I got a notice the other day that the North Carolina Architects and Builders Biographical Dictionary has just gone public online. You should check it out–it’s very intuitive and easy to navigate and you can follow the links wherever they lead. Also, many of the building entries have photos, which is great, and they promise more will be added. The bulk of the research and writing is Catherine Bishir’s, who co-authored Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building, a book I highly recommend to anyone who wants to understand how the building industry came to be the way it is, not just in North Carolina but throughout the country. Bishir is also the president of the Southeastern chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (SESAH) which will be meeting here in Jackson in October (I think I’ve mentioned this before, but repetition never hurt anyone, right?)
Here’s what the site has to say about itself:
This web site is a growing reference work that contains brief biographical accounts, building lists, and bibliographical information about architects, builders, and other artisans who planned and built North Carolina’s architecture. As a biographical dictionary, it focuses on people and their works in the state.
In many respects, this web site is a companion to the book, Architects and Builders in North Carolina: A History of the Practice of Building (Catherine W. Bishir, Charlotte V. Brown, Carl R. Lounsbury, and Ernest H. Wood III (UNC Press, 1990).
. . . .
As a biographical dictionary, this site focuses on people and their work. The many ways you can search and browse the site relate directly to the people for whom there are biographical entries. You can look them up by name, work locations in North Carolina, place of origin, residence, types of buildings, and more. Search and browse functions take the user primarily to the person, and secondarily to their buildings.
. . . .
The dictionary covers a wide range of practitioners who planned and built North Carolina’s architecture from the 1600s onward. In contrast to some biographical dictionaries it is not restricted to architects. It encompasses also many carpenters, brickmasons, contractors, plasterers, and others who were responsible for our architectural heritage. Few building projects, especially before the 20th century, involved architects at all, and most of the state’s buildings owed their quality and sheer existence to the artisans who predominated in the building industry.
“Why would I care about some database from North Carolina?” you may ask? Well, contrary to popular belief, not every work of great architecture in Mississippi is a product of one of our homegrown genius architects. In fact, through the 19th century and even into the early decades of the 20th century, many of our landmark buildings were designed by (dare I say it?) non-Mississippians.
Type in “Mississippi” in the search box on the North Carolina Architects and Builders page, and you’ll find four entries (http://ncarchitects.lib.ncsu.edu/people/?query=mississippi): two I expected, William Nichols and Frank Milburn and two whose names I didn’t recognize, Samuel Lemly and Addison Hutton. Of course, we all know William Nichols, who designed the Old Capitol (when it was the new capitol, of course), the Governor’s Mansion, the Lyceum at Ole Miss(three National Historic Landmarks, not bad for a decade of work!) and more private houses than we will probably ever know. The North Carolina site tells us the story of Nichols before he came to Mississippi, and helps us see a progression in his work from there to here. Frank Milburn is not as well known, but he designed the Meridian (1905-06) and Hattiesburg (1910) depots for the Southern Railway. Unfortunately, the Meridian depot was torn down long ago and replaced in the last decade with a new depot that is an architectural homage. But the Hattiesburg depot, a grand Italian Renaissance building has been recently renovated and re-opened once again as the hub of the Hub City. Addison Hutton, unbeknownst to me, worked on “Longwood“–you remember that building with the onion dome in Natchez?–when he was with the office of Samuel Sloan, the architect of Longwood. As for Samuel Lemly, a carpenter and joiner, he moved to Mississippi late in his life, so maybe he didn’t do much here, but the biography says he died in Jackson–it gives us something to think about and a name to look for in our wanderings around the archival records.
This is the latest of the architecture databases published online free of charge for all of us to see and search and learn from. A very early leader in the effort to publish research about architects online was the Philadelphia Architects and Buildings website that (as you might expect) focuses on Philadelphia and its surrounding area (and has a subscription component that allows you to see high-resolution photos and drawings). And even there you can find information relating to Mississippi, including an extensive entry about Samuel Sloan, who was from Philadelphia.
If you’re not careful, you’ll end up spending hours clicking around from link to link on these sites, trying to put together the pieces of our architectural history (well, I guess I have, but maybe, just maybe I’m not normal?). Hopefully the rumors are true and MDAH will have its own database of historic buildings online soon. Then everyone in the state (and maybe the whole world) will be tied to their computers late into the night, unable to pull themselves away from the fascinating information that’s before them!