BUILDINGS ERECTED BY U.S. GOVERNMENT
By James Croggon, The Evening Star, July 4, 1915 [p. 10]
The act of March 3, 1849, authorizing the new Home or Interior Department, conferred powers of supervision and appeals on the new Secretary over the general land, patent, Indian affairs and pension offices, and also over the census accounts, etc. These bureaus were somewhat scattered, the land office in the third story of the Treasury, the patent office in its own building, the Indian affairs in the War Department and the pension bureau in the Winder building. The last named building was erected on the site of the old yellow printing office of Alexander & Bernard, by Charles H. Winder, about the time the bill was passed. He first rented it to the government for the accommodation of such offices as could not find accommodations in the department buildings. After paying nearly $90,000 in rent, the government purchased the building in 1855 for $200,000. It is still in possession of the government, and has been enlarged.
The patent office having less than half a dozen employes prior to 1836, when it was burned, had increased to about thirty clerks, and it then included the germ of the Department of Agriculture, the museums, etc. The Indian affairs were administered by about fifteen clerks. The pension bureau, located first in the War Department basement, with four or five clerks, had occupied rooms in a building opposite the department, before taking rooms in Winder's building with about twenty clerks.
Eighty Employes in Land Office
The government had no building for the new department, but at the time the crowded condition of the Treasury having made rental necessary, a building on the southwest corner of 15th and F streets, occupied by some of the Treasury clerks, afforded accommodations. The new Secretary found a chief clerk was provided for, but the other clerks were detailed from the several bureaus named and the Secretary employed half a dozen others on his own responsibility, looking to the approval of Congress, D.C. Goddard was the chief clerk, and a young man from Ohio was placed in charge of the appointment desk. It was customary for him to file letters asking for places, and letters of endorsement, in the pigeonholes.
Abraham Lincoln an Applicant
After a few weeks, when Gen. Ewing was attending a cabinet meeting, a messenger called for the papers on file for this appointment. The clerk hastily did the papers of each applicant up into bundles, and, whether intentionally or by carelessness, he bundled up only a small portion from Mr. Lincoln's box. Those were sent to the President and the result was unfavorable to Mr. Lincoln.
Learning of this, he went to the President and asked if he had seen certain letters and received the reply that he had not. He thereupon called on the Secretary who at once inquired into the matter and found many letters that had not been sent to the President. The Secretary, at once transferred the young clerk to a land office out west. He wanted Mr. Lincoln to accept some other position, but the offer was declined.
"I have often thought," said the old clerk, "that the young man did a good deed for the American people, accidentally or otherwise, for had Mr. Lincoln became commissioner of the land office he most likely would never have been President. But few occupants of that office can serve their full terms without making enemies."
Secretary Ewing Resigns
On the same date, March 3, 1849, the organization of the department was authorized, and appropriation was made toward the erection of the wings to the patent office and but little was expended during the year. This appropriation of $50,000 was followed by others, and in the following year more than $100,000 was expended on the construction.
While the east wing was being erected the office of Secretary of the Interior was separated from the bureaus, but the Secretary proposed that the department should establish its head in this building as soon as there were accommodations therefor. This use was sanctioned by the act of September 30, 1850. The patent office, however, was growing at a rapid rate, and the law at the time calling for models with applications for patents, made it necessary to secure room for them. The further claim was made that the patent office was not only self-supporting, but was accumulating a large surplus, and that if the department moved in there would be no room for that office. Congress, however, thought otherwise and made appropriations for the department, and also an appropriation for the erection of the west wing. The department moved into the east wing, which had been completed about 1853.
Location of Indian Office
Other Public Buildings
The extension of the Treasury was authorized by the act of March 3, 1855, and the work extended over the war period, costing somewhat over six millions of dollars. The old State Department there was demolished and the erection of the State, War and Navy building blotted out the two executive buildings remaining.