Notes by Jesse Courtney Suter

Regarding his Father

George Jacob Suter

Handwritten in 1946

(Transcribed exactly by Daniel Barham, Jr. September, 2002)

George Jacob Suter

Born at 6th and G Sts. NW, Washington, D.C. (The house was located the back of the lot at the Northeast corner of G and 6th Streets and later numbered 511 G Street.)

Date of Birth - November 11, 1831

He was the son of Gabriel and Elizabeth (Donn) Suter.

As a lad worked in the grocery store of William Lord at the N.E. corner of 5th and G Streets and later in the greenhouse of a florist by name of Douglas located at 15th and G Streets now the site of the Washington Building.

His father was a carpenter with his shop located on the corner of the home lot (6th and G Streets, NW).

His father died when he was eight years old.

George was educated at the Columbus Academy run by a Scotchman John McLeod. The school was then located on the West side of Ninth Street, NW between what is now known as G Place and H Street.

When just a youth he was apprenticed to his first cousin, John Webb, a cabinetmaker at Thomaston, Georgia. He completed his apprenticeship and returned to Washington as a journeyman cabinetmaker.

His journey from Georgia was by boat and train to the Potomac at Pope's Creek. Here again took a boat which landed him at 7th Street wharf. His luggage consisted of a trunk. No transportation from the wharf being available he shouldered the trunk and lugged it until too tired. He would then sit on the trunk and rest a while. In this manner he trudged along until he reached his mother's home (511 G Street, NW).

He got work with a carpenter and added this to his cabinetmaker's trade.

In about 1856 he got work as a carpenter on the construction of one of the wings of the Treasury Department building. He was later made a foreman and continued throughout the construction of other wings and the completion of the building.

Upon the completion of the building he was made foreman of the cabinet shop and later superintendant of the various mechanical shops - plumbers, machinists, painters, cabinetmakers, carpenters, etc.

The U.S. Treasury Building

His brother, John T. Suter, was employed by him in charge of the operation of all of the woodworking machinery.

In these shops the office furniture was manufactured for the Treasury building, Sub-Treasury customs houses and some of the post offices throughout the country. His shops were under the office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury. His friend and supporter was A.B.Mullett, Supervising Architect.

He lost out in some upset in the Treasury Department. His temporary appointment had extended for a period of 19 years and 6 months. He formed a partnership with his brother and they carried on a business of carpenters and builders. This did not work out so well as John T. only wanted to work at his trade and collect his wages while Father had to do all of the estimating, planning and chasing up business. When this partnership ended Father continued alone for some time. His shop was in the alley in back of our house, 463 I Street but across on the north side of the alley (on the rear of the K Street lots).

State, War & Navy Building, now the Executive Office Building

He then worked on the West and Center wings of the State, War and Navy building. He began work on the S.W.N. building as a carpenter, then assistant foreman and, later, foreman. He was sent by General Thomas Lincoln Casey and Mr. Bernard R. Green to New Orleans where he selected all of the mahogany for the sash, handrails, etc., for the building. This lumber was in thick slabs (405 inches thick) and the full width of the tree trunk. It was imported to New Orleans from Central America. None of this lumber was accepted by the government unless bearing the imprint of Father's steel stamp.

On arrival in the shops which stood along 17th Street South of the S.W.N. building the lumber was ripped up into suitable sizes for the various purposes.

The sash for the building were all handmade under Father's supervision.

The spiral handrail was a very exacting job. 1st, patterns had to be made of wood for the metal rails which topped the banisters. This and the mahogany rail had to be laid out in pencil on the shop floor (2nd floor) which had been smoothed up for the purpose. Mr. Charles Borland, then in charge of the shops at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and Father had this difficult job. When patterns were completed Father worked the mahogany handrail which had to be built up in many thicknesses and glued together before being worked by many planes and different shapes. These handrails are today among the finest specimens of accurate and beautiful woodwork to be found in Washington.

He remained at the S.W.N. building until it was completed and then went with General Casey and Mr. Green to construction of the Library of Congress. He assisted the engineers in running the lines for the foundation walls. He designed the centers (forms) upon which the brick arches were set. This necessitated planning the ribs to be covered with sheathing. He had charge of a group of carpenters who constructed them. Much of this work he produced while at home in the evenings in miniature models. These groined arches were sprung from different distances and from spaces of different widths.

Library of Congress

Later, he made the templates for the plasterers to make the lines for these arches perfect. He also made the patterns from which the mosaics were made to cover some of these arches on the main floor.

The contracts for all of the interior doors were awarded to the Matthews Bros. Mfg. Co., Milwaukee, Wis. He was sent to Milwaukee and supervised the construction of the oak and mahogany doors.

Later, when the building was nearly completed, he was sent back to Milwaukee to supervise the building of oak and mahogany exhibition cases. These were build by the Wollager Co., and some by Matthews.

No material went into any of this work except what he approved. He said that when he left the factory in Milwaukee wood he had condemned was in quantity to have constructed many additional units.

When these cases were shipped to the Library the Wollager Co. employed him to assemble them and put them in place. I worked as a helper on this job.

When the building was completed he was employed in charge of the cabinet-carpenter shop. He continued in this position until retirement at the age of 88. He died in his 90th year.

George Jacob Suter participated in the beginning and the finish of the Washington Monument. As a lad of 16 and a Sunday School Scholar in the old Wesley Chapel Methodist Church at 5th and F Streets, N.W., he marched in the Sunday Schools section of the parade in the exercises of the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument on July 4, 1848.

On February 21, 1885, he was a man of 53 when he marched in the parade in connection with the Dedication of the completed Washington Monument.He then marched in the ranks of the Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners.

Construction of the Washington Monument
Laying the capstone of the Washington Monument

The capstone of the monument was set on December 6, 1884. Prior to the completion of the pyramid stones being set he was a member of a party to go to the top of the monument one Sunday. Members of the group took their lunches and spent a long time enjoying the view of the adjacent country. In the group were General Thomas Lincoln Casey, Corp. of Engineers, U.S.A., who was in charge of the construction, Bernard R. Green, Civil Engineer Assistant to General Casey and others on the staff. Also, foreman of the stone masons.

A memorable feature of the monument dedication parade was how long it was halted. President Chester A. Arthur, who was scheduled to review the parade, was to blame for the long wait. He entertained a considerable company of officials at luncheon before reviewing the parade, hence the long halt against which there was considerable criticism.>

The Suter family was on Pennsylvania Ave. between 9th and 10th on the north side. Mother was accompanied by Clara 22 (She was married to William Reichenbach when she was only 17) Jesse 13 and Robert 8.

(The Suter family were not very complimentary to the President when the cause for the long wait was known)

Jesse Courtney Suter

The above text has been transcribed exactly from the original handwritten notes of Jesse Courtney Suter (pictured at left), the son of George Jacob Suter. They were written in 1946, when Jesse was 64 years old. They are either his effort to leave a record of his father's achievements or a request from an interested party. I suspect that they are both.

George Jacob Suter worked his entire career in the construction of some of the beautiful buildings we see in Washington, DC, today. He also actually witnessed the laying of the cornerstone for the Washington Monument when construction began and was present at the installation of the capstone at it's completion. This, coupled with the fact that he worked into his 88th year, is astonishing. The obvious pride that his son shows in his father's accomplishments is completely justified and, frankly, I felt a great deal of pride as I prepared this material.

Daniel Barham, Jr.


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