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150-Year-Old US Capitol Dome Being Restored

  • Jeff Custer

The U.S. Capitol Dome in Washington, DC, is recognized world-wide as one of the most enduring symbols of the U.S. government and American democracy. Since last November, the dome has been wrapped in metal scaffolding and fabric as part of a long-overdue renovation project.

The last time the U.S. Capitol dome underwent a renovation was in 1960. Since then, the dome has become weathered and worn and, as the Architect of the Capitol reports, has more than 1,000 cracks and other defects.

The dome was first completed around 1863. Its cast iron frame, said U.S. Senate Historian Don Ritchie, contributes to the weathering.

“The capitol dome, being cast iron, has been hit by lightning countless times. And it has been weathering in that position for 150 years - since 1863. And it has been leaking lately and there is a lot of art work inside, including the big canopy in the center. And so the current construction is to repair the leaks, to fill the cracks, to take off excess layers of paint and to paint it again,” said Ritchie.

As the work to remove old paint and apply primer continues, a large section of the building is covered by plastic and a special pink fabric designed to reduce wind and protect workers from the elements.

Much of the construction is done after dark to prevent the noise from disturbing lawmakers who continue to meet inside. Some visitors to the Capitol, hoping for a souvenir picture of the usually gleaming dome, were let down by the current view.

“It was dramatic, and very fantastic, and all white, but when I come here today, it is under construction so my family cannot see it clearly, [it] is kind of a disappointment,” said Joyce, visiting from China.

Others took the construction in stride:

“You have to take the long view. I mean it is a little inconvenient for us not to see the dome, but you have to think about the future and the people will be coming to this place for centuries, and you know, there just needs to be preventive maintenance occasionally and I am not upset with that at all," said tourist Rick Jones.

The project is expected to take more than two years total to complete. It is scheduled to be ready for the inauguration of a new president in January of 2017.

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