I saw this letter to the editor from Nicholas Davis, Emeritus Professor of Architecture at Auburn, in the Clarion-Ledger a week or so ago, about the recent death of Mississippi architect William R. Henry:
I was most saddened recently to hear of the death of William Robert Henry, FAIA, architect, who lived and practiced in Jackson from the early 1950s until the late 1990s.
His office was close to mine in Fondren, and we often had lunch together. He was several years my senior and was very helpful in getting me over the difficulties of beginning practice.
I never knew another architect so idealistically devoted to his profession. In addition to being excellent technically and aesthetically, he was totally devoted to the welfare of his clients and the quality of their buildings, going far beyond the absolutely necessary time and attention to refine the tiniest details.
But I think his most valuable gift to the profession was honesty and integrity. He would never give money to politicians to get commissions.
He followed the standard AIA fee schedule to the letter. And when the state sneakily tried to lower the official standard fee while he was AIA president, he pressured all state architects to refuse to sign any of the cheaper contracts. This cost him dearly in the eyes of the state, but he never complained.
Nicholas D. Davis, F.A.I.A.
Emeritus professor of Architecture
Davis, as you may recall from last fall’s post “An Architectural Bonanza in the Clarion-Ledger,” was the architect of the house in Jackson’s Woodland Hills neighborhood that has five trees growing through the roof.
I have searched in vain for Henry’s obituary, so in lieu of that record, I have to rely on a much older and less personal record from the 1962 American Architects Directory by R.R. Bowker, available in pdf. form on the AIA website:
HENRY, WILLIAM R(OBERT), JR. AIA 54. Mississippi Chapter
+ William R. Henry, J r , P.O. Box 4626, Fondren Sta, Jackson 6, Miss.
b. Vaiden, Miss, Feb. 4, 25. Educ: Harris Art Sch, 1 1/2 yrs, 42; Ga. Inst, of Tech, B.S. & B. Arch, 52. Arch, Jay T. Liddle, AIA, Archt, 6 y r s . Present -Firm: William R. Henry, J r , AIA, Archt, org. 58. Reg: Miss. Gen. Types: 1,2,8,12,18,19. Prin. Wks: AGC Off. Bldg, & Volkswagen Dealership Bldg, Jackson, 59; Livingston Pk. Shop. Ctr, J, & A & P Super Market, Pensacola, Fla, 60; Gen. Elect. Supply Co, J, 60; (2) 1st Fed. Savings Brs, J, 61. Gov. Serv: USN Seabees, CM2/c, 43-46. AIA Act: Sec, 60; P r e s , 61.
From this, we find that Mr. Henry was born in Vaiden in 1925, which means perhaps he graduated from Vaiden High School. I’m not familiar with Harris Art School, so maybe he had moved away from Vaiden before he finished high school. Like most architects of his generation, Mr. Henry served in the construction and engineering branch of the military, in his case, the Navy Seabees, whose motto, “Can Do” my own father taught me at a young age. Returning to civilian life, he graduated from Georgia Tech’s architecture school, where fellow Mississippians Charles Barlow, James Chastain, Fred Harrison, and Carl Matthes, Jr. may have been his contemporaries.
Moving to Jackson after graduation, Henry worked for 6 years with Jay T. Liddle, whose house in Woodland Hills I admire, and whose firm in the 1950s designed the Mississippi Highway Patrol Headquarters that you can see on the west side of I-55 if you’re not watching the road as you exit the waterworks curve.
Henry set up his own practice in Fondren, my neighborhood. As far as I can tell, his office until at least 1970 was in a converted house on N. State Street, a lot that has now been subsumed into the Fondren Corner building. While here, he designed a building that I’ve wondered about for a while but never knew its history until now, the old First Federal Savings Bank Branch at the corner of Meadowbrook and State Streets. He also designed an almost identical branch bank building at the Westside Plaza.
Of the other buildings listed in the 1962 directory, I tracked the Volkswagon dealership to the 800 block of Terry Road, but when I visited the location, I found that the entire block has been subsumed into the JSU sports complex. City directories also revealed that the General Electric Supply Co. was located on S. West Street in Jackson–a visit found a string of warehouse type buildings of unknown age, so I’m not sure if that building survives. Otherwise, I’m afraid I’m woefully unable to list any other buildings by William Henry. Maybe someone out there who knew him better can point out some others to show off his work.