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Sep 3, 2014 9:00 PM

Are you my cousin? Ammi Burnham Young (1798 - 1874)

Views of the Boston Custom House

Did you ever see a historical name in a book or on a plaque and say “That name could be a cousin!” Did you follow up by researching to see if that name really was a cousin? That’s me. I recognize familiar surnames around New England and often wonder if there is a kinship.

I saw the name Ammi Burnham Young on a brochure about the Boston Custom House and I wondered about his BURNHAM name. I knew that there were several “Ammi Burnhams” in my family tree. I have eight BURNHAM lineages from the same two immigrant brothers, and so usually any New England Burnham ends up being a cousin to me. I was very surprised to read that the architect Ammi Burnham Young (1798 – 1874) was not just a BURNHAM cousin, but I was also related to his FOSTER grandmother, his EMERSON great grandmother, and to both of his PERKINS great great grandmothers. His grand father, Ammi Burnham (1733 – 1785) is my 2nd cousin 7 generations removed.

When researching famous cousins, it helps if your own family tree includes all the allied branches of your ancestors, their siblings, the siblings spouses, extended family and also their children (your first cousins many generations removed, and also your second cousins many generations removed). All these branches make it easier to match up to someone with a common ancestor.

Who was Ammi Burnham Young? He was born in Lebanon, New Hampshire on 19 June 1798, and his father, Samuel Young, built many civil buildings in Vermont and New Hampshire including churches, court houses and schools. Ammi graduated from Dartmouth College and followed in his father’s footsteps. His two early works were the Vermont Capitol building and the Boston Custom House, which was finished in 1847. The Custom house was considered Boston’s first skyscraper when a tower was added in 1915 which replaced the original dome designed by Ammi Burnham Young.

US Treasury Building, Washington D.C.
photo by Wikimedia Commons,
After the Boston Custom House, Ammi Burnham Young was in great demand to build civic buildings all over the country. In 1842 he built the US Treasury Building in Washington, DC (see the back of any $10 bill for an image of this building). He built dozens of custom houses from Texas to Maine. Locally in New England he built the courthouses in Worcester , Cambridge and Lowell, Massachusetts, the City Hall in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 1853 he supervised the construction of the Territorial Capital Building in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Ammi Burnham Young lost out on being the designer of the US Capital Building in Washington DC, and so as a consolation prize he was appointed “Supervising Architect of the US Treasury Department” in 1852. He produced plans for many of the federal buildings built in Washington DC around the mall to be fire-proof using cast iron and granite. Some of his custom houses in the southern states built at this time survived the Civil War, and orders by the Army of Northern Virginia to burn the Richmond custom house. Jefferson Davis was indicted for treason inside the courtroom of this Richmond building in 1866.

Ammi Burnham Young died in Washington DC on 13 March, 1874 and is buried there at the Oak Hill Cemetery.

PDF of an article from the Bulletin for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, “Architechtural Projects in the Greek Revival Style by Ammi Burnham Young” by Lawrence Wodehouse, Volume LX, Number 3, January – March 1970, pages 73 – 85.

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Copyright ©2014, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


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