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Almanac: A Classic Capitol - Pentagon Builder

July marks the setting of the cornerstone of the first and only home of the Tennessee General Assembly. The Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville was laid out on July 4th, 1845, to great fanfare and ritual, one month after the death of the state’s great hero, Andrew Jackson. Completed in 1859, the building has served since, with little modification, as the seat of Tennessee's government.

Designer William Strickland was a civil engineer, one of the first to advocate the use of steam locomotives on railways, as well as a prominent architect who was one of the founders of the Greek Revival movement in the United States. At the age of fourteen, Strickland apprenticed under Benjamin Henry Latrobe, one of the designers of the U. S. Capitol. Strickland produced many notable buildings and engineering works such as the Bank of the United States building in Philadelphia, restoration of the tower over Independence Hall, and plans for a canal from the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River. 

 Tennessee State Capitol Building
 Tennessee State Capitol Building

While creating his designs for the Tennessee State Capitol Building, Strickland reviewed the antiquities of Athens, the inspiration that led to his goal to achieve his version of a Greek temple. The Porticoes on all four sides of the building resemble the Erectheum in Athens. The tower is a copy of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, which Strickland also copied for the cupola of his earlier Merchants’ Exchange Building in Philadelphia.

Strickland combined one of the most ancient building materials, monolithic cut stone, with one of the newest at the time, structural iron. For part of the tower and most of the roof, monolithic cut stone was used to make the building almost fire proof. The limestone used was quarried about a mile from the Capitol site. Many of the interior columns of the building are one piece of stone. Construction implemented massive wood timbers to construct derricks for hoisting the stones into place.

The Capitol was roofed and enclosed during 1852; 210 tons of round and flat iron bars were produced for the roof trusses and three thousand sheets of copper, weighing 27 tons, were ordered for the roof. Strickland specified that iron was to be used for the roof trusses, at a time when most bridges were still being made out of wood. The trusses are constructed of wrought iron instead of the cheaper cast iron due to wrought iron's superior mechanical properties as compared to cast iron. In addition to producing roof trusses that have performed reliably over the years, the project introduced the local iron industry to iron’s engineering uses and spurred the development of the iron industry in Tennessee.

In 1854, William Strickland died suddenly and was succeeded by his son Francis Strickland. William Strickland is buried within the walls of the State Capitol Building and following his wishes, his tomb is visible at the northeast corner of the building near the north entrance. The Tennessee State Capitol is the last of Strickland's buildings to be completed.

By 1860, the building was essentially complete and the state turned its attention to the grounds. J. A. Hayden, a local civil engineer, was contracted to produce a topographic map of the grounds. Work on the grounds was halted in April 1861, due to lack of funds at the start of the Civil War. In 1870, the legislature approved completion of the grounds but only a portion of Hayden's 1860 survey could be found. In order to complete the work, John Bogart, a civil engineer from New York City, was hired to produce a suitable plan. Upon completion, these gardens were an early example of a large public park in Tennessee and set the standard for park development in the region.

The Tennessee State Capitol Building was dedicated as an ASCE National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 2003.

Lt. General Leslie Groves – Project Management Expert  

August marks the birth month of Lt. General Leslie Groves, who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb during World War II. Leslie Richard Groves Jr. was born in Albany, New York, on August 17, 1896. In 1916, after three years of studies at the University of Washington and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Groves fulfilled his ambition to enter West Point. He graduated fourth in his class in 1918, was commissioned in the Engineers, and took courses at the Engineer's School, Camp Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir), Virginia, including a French educational tour of European World War I battlefields.

During the 1920s, Groves’ accomplishments included constructing a trail from Kahuku to Pupukea in Hawaii, opening the channel at Port Isabel, Texas, supervising dredging operations in Galveston Bay, assisting in Vermont during the 1927 New England Flood, and conducting a survey for the Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal. In 1931, following an earthquake in Nicaragua, Groves took over responsibility for Managua's water supply system, for which he was awarded the Nicaraguan Presidential Medal of Merit.

 Lt. General Leslie Groves
Lt. General Leslie Groves

In 1931, Groves was attached to the Office of the Chief of Engineers. In 1936, he graduated from the Command and General Staff School, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and from the Army War College in 1939, after which he was assigned to the General Staff in Washington, DC. In 1940 Groves became special assistant for construction to the Quartermaster General, tasked with inspecting construction sites and checking on their progress.

In August 1941, Groves was given responsibility for the construction of the Pentagon. The chief of the Construction Division's Design and Engineering Section, along with George Bergstrom, a former president of the American Institute of Architects, had designed an office complex to house the War Department's 40,000 staff together in one building. The five-story, five-sided structure had 5,100,000 square feet, making it the largest office building in the world, almost twice the square footage of the Empire State Building. Bergstrom became the architect-engineer with Groves' assistant, Captain Clarence Renshaw, in charge of construction, both reporting to Groves.

The soil conditions of the Pentagon site, located on the Potomac River floodplain, presented challenges to engineers, as did the topography. Two retaining walls were built to compensate for the 30’ elevation variation across the site, and cast-in-place piles were used to contend with the soil conditions. Architectural and structural design work proceeded simultaneously with construction. Groundbreaking was held on September 11, 1941, a month before initial drawings were provided. Because of the pressing needs of the war, people started working in the Pentagon before it was completed. The Pentagon was formally completed on January 15, 1943, approximately 16 months of construction, at a total cost of $83 million.

In September 1942, Groves was placed in charge of what became known as the Manhattan Project. The Manhattan Engineer District was established by the Chief of Engineers as the Army component of a research and development project that produced the first atomic bombs during World War II. The project designation “Manhattan” gradually superseded the official codename for the entire project “Development of Substitute Materials.” Basic atomic bomb research was carried out, mainly at Columbia University and the University of Chicago. As Project Director, Groves was in charge of all phases of the project: scientific, production, security, and planning for use of the bomb. Under Groves’ direction, project plants were established at Oak Ridge, Hanford, and the secluded Los Alamos installation in New Mexico. Groves continued to head the atomic establishment created during wartime until January 1947. He was then named the Chief of the Army's Special Weapons Project.

Promoted to Lieutenant General (temporary) in January 1948, he retired a month later. From that time until 1961, he worked as Vice President of Sperry Rand Corporation.

Groves died of heart disease on July 13, 1970, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.