Born in 1808 in Cornish, New Hampshire, Salmon Portland Chase moved to Ohio as a young boy where he spent the majority of his adult life. Chase trained as a lawyer and began his public service in the United States Senate from 1849-1855 and then held office as Governor of Ohio from 1856-1860. After a brief return to the Senate from 1860 to 1861, he was called upon by Abraham Lincoln to serve as Secretary of the Treasury.
From 1861-1864, Salmon Chase occupied a suite of offices in the southeast corner of the third floor of the Treasury Building which included a private office and an adjoining reception room. His term of office spanned the years of the Civil War and many of the measures undertaken in Chase's office were in response to wartime needs.
To help finance the war, Secretary Chase mandated the Legal Tender Act of 1862 in which "greenback" currency was created, backed by neither silver nor gold. In response to a monetary system where states and individual banks printed their own money, a national banking system was instituted and became law in February of 1863. Also under Secretary Chase's direction, the Treasury Department oversaw the creation of two bureaus: the Bureau of Engraving and Printing which produced the new federal notes, and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (later renamed the Internal Revenue Service) which was responsible for collecting a new income tax to help finance the War. In many of these endeavors, Chase was supported by the financier Jay Cooke, whose portrait can be seen hanging in the reception room.
Chase resigned his position as Secretary of the Treasury in June of 1864 and was appointed Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court in the fall of that year. He presided on the bench during the turbulent era of Reconstruction until his death in 1873.
RESTORATION OF THE SALMON CHASE SUITE
The suite of rooms occupied by Salmon Chase was one of the most elaborately decorated of any Treasury office. The most significant aspect of the restoration process was the stabilization and conservation of the allegorical murals representing "Treasury" and Justice" and the Treasury shields on the ceiling of Secretary Chase's office. Paint conservators worked meticulously stripping the ceiling of approximately 90 years of paint to reveal the decorative painting which included Treasury seals in each of the four corners.
While the ceiling in Chase's office was restored, the decorative paint scheme on the walls was too damaged to be conserved. Instead, the decoration was carefully replicated using original colors. In order to identify the original layer of paint, architectural conservators examined paint probes taken from each architectural element (such as window frames, cornice moldings, baseboards, etc.). With information discovered by paint analysis, the decorative painting on the ceiling and walls of Chase's reception room have been faithfully replicated.
There are no surviving invoices or historic images available of the rooms as they looked during the 1860s, so the rooms have been decorated and furnished to be "period-appropriate" for the nineteenth century.
The draperies are based on a period engraving of a nineteenth century design from the collections of the Winterthur Museum. Pressed metal window cornices were inspired by an entablature design in the Treasury that features corn, grapes and hops, symbolizing the abundance of America's nineteenth century agricultural economy.
The eagle sofas and bookcase in the reception room are part of the historic Treasury furniture collection. Complementing the original furnishings are a number of acquired pieces such as the set of side chairs originally owned by financier Jay Cooke and the gothic-revival bookcase in Chase's office made by Julia Thompson, one of the few known female cabinet makers of the nineteenth century.
J. Goldsborough Bruff, a draftsman from Treasury's Office of the Supervising Architect, is believed to have designed the overmantel mirror in Chase's office. This mirror is the Treasury collection's most elaborate and features a large eagle, fruits and vegetables, popular nineteenth century iconography for a federal office building.
The restoration of the murals and the furnishing of the suite with original and period pieces brings to life the rooms where some of the most significant events in the Treasury Department's history took place.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: We wish to thank the Office of the Curator for helping obtain and maintain this information.