Philadelphia’s Congress Hall, the 18th-century brick capitol building that housed the first United States Congress, has chosen Langhorne Carpet Company to weave the elegant carpet for its main floor. From 1790-1800, Philadelphia was the U.S. capital, and Congress Hall was the country’s seat of government. Today, 80,000 people visit Congress Hall annually.
“The Langhorne Carpet family is so proud the National Park Service has, once again, chosen us to reproduce the floor covering that backdrops this vital piece of U.S. history,” said Langhorne co-owner Bill Morrow. This is the second time Langhorne, one of two working Wilton Jacquard mills in the U.S, will do the job for one of the most-visited sites in Philadelphia’s Independence National Historical Park.
Karie Diethorn is chief curator for Independence National Historical Park, a site often called “America’s most historic square mile.”
Said Diethorn, “Langhorne is exactly the kind of vendor we needed for this project. We needed someone with the ability to create this specific pattern, and weave it as close to the historic example as possible.”“Not only is Langhorne incredibly professional and competent: It’s a pleasure to work with our neighbors on this,” Diethorn added.
The Hall’s smaller upper floor—or upper chamber—housed the U.S. Senate. The Hall’s larger main floor served as the U.S. House of Representatives. Both floors are open to the public. But only the main floor has carpeting visitors walk on—over and over. “As part of Independence National Historical Park, we’re open 364 days a year—closed only on Christmas Day,” said Diethorn.
“Historically, the carpeting that would have been in Congress Hall was nothing like it would be today. Back then, carpeting was not a pile. It was ingrain. Ingrain carpet is kind of like having a blanket on the floor. It’s two layers interwoven at some spots and tacked to the floor. That would have been the style at the time, and would have been pretty worn by 1800,” explained Diethorn.
Purchase receipts from the 18th century allowed curators to reproduce Congress Hall’s original furnishings. But no such receipts existed for the site’s carpets. Instead, researchers found a late 18th-century cartoon depicting “two congressmen in a fistfight over a political issue, and other members of Congress laughing at the antics of their fellow congresspeople,” said Diethorn. The men were in the main hall. Beneath them was the “indication of a sketchy pattern” to the carpet.
A few blocks away, an early 19th-century painting at historic Pennsylvania Hospital provided the next clue. The work portrayed a hospital administrator—and a carpet whose clear pattern closely resembled that of the cartoon.
Using these historical clues, Langhorne designed and wove its first carpet for Congress Hall in the 1970s and its second in the 1990s. Now, for the third time, the mill is weaving an eight-color, worsted wool Moresque yarn on a five-frame loom. The carpet will bear the Hall’s classic geometric pattern—a red background with a grid of golden dots—that will greet millions more park visitors in the coming decades. Installation is expected in March 2018.