By Jennifer Watts
Can you image being 225 years old?! In 2021, Tennessee celebrated its 225th birthday on June 1st. To commemorate the event, the Tennessee State Museum is highlighting one hundred artifacts throughout the state’s history. One of those artifacts is a portrait of William Strickland. He was the architect of the Tennessee State Capitol. Let’s take a closer look at the man behind the painting and one of the most historic buildings in the state.
Portrait of William Strickland by William B. Cooper, TSM Collection
William Strickland was born in 1788 in Navesink, New Jersey. His family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was two years old. He spent most of his childhood there. In his teens, he became an apprentice to architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe. He was the person who designed the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. Latrobe helped teach him how to design buildings. Strickland also worked as a painter, engraver, and created designs for carpenters. What he learned in those jobs helped to prepare him to become an architect.
Photograph of the 2nd Bank of the United States, Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS PA,51-PHILA,223--42
In 1808, he got his first big job as an architect. He designed the Masonic Hall in Philadelphia. His next major job was in 1818, when he designed and built the Second Bank of the United States (1818-1824). It was this job that made him a star. In 1828, he worked on the Tower of Independence Hall, the building where our nation was born. It was considered the first restoration project in American history. Throughout the late 1820s and 1830s, Strickland was busy designing buildings in Philadelphia, Charlotte, and New Orleans to name a few. He even came to Tennessee. This was where he built what is probably his most famous building.
Wooden model of the Tennessee State Capitol found by workmen in the 1950s, TSM Collection
In April of 1845, Strickland was asked to come to Nashville and submit a design for the Tennessee State Capitol. After a ten-day trip by railroad, canal boat, stagecoach, and steamboat, he finally made it to the city. By the end of May, had finished his design. Construction of the Capitol began July 4, 1845. His design was based on two ancient Greek structures. The main part of the building was inspired by the Erechtheum and the Tower of Lysicrates. It was said the hill it was to be built on reminded Strickland of the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. On May 19, 1859, the Capitol building was finished. It took fourteen years and cost $879,981.48. This price was about three times as much as was originally expected. Sadly, Strickland never saw the building completed. He died in 1854 after being sick for several years. His love for the project led to a pretty unique fact. He asked to be buried inside the wall of the building he helped to create. Today, you can still visit him in the northeast corner of the Capitol building.
Photograph of the Tennessee State Capitol shortly after its completion, TSM Collection
After eight years in Nashville, Strickland left his mark on the city. Not only did he build the Tennessee State Capitol but also many other structures around the city. He designed the Downtown Presbyterian Church and the tomb of President James K. Polk. His over 40-year career made a big impact on the field of architecture. Many of his buildings and other projects are still standing today. He is remembered as being one of the great American architects of the time period.
Architect - a person who designs buildings and oversees their construction.
Apprentice - someone who is learning a skill by working with someone who is already good at that job. Today that might be a plumber, electrician, or mechanic.
Restoration - the act of bringing something back to its original condition.
Who taught William Strickland how to be an architect?
What building project made Strickland a star?
Why do you think we chose this artifact to be a part of the TN 225 exhibit?
If you could build a building, what would it look like? Design your own Tennessee State Capitol using paper and crayons, or a computer to imagine what your Capitol would look like.
Compare the Capitol to its inspiration. Click here to see the Erectheaum and here to see the Tower of Lysicrates.
Visit the Tennessee State Capitol building.
Jennifer is an Educator for the Tennessee State Museum.
Tennessee Social Studies Standard(s)
SSP.01 Gather information from a variety of primary and secondary sources, including: printed materials, graphic representations, artifacts, and media and technology sources.
1.21 Identify Tennessee symbols, including: state flag, state tree, state flower, state bird, state animal, and the significance of the state nickname.
“About the Sketchbook.” Collection of William Strickland Sketches, 1838. Tennessee Library and Archives, 2021. https://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/customizations/global/pages/collections/strickland/strickland.html. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Hoobler, James A. “William F. Strickland.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. Tennessee Historical Society, 2017. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/william-f-strickland/. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Mahoney, Nell Savage. “William Strickland's Introduction to Nashville, 1845.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1, 1950, pp. 46–63. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42621029. Accessed 16 Aug. 2021.
Moss, Roger W. and Sandra L. Tatman. “Strickland, William (1788-1854): Architect.” Philadelphia Architects and Buildings Projects. The Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 2021. https://www.philadelphiabuildings.org/pab/app/ar_display.cfm/25248. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Patrick, James. “Tennessee Research Note: William Strickland in Nashville, 1845-1854.” Tennessee Historical Quarterly, vol. 72, no. 3, 2013, pp. 205-229. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43825488. Accessed August 13, 2021.
“William Strickland: A Brief Biographical Sketch.” Strickland Sketches. Tennessee Library and Archives: TEVA Collection. https://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/customizations/global/pages/collections/strickland/strickland.html. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Strickland, William. “Basilica of St. Peter.” Collection of William Strickland Sketchbook, 1838 (2005-014). Tennessee State Library and Archives. https://teva.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/Strickland/id/61/rec/2. Accessed August 13, 2021.
Robinson, Cervin. “General View and North (Front) Elevation. Photographed July 17, 1959 by Cervin Robinson. -Second Bank of the United States, 420 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, PA.” Photograph, Historic American Engineering Record, 1959. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (HABS PA, 51-PHILA, 223—42). https://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/pa0875.photos.137317p/. Accessed August 13, 2021.
The Tower of Lysicrates- https://www.classicist.org/articles/classical-comments-the-corinthian-of-the-choragic-monument-of-lysicrates/
Erectheum Temple- https://www.britannica.com/topic/Erechtheum