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Latrobe, Benjamin Henry

Benjamin Henry Latrobe

1764 - 1820

Benjamin Henry Latrobe, an architect and engineer, came to the United States from France in 1795 and devoted the remainder of his life to designing the infrastructure for the young country.

 Latrobe was trained under John Smeaton , who designed the Eddystone Lighthouse and was England's most renowned engineer of the time. Smeaton's teachings led Latrobe to a thorough understanding of both the practical and theoretical aspects of advanced English civil engineering. Latrobe's interest in engineering soon led him to architecture. Latrobe became apprenticed to S.R. Cockerwall, which allowed Latrobe to gain invaluable experience and rapid advancement in England's elite architectural circles. During that time, he participated in the Grand Tour, a long and sometimes hazardous arts tour of European cities ending in Italy or Greece. It is believed that while on this tour, Latrobe's fascination with classical architecture began.

The death of his wife in child birth, the financial uncertainties caused by pre-Revolutionary instabilities in France, and the death of Latrobe's mother (who left Latrobe land in Pennsylvania) were all believed to have contributed to his relocation to the United States in 1795.

 Latrobe's fascination with Greek Revival architectural led President Thomas Jefferson to appoint Latrobe as the Surveyor of Public Buildings of the United States in 1806. His choice of architectural style came to symbolize American democracy. The U.S. government contracted Latrobe to redesign the U.S. Capitol in 1815, and his reconstruction plans won him acclaim from President Jefferson.

 Although primarily known for his architectural career, his primary source of income was his engineering projects, including the Philadelphia Waterworks, plans for the Washington Canal, and the New Orleans Waterworks. His diverse talents were exemplified by the navigational improvements to the Susquehanna River and the plans for the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the United States, the neoclassical Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Baltimore, Maryland.

Benjamin Henry Latrobe died of Yellow Fever in 1820 while working on the New Orleans Waterworks.

Resources Cohen, Jeffrey A., The Architectural Drawings of Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Parts 1 and 2 , Yale University Press, 1995.