The Papers of Joseph Henry


My dear H.

I have been much engaged all day in calling on persons and studying the plan which has been adopted by the Regents for the Smithsonian.[1] You may recollect that Bache[2] informed me that the plan of young Renwick[3] had been adopted with the direction that he should cut it down.[4] This plan will make a beautiful building the only objection is the cost. I fear with all the cutting down it will cost nearly 200 thousand—I may perhaps succeed in getting it down to 170.[5] I visited with young Renwick Grace church which he has just finished this is the most beautiful sample of the Gothic[B] I have seen in this country.[6] The remainder of the day was spent with Dr Torrey Mr Redfield[7] and Prof Loomis[8]—the last two gentlemen have adopted my vews relative to the smithsonian very warmly— Mr Loomis is to give a paper for the first no. of the Proceedings or as they are to be called Smithsonian Contributions.[9] Also I have reason to beleive that Mr Galletan will also furnish a paper on on Ethnography[10]— I have not yet seen James Alexander[11] nor called on Mr Furness.[12] I purpose calling on these gentlemen tomorrow. I stopped at Stewards the candy makers[13] and have promised to meet Dr Torrey there at dinner tomorrow. I intend if I can get through with my engagements to s[t]art for home in the evening train.[14] If I should not arrive you need not however be uneasy as it is possible that I may not get away.
Kiss the children for me and believe that I remain as ever


Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [1] Henry traveled to northern New Jersey and New York City “to confer with gentlemen of learning and intelligence on the practicability of the plans I had submitted” for the Smithsonian. While in New York he also attended a meeting of the New-York Historical Society. Henry to Harriet Henry, [January 5, 1847], Family Correspondence, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives; quotation from Henry's reminiscences, beginning “By the advice of my friend Bache,” n.d., n.p., Folder “Smithsonian Institution Miscellaneous Notes and Papers,” Box 30, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [2] Alexander Dallas Bache, superintendent of the Coast Survey, a Smithsonian regent, and one of Henry's closest friends. Henry Papers, 2:108.
    [3] James Renwick, Jr. (1818–1895), the son of James Renwick, Sr. (Henry Papers, 1:59), professor of natural philosophy and experimental chemistry at New York's Columbia College, was a civil engineer and self-trained architect whose commissions included numerous churches and public buildings. His early designs—including those for the Smithsonian Institution Building—were marked by their use of the Gothic and Romanesque Revival styles. DAB.
[4] At its meeting of November 30, 1846, the building committee of the Board of Regents reported that it had selected two of the thirteen designs submitted for the Smithsonian Building. Both were Renwick's: one was Gothic
Renwick's Gothic plan for the Smithsonian Institution Building. Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (Washington, 1849), facing p. 99.
, the other Norman. The building committee preferred the latter plan. The board filed the committee's report and did not take up the matter again until January 20, 1847.
The regents' minutes from November 30 through January 20 do not indicate that Renwick was directed to “cut down” his plan (that is, to trim it back from three stories to two). He may have been advised to do so, however, by the chairman of the building committee, Robert Dale Owen, representative from Indiana (Henry Papers, 6:465n, 470). On January 1, Owen told Isaiah Rogers, another architect who had submitted a plan, that the regents “had selected Mr. Renwick's plan and that he [Renwick] was going to set about revising his plan and reducing the thing to the sum proposed.” Renwick's revised plan showed a somewhat less ornate, two-story building.
Renwick's plan for the Smithsonian Institution Building, from the northeast. Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (Washington, 1849), facing p. 104.
Renwick's plan for the Smithsonian Institution Building, from the southwest. Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (Washington, 1849), facing p. 108.
Ground plans of Smithsonian Institution Building. Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (Washington, 1849), facing p. 105.
Rhees, Journals, pp. 7–21; Henry Papers, 6:607n; Kenneth Hafertepe, America's Castle: The Evolution of the Smithsonian Building and Its Institution, 1840–1878 (Washington, 1984), pp. 18–21, 27–38, 47–57, 62–65 (quotation on p. 55); Cynthia R. Field, introduction to Robert Dale Owen, Hints on Public Architecture (1849; New York, 1978).
    [5] Henry's estimate of $200,000 was close to the amount stipulated for the Smithsonian Building, $205,050, under the contract which the building committee signed on March 20, 1847. Cost overruns put the actual expenditure at $313,753 as of 1855, the year in which the building was considered “finished.” Rhees, Journals, pp. 626–627, 711.
    [6] This was the second Grace Episcopal Church, Renwick's first major commission. Begun in 1843, it was consecrated in March 1846. While some observers commented unfavorably upon the church's interior and steeple, most shared Henry's opinion. Hafertepe, pp. 32–34; William Rhinelander Stewart, Grace Church and Old New York (New York, 1924), pp. 156–165, 422, 426–427.
    [7] William C. Redfield, a New York City transportation engineer, was a pioneer in the development of American meteorology. Henry Papers, 2:456.
    [8] Elias Loomis, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at New York University, was influential in the development not only of American meteorology, but also of American astronomy. Henry Papers, 3:362–363.
    [9] Loomis did not submit a memoir for the Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge until the late 1850s. He did prepare a “Report on the Meteorology of the United States,” which appeared in the Smithsonian Report for 1847, pp. 193–207 (see Doc. 41).
[10] Swiss–born Abraham Alfonse Albert Gallatin (1761–1849) was near the end of a distinguished career that included service as a United States senator and representative from Pennsylvania, as secretary of the treasury under Thomas Jefferson, as minister to Russia, France, and England, and as president of the National Bank of New York. Gallatin's interest in ethnography led him, in the 1820s, to begin work on a theory to explain the differential development of Native American civilizations. His “Synopsis of the Indian Tribes of North America” appeared in the American Antiquarian Society Transactions, 1832, 2:1–422. In 1842 he helped found the American Ethnological Society and became its first president, holding the office until his death.
Gallatin was among the individuals in New York whom Henry called on to discuss his plans for the Smithsonian. As Henry later recalled, Gallatin endorsed his plans, terming them “the best he had heard,” agreeing that the Smithsonian fund should not be expended “on books collections and other objects of a merely local tendancy.” According to Henry, Gallatin “also promised if his health would permit to prepare an article for the first no of the Transactions on the subject of the application of the Languages of some of the Indian tribes east and west of our continent.”Gallatin planned to edit and republish part of the report of Horatio Hale (1817–1896, DAB), an ethnologist on the United States Exploring Expedition, which dealt with the languages of Pacific Northwest tribes. His essay never became a Smithsonian Contribution, instead appearing as “Hale's Indians of North-West America, and Vocabularies of North America with an Introduction by Albert Gallatin,” American Ethnological Society Transactions, 1848, 2:xxiii–clxxxviii, 1–130.
DAB; Robert E. Bieder, Science Encounters the Indian, 1820–1880: The Early Years of American Ethnology (Norman, Oklahoma, 1986), pp. 16–54; Jacob W. Gruber, “Horatio Hale and the Development of American Anthropology,” APS Proceedings, 1967, 111:5–37, especially pp. 9–10; quotation from Henry, “By the advice of my friend Bache,” cited above.
    [11] James Waddel Alexander, a Presbyterian clergyman and close friend of Henry's, since 1844 had served as pastor of the Duane Street Church in New York City. Henry Papers, 2:177; 6:337.
    [12] Possibly William P. Furniss (d. 1871), a Wall Street real-estate broker and one of the city's wealthiest residents. He may have been the father of Robert L. P. Furniss of New York City, who boarded with the Henrys during his freshman year at Princeton. New York City Directory, 1845; Moses Y. Beach, Wealth and Biography of the Wealthy Citizens of New York City . . ., 6th ed. (New York, 1845), p. 11; Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the College of New Jersey, 1845–1846 (Princeton, 1846), p. 16.
    [13] Stewart & Bussing, a confectionery, made “steam refined loaf sugar candies of superior quality.” New York City Directory, 1849–1850.
    [14] Henry returned to Princeton on January 7 or 8, leaving for Washington on January 9. Henry to Eben N. Horsford, January 8, 1847, Henry Papers, Smithsonian Archives.
    [A] From internal evidence.
    [B] Altered from Gothick