The Historical Society of Delaware displayed many exhibits in 1944, but few garnered as much attention as the Benjamin H. Latrobe Exhibit. The exhibit centered on his work as a distinguished architect and engineer. Many of the exhibit materials were lent by Mrs. Gamble Latrobe which featured a portrait of Latrobe by Rembrandt Peale, some of his original sketches and drawings, and some original letters.
Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1764-1820) was born in Leeds, England, and he was educated at the University of Leipsic. In 1785 he traveled in Germany and joined the Prussian army. Two years later he began studying architecture in London. In 1795, Latrobe sailed across the Atlantic to Norfolk, Virginia. While in the United States, he designed many public and private buildings in Richmond, Norfolk, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and Washington. In 1804, he surveyed the town of New Castle. From 1799 to 1807 he surveyed the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and he worked on the first attempt to dig a Chesapeake and Delaware canal. However, the project was abandoned due to lack of funds. Mr. Edward Cooch lent the Society a map of the original surveys to be put on display during the exhibition. The Society still has some of his materials relating to this abandoned construction project.
During the canal years, Latrobe began work on the south wing of the unfinished capitol building. While living in Washington, D.C., he became friends with Thomas Jefferson. In 1814 he was appointed to rebuild the Capitol in Washington after it suffered damage during the War of 1812. The Latrobe Exhibit featured some of the original correspondence between Latrobe and Jefferson. Latrobe and his family moved to Pittsburgh in 1813, and then to Baltimore in 1818 where he lived the remainder of his life.
The Benjamin H. Latrobe Exhibit was immensely popular in 1944 and many viewed the materials related to such a noteworthy architect and engineer.