early on there were huge ceremonies to celebrate the railroads entrance into a new town. People just understood how important the railroad was to their way of life. Travel became easier, supplies and mail reached people faster, and the standard of living in the West vastly improved. It was a win win situation for everyone concerned
With all those changes, also came the advent of the railroad photo op. Everyone wanted their picture taken by the tracks, it seems. I have come across several pictures where the railroad tracks are the main focus of the shot. I can understand the fascination, but I was surprised by the number of people who felt the same way I did about them. Pictures weren’t as common back in the early 1900’s, although they were apparently more common than I would have thought. Still, no matter the cost, no matter how frivolous, people wanted pictures with the railroad in them. It was such a novelty, and it was a piece of history. It was their chance to prove that they were there.
Apparently, not much has changed over the decades or even the last century, because it seems to be the latest thing again, to have your picture taken on or beside the railroad tracks. Senior pictures and even family pictures are being taken there by lots of photographers, like my friend, Tammie Williamson of Williamson Creations Photography. Tammie displays railroad photographs on her photography site quite a bit. Like so many other people throughout history, she and many other people today still like the tracks for photographs. It’s just part of our fascination with the railroad, the trains, and the tracks that move them along.
Today my cousin, Tim reminded me that his grandmother, my Aunt Laura would had been 100 years old had she still been with us. My Aunt Laura was born August 3, 1912 in International Falls, Minnesota. She was the oldest child of my grandparents, Allen and Anna. It would be almost 10 years before she would finally get any siblings, after which she would get a total of 3 in a little over 5 years. During those years, Aunt Laura would become her mother’s right hand, helping out with the younger children and with the farm, since her dad worked on the rail road and was away much of the time.
During World War II, my Aunt Laura became one of the famous Riveters, working in the Shipyards in Superior, Wisconsin to help out the war effort. My Uncle Bill, her brother, always hated that term, Riveters, because they actually did not rivet anything, they welded, and Aunt Laura became very skilled at welding. That is very difficult for me to imagine, because Aunt Laura always seemed so feminine to me. I couldn’t imagine her working as a welder. My dad had been a welder too, and it is a sweaty, dirty job, so to think of Aunt Laura doing that, as well as my Aunt Ruth and my Uncle Bill, was very odd. My dad didn’t work in the shipyards during the war, because he was on active duty in England, on a B-17G Bomber. His siblings wanted to show their support for their brother, as well as the rest of the troops, and they did so very efficiently.
Aunt Laura went on to marry and have two sons, Eugene and Dennis, and three grandsons, Tim, Shawn, and David, and great grandsons Daniel and Cody. Boys seemed to be her lot in life. Girls, if she ever wanted any, just weren’t in the cards for her. I never heard that she was upset about that, so I think she must have thought it was a pretty good idea. As far as girls were concerned though, Aunt Laura stayed the night with me years ago, she and my girls got along just fine.
It’s hard to believe that Aunt Laura has been in Heaven for a decade now, but I’m quite sure she is celebrating her special day with my dad, Aunt Ruth, Grandma and Grandpa..and many others. Have a wonderful day Aunt Laura!! Happy birthday, and we love you!!