Benjamin H. Latrobe
Benjamin Henry Latrobe was a prominent nineteenth-century American architect and engineer.
Latrobe was born in 1764 in Yorkshire, England. He attended schools operated by the Moravian Church. After graduation, he briefly served as a low-level government official before studying engineering with John Smeaton. He also studied architecture while working for the firm of Samuel Pepys Cockerell. Latrobe became one of the most admired architects of his day in Europe, but he chose to move to the United States of America in the 1790s. His exact reason for moving to America remains unknown. It is possible that he hoped to claim land that his recently-deceased mother left for him in Pennsylvania, that his poor business practices in Europe caused him to seek a more profitable life in America, or that grief over the recent death of his wife prompted him to leave Europe.
In the United States, Latrobe's fame as an architect continued to grow. He designed the south wing of the Capitol in Washington, DC. Following the War of 1812, Latrobe oversaw the repair of the White House. The home of the President had been burned by British soldiers in 1813. Americans also recognized Latrobe's engineering skills. He designed public water systems for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and New Orleans, Louisiana. He also overcame many of the design problems American canal builders faced and helped make canals a viable transportation system for the young United States. During 1814, he also assisted Robert Fulton in building steamboats for use on the Ohio River.
Latrobe contributed to Ohio's development in a number of ways. In 1814, Latrobe constructed a steam-powered woolen mill in Steubenville, Ohio. This was an early step in the industrialization of Ohio. Latrobe is perhaps best remembered in Ohio for designing Thomas Worthington's home, Adena. Worthington was one of Ohio's first United States senators and the sixth governor of the state. Worthington had the home constructed on five thousand acres of land near Chillicothe. Adena was completed in 1807. Numerous other buildings also were built on the estate. Five of them remain standing today. Worthington, an avid farmer and gardener, also planted extensive gardens around the home. Historical lore contends that the home's eastern view served as the model for Ohio's Great Seal, but most scholars now doubt this conclusion. Adena is currently an Ohio Historical Society site. The home is an excellent example of Latrobe's architectural skill, including his belief of separating public and private spaces.
Latrobe died in 1820 from yellow fever. He was working on the New Orleans waterworks at the time.