Old Supreme Court Chamber

A masterpiece of architecture and engineering, the Old Supreme Court Chamber was designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe and built as part of his north wing reconstruction in 1808-1810. The unusual ceiling is formed by nine lobed vaults held by stone ribs supported by heavy brick piers and a three-bay arcade built parallel to the old east wall. The new masonry ceiling did not impose any additional weight or put new lateral pressure on the old walls and thus was supported independently of the old work. It was daring to attempt such a ceiling over a one-story room and clever for not using the old walls for support. It is one of Latrobe's most admired achievements. The Supreme Court first met in this chamber in 1810 with Chief Justice John Marshall presiding. In 1860 the Court moved upstairs into the former Senate Chamber and this room was converted into the law library. After the Court left the Capitol in 1935 this chamber was divided into four rooms and used by the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. In the 1960s the chamber had been abandoned and stood vacant until restored in 1975.