On November 30th, 2018, the United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHS) – in partnership with the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, The Octagon museum, and Tudor Place – presented an academic symposium and reception in honor of Dr. William Thornton, the first Architect of the Capitol. 2018 marked the 225th Anniversary of both the acceptance of Thornton’s plan for the Capitol and the laying of the Capitol’s Cornerstone.
The day’s commemoration began with a morning symposium entitled “Imagining the Capitol: The Enlightened Life of Dr. William Thornton.” Officials and academics discussed the life and work of Dr. Thornton at the historic Octagon House, one of his designs in the capital city. Attendees were welcomed to the event by William C. diGiacomantonio, Chief Historian of the USCHS; Christine Merdon, Acting Architect of the Capitol; and Richard Wells, Vice-Principal of International Partnerships for the University of Aberdeen. C-SPAN3 was on hand to record the talks. Videos of the lectures will be available online once the videos have been broadcast; we will update this post with links when available.
- “Thornton’s Capitol, 1793, and the Atlantic Revolutions”
Michael Brown of the University of Aberdeen
- “William Thornton – Polymath”
Gordon Brown, an independent historian
- “George Washington’s Capital and Thornton’s Capitol”
Matthew Costello of the White House Historical Association
- “The Thorntons: Capital Portraits”
Ellen G. Miles, Curator Emerita of the National Portrait Gallery
The celebration concluded with an evening tour and reception at Tudor Place, another of Thornton’s grand designs in Washington, DC. Guests were welcomed with light refreshments before exploring the manor open house. At the end of the tour, all participants had an opportunity to sample the Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky, which is a unique range of single malts produced in Scotland’s Speyside region by the world’s longest serving Malt Master, David C. Stewart MBE. Sharing this meaningful spirit served as the day’s final toast to the life and work of Dr. Thornton.
About the University of Aberdeen
The University of Aberdeen, Scotland was founded in 1495, and is one of 40 ancient universities in the world. The story of Aberdeen is woven into the history of the United States. As the fledgling nation took its first steps, Aberdeen doctors, clergy, scientists and philosophers were a rich source of inspiration and ideas. Today, with over 14,500 students from 120 countries, Aberdeen is welcoming more American students to Scotland than ever before, and is proud to be The Times/Sunday Times (London) ‘Scottish University of the Year 2019’. Partnership is at the heart of Aberdeen’s outlook as a global academic player – growing, strengthening and advancing its links with U.S. organizations and alumni.
About The Octagon
Designed by Dr. William Thornton, The Octagon has witnessed some of history’s most significant moments, including the 1814 burning of Washington, when it served as the temporary home of President James Madison and First Lady Dolley Madison, the official end of the War of 1812, and D.C.’s rise as a symbol of democracy. Starting in 1898, it has been the American Institute of Architects’ D.C. headquarters.
About Tudor Place
Tudor Place, one of America’s first National Historic Landmarks, was built by a granddaughter of Martha Washington and a son of Robert Peter, a prominent Scottish-born merchant and landowner and Georgetown’s first mayor. Thomas and Martha Custis Peter purchased 8 1⁄2 acres of farmland on Georgetown Heights. Dr. William Thornton, a family friend, designed the grand neoclassical house and it was completed in 1816. The estate remained under continuous Peter family ownership through six generations spanning 178 years. In 1983, Armistead Peter III, the founders’ great-great-grandson died, and Tudor opened in 1988 – 30 years ago – as an historic house and garden in accordance with his wishes.