Letter from THOMAS WILLIAM SILLOWAY to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated July 27, 1858.
My Friend Marsh,
I hear nothing as yet from Powers or his dome, but am in hopes
that he will be influenced by you to keep where he is, if nothing more. I am hourly
convinced, of the good service you have it in your power to render by refraining to
endorse anything but the original. The responsibility is so great touching this dome
question, that he is in much trouble, and wishes for some one of standing to be
Aside from being in utter ignorance of how to lay that work
out, as it should be, and aided in their dillemas by an to
amend, they are now, in . I had made my drawings
(and have with me copies) so as to have the big truses land 18 in. on the side
walls, and then I had designed and shown in the drawings to have the brick work put
out eight or ten inches more with a flat stone for a bearing on the top of all, now
as incredible as it may seem that ignoramus of a Richards has
made a mistake in his new figuring and the trusses in some instances land only 12
3/4" in all and at most but 16" The jutting out I am cheated out of. Now they have
discovered the mistake they have made and are at their wits ends to get some one in with them to help bear the disgrace which will attend a settlement of the work. If they can but get you into the scrape they will do it. The men who laid out that brick work are now at work in this city. They say my drawings were departed from and that the trusses rest so little on the walls that all the strain comes on the . They fear the result and so inform me. The great weight of the work 80 tons beside the roof and weight of the trusses themselves have a bearing of less than 14" on an average, and all the weight is applied to the inside of the wall. I am fairly shocked at the thoughts. Up to now I have tried to give out the idea that I am still Architect, and shall so remain, but when I think of this last abomination my faith staggers and I almost wish to be un officed as may God grant Powers may be in Oct. next. The dome will be raised this week, that is the framing of the drum The dome proper I hear nothing about. If Powers can get you or any one of responsibility to aid him in any way on any part of the dome, by and by when days of comes and the whole thing sags over us, he will have
it to say that he made it by advice of you or the one that may aid him. Construction you may think will not have to do with under most circumstances it would not but you may depend, that if that work settles as I will guarantee it will do, you would escape the lash of Powers tongue. I took the ground weeks ago that they proposed to amend. Had they not in view some selfish end why would he have consulted you on that particular question more than on others, since his drawings were made in full, and he had only to follow them? I give you the opinion of those who have done that work that the trusses are to-day in a dangerous condition. My reputation is anew at stake for should the work settle they will put me to the expedient of publishing a statement to the effect that they have departed from my drawings &. If Powers will not put his will and in front of the good of the state he would permit me to do my own work even if Richards was to do the rest. You are troubled a good deal I know with this question. You must continue in the gap, till you can [be] better spared out of it then now. I hope you will continue your well taken stand, and refuse to encourage anything but the work as originaly designed. I am ready to work it out properly. If Powers will not permit me to do it, and his architect cannot, so be it. Let us do our duty and trust the consequences. I speak somewhat definitely of the one Powers has in his employ as an architect. All I say is warranted, and in a time like this even
demands plainness of speech. You are the only one that has a power to even cause delay in bad work and I must give you facts. Let two suffice for now. I gave you a statement in my last of Richards mistakes in figuring. (his two first drawings ever made) I also spoke of his and Powers botching in trying to strike out the dome on the floor, that they had it all finished & ready to walk upon when they discussed the propriety of consulting you, that after four attempts they were where they started from. In addition to the foregoing I have to-day informed you of his egregious mistake in making those trusses , but there is a case more to the point still. Some little time ago Messrs Little and Brown Book publishers of this city employed this same Richards to make some drawing for a printing office for them at Cambridge. He was urged to make the floor strong. Said he had done so The carpenter pronounced it too weak R. said it was They built it and before it had ever been loaded half as heavy as they proposed to load it, the whole fell in. The above is a fact. I took dinner on Friday last with the master mason who built the building. He was that day repairing the brick walls that were thrown down, by the crash. My framing has been rejected by suggestions of a man like that and the state paid for the botching of or over $1000. Powers may have the testimony of some of Richards friends, so have I of mine. Were the trusses ever tested on the ground? weak and then rejected? . One thing more to aid in showing you how the man is whom Powers has to aid him in striking out his dome for the question. It is simply, "are competent to judge whether work would produce the original or not?" I informed you in a late letter of the botch Powers had made in putting a rod directly across the big arched opening in the partition which separates
the main, from the wings. The rod comes directly across the base of a small dome I had always designed to cover the circular drum about the stair ways. Powers & Richards have been hard at it at times for two weeks to get over the dilemma The master carpenter writes me to-day (confidentialy) of the botching. He made one curve by orders, put it up. Powers condemned it. He made another. That was condemned. Richards was telegraphed for he went up, and they fixed it as best they could. Mr. Gunnison then writes as follows, "the work in getting circles this has been the greatest. Not a single starting point, or raidius has been given, but all has been done by guess work, or an innumerable lot of alterations by express orders of the two Powers & Richards. Four days have I been employed in making and amending circles I hope you will see the work before the centers are got out. One of the stair landing point is altered from 2'4" to
7' and after many attempts to amend amp;c." Think of the fact these very walls have been created under their . Are such competent men to have charge of constructing the first building of the state? Excuse this hurried epistle.
I am yours trulyThomas W. Silloway
121 Court St.
References in this letter:
Dr. Thomas E. Powers, (1808-1876), of Woodstock, Vermont, was appointed by Governor Fletcher to be the Superintendent of Construction of the 1858-1860 project, to build a new State House in Montpelier to rebuild the structure burned in 1857. He and the architect, Thomas W. Silloway, were soon at loggerheads over their roles in the project. Powers became State Senator in 1861.
Joseph R. Richards was the architect who replaced Thomas W. Silloway in early 1858, when Silloway resigned from the position.
Gunnison was the master carpenter of the rebuilding project between 1857 and 1860.
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.