Letter from THOMAS WILLIAM SILLOWAY to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated August 25, 1857.
Mr. Marsh My Dear Sir The drawings and your letter is received I have carefully
considered your letter but am not quite decided just what to do The dome question
seems now to be at a final juncture and as the Lithograph is nearly done (quite
ready for the dome) what we do must be done quickly. As the new dome is to be the
leading feature of our building I am anxious to bestow upon it all the attention the
thing demands & hence the criticism you and Mr.
Williams have made aid me materialy in arriving at my conclusions. I do not
suggest a thing to either of you untill I have in my own mind thought the thing well
over. Untill I had made the design I last sent, I had made none that I even passably
liked well enough to adopt . I have read everything at our
principal libraries, have studied well the designs of the principal domes of the old
countries and at last, considering as best I could all the bearings, Grecian
Architecture to be kept in view, cc. cc. I suceeded in making one that I flattered
myself was of . I could make it in most respects purely Grecian,
preserve your idea of hight of dome, ellipticality etc. etc. In
short I thought I had produced a good thing. You will of course pardon me when I
speak earnestly for the late design. I am moved to labor for the production of the
best thing and hence shall risk the chance of being over tedious in
what I may say at this time for no opportunity after this will exist to say or to do much if anything in the matter, at least so far as the picture is concerned. Your letter was written the same day the drawings were forwarded to you from Burlington I have thought it quite possible that it would be well to speak of a few of the points in your letter for as luck will have it My opinion is somewhat at varience with your own. The leading objection you advance to the new design is that it gives an aspect to the whole thing of subordinancy to the dome while the drum is too important cc. I think you are not quite right in this criticism for there is much more hight to then there is to the drum and I had flattered myself that the combination was fortunate. In execution the from the top of the cornice up to the top of the finish at the base of the statue would be the great feature of the whole thing. The dome will be judged of and [...] from the top of the horizontal cornice and not from the top of the pediments for all from the cornice is circular. I am loth to give up the idea that the will not lead everything else and be the great distinguishing feature for there is a vast deal more hight above the line I have than there is below it and the completeness of this part is so unlike the rest (designedly so) it must claim the most of one's attention. I dislike to go into any further detail on the other points but cannot feel justified in closing this letter here. I want to speak of the
the drum itself. You have objections to the porticos and of course the broken outline of the drum and these in your opinion doubtless give a subordinacy to the dome itself. We differ some in regard to this. A dome I mean now the whole [...] drum and all is no [...] thing as you know on the top of the Grecian Doric Temple Indeed nothing is admirable and we borrow the right to use the thought from the Romans how it does not follow that we need follow the Roman any farther than the idea or suggestion is concerned and we may there fall back on our Grecian [...], and when we come to make our dome what shall we do? My opinion is follow the Grecian as much as we can only use the Roman suggestions. The Ionic according to latter day taste is to be put over the Doric hence the architecture of the dome must be that now for my example [...]is by all means the best and most approved and the building in which that is used is at irregular in outline as any Gothic Cathedral is Pediments, Porticos cc. are its great feature and anything tame is foreign from it. Now my idea of the drum of this dome is this that we should not hesitate to break it up on the principal sides by porticos cc We should avoid the circular Roman work as much as in us lies. For a moment think of perspective view of our building. Portico, wings and back part, some low some high varities in
widths, perpectives cc cc Would not a perspective of the new dome be quite in harmony with these, and a simple one not so? I will not in this place discuss the property of the porticos or the [...] sides. They would not in my opinion give the idea of anything at all questionable They would simply add variety to outline as [...] of the kind [...] to the Erectheum and to give all up in a few words something of the kind should be done to make our building what it should be. You speak of the original dome cc Suggesting that that will perhaps be the best. That was designed before any sort of decoration was put on the windows or much if any change made in the wings such as pediments on the ends amp;c In haste I made a new design better adapted to the decoration anticipating in time to amend & so I wrote you. Our building is much broken in outline So should the dome be. This last design is with me the only thing that appears to be right. And hence I write you this for one more consideration and shall act after I hear hear from you as you advise. I do hope a renewed examination may convince you and Mr. Williams of the peculiar [...] of adhering to the original Greek as much as we can and ignoring the Roman The Greek I will both by example, and by our buildings outline needs be irregular. Think of the perspective view of our building and [...] the broken outline of the dome by that.
As this is probably the last letter I shall need to write I will close by saying that the dome and drum as drawn is my best idea of what we need and that no valid objection that I know of exists. Amendments of proportion are needed but in the main I hope it may meet with favor
I am yours truly T. W. Silloway.
References in this letter:
Norman Williams, (1791-1868) was a State Senator in 1854 and 1855 before he was named by Governor Fletcher, to the committee which oversaw the construction of the new State House in Montpelier, to replace the building destroyed by fire in 1857.
A temple on the Acropolis in Athens constructed between c.421 and 405 B.C. It is the considered to be the finest early example of the Greek classical architecture in the Ionic order.
Thomas W. Silloway, (1828-1910), was only thirty years old in 1857 when he was chosen architect for the new State House in Montpelier. Silloway was from Massachusetts, and had worked in the office of Ammi B. Young, the architect who designed the previous building. Silloway and Dr. Powers, the superintendent of construction for the 1857 job, had worked together to design and build a new courthouse in Woodstock, Vermont, that burned in 1854.