Following are some little-known facts about Government Island's sandstone from Jane Conner's book, "Birthstone of the White House and Capitol."
The Aquia stone walls of the White House were covered with a coat of whitewash in 1798 and then repainted many times during the years. How many times? Well, a paint removal project in the 1970s identified 43 coats of paint, representing many different formulas, some of which were not compatible with others.
During the War of 1812, British troops set fire to the White House when they occupied Washington. The 1814 blaze destroyed the roof and house interior, leaving only the four exterior sandstone walls. Today, those walls remain the only architectural components from the building's original construction.
The exterior walls of the old Capitol building have undergone many changes. Marble now duplicates the Aquia stone front of the east side, and only 60 percent remains of the west. Many enormous Aquia stone columns that once graced the Capitol building are now located in the U.S. National Arboretum.
Before being used in construction of the White House and Capitol building, Aquia sandstone blocks were used as boundary markers for what then was still being called Federal City. The 40 stones were placed one mile apart in a diamond shape to create the boundary for the new nation's capital. All but two of the original 40 markers have been preserved.
Laborers at the quarry site on Government Island toiled from sunrise to sunset for 75 cents per day. Skilled workers earned between $1.25 and $1.75 per day. The stonecutters' foreman received the highest daily wage--$3.75.
The White House and the first section of the Capitol were completed by 1800 and then quarrying ceased on Government Island. The quarry was reopened, however, whenever substantial amounts of stone were needed. For example, in the 1820s, Aquia stone was quarried to create the impressive columns on the Capitol's east front. These enormous blocks were cut and sent north to be carved at the construction site. There also were other sandstone quarries along Aquia Creek during this period. A few remained in operation until the 1900s.
Government Island was deeded to Stafford County on Aug. 19, 1998, for $200,000. It has since been named to the Virginia Landmarks Register and nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.
Files in the Architect of the Capitol Office contain a list of 67 structures that used Aquia stone. The list dates to May 1930, and includes buildings as far south as North Carolina, as far north as Connecticut and as far west as Ohio.
In commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the completion of the White House, the annual Christmas ornament was made of Aquia stone in 2000. Stafford County officials allowed members of the White House Historical Association to collect buckets of loose stone, which was then ground, mixed with resin and poured into tiny molds of the White House. When cooled, the molds were attached to brass ornaments. Thus, many Americans now have a little piece of Aquia stone of their own.
To honor the memory of Sept. 11 victims and to commemorate the heroism of countless others, 50 senators and 250 members of the House of Representatives traveled to New York City in 2002, a year after the tragedy, for a ceremony at Federal Hall. As part of the ceremony, a plaque--which was affixed to a block of Aquia stone--was presented to Federal Hall. The stone block had once been part of the Capitol, but had been removed during the building's eastern extension.
George Washington, had he been present, probably would have approved. He spent much of his youth at Ferry Farm in Stafford County, of course, and Federal Hall is where he was sworn in as president.