Multiple times on Preservation in Mississippi, the Meridian City Hall has been discussed. We all know that it was designed by preeminent Meridian architect P. J. Krouse. Or do we? Well, yes he designed it but the story is much more complicated than that and requires a detour back to 1902. During that year, P. J. Krouse accepted the commission to design the J. Z. George Infirmary at Mississippi A&M College (now George Hall at Mississippi State University). Krouse designed George Hall with the aid of a new addition to his firm, his new partner, Mobile-born architect Clarence Lindon Hutchisson, Sr.
Clarence Lindon Hutchisson, Sr. is the reason this fragment of architectural history came to my attention. Clarence L. Hutchisson, Sr. was a member of a family unique to American architecture. Elizabeth Barrett Gould calls the group the Hobart-Hutchisson Six in her book From Builders to Architects: The Hobart-Hutchisson Six, published in 1997 by Black Belt Press in Montgomery and the source material for this post. These six men designed and constructed buildings in Mobile, Alabama nearly continuously from 1797 to 1967, totaling around 1100 structures in that city alone. That does not count the structures designed in other parts of Alabama, plus those in Mississippi, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Panama, and elsewhere.
Clarence L. Hutchisson, Sr. was born on November 4, 1872, the son of architect James Henry Hutchisson. Clarence was a precocious architect, already being paid for his architectural drawings when he was thirteen. This trait was a necessity for Clarence, as his father died soon after, in 1887. Clarence was able to support himself by working for his brother, architect James Flandin Hutchisson II. Due to a lack of work in Mobile, Clarence moved to San Antonio, Texas in 1897 and, with the exception of a period of Army service during the Spanish-American War, spent the next three years working for the firm of McAdoo and Worley. After leaving that firm, he spent about a year working for the New Orleans firm of Favrot and Livauctais. P. J. Krouse contacted Hutchisson in late 1901 and the two created the firm Krouse and Hutchisson. The partnership only lasted two years and its magnum opus is George Hall.
George Hall was designed and constructed in 1902. According to the cornerstone, McGee and Humphrey constructed the building and W. H. Howard was the superintendent. Rather embarrassingly, the architects are credited as “Krouse & Hutchison.” George Hall is a unique structure. It is not Neoclassical, though the one-story portico falls into that style. My impression is that George Hall could be referred to as Edwardian due to the twin gable placement on the front façade and the general massing of the structure, especially with the center window group. But, Edwardian is a term seldom heard when discussing American architecture, much less a building in Mississippi. George Hall is an interesting design; yet, its best feature may be the rusticated brick façades. McGee and Humphrey should have been commended (and hopefully were) for executing the Flemish bond brickwork that adds interest to what could have been plain, blank walls.
Hutchisson left the partnership in 1903, returning to Mobile to form the firm of Watkins and Hutchisson, later Watkins, Hutchisson, and Garvin. That firm’s best known work is the urban renewaled Cawthon Hotel in Mobile, a steel-framed, Chicago-style building constructed in 1906-07. At the same time Krouse designed the Jones County Courthouses in Laurel and Ellisville.
Move forward to 1914. The City of Meridian was in the beginning stages of replacing its 1885, Gustav M. Torgerson-designed City Hall. According to city council minutes, three architects: R. H. Hunt, C. L. Hutchisson, Sr., and P. J. Krouse, attempted to win the City Hall commission during meetings held in March 1914. Krouse was chosen to design the City Hall on April 15, 1914. However, “in June the council decided that the law required them to have a consulting architect to consult the council and architect Krouse in the preparations of the plans for the new city hall.” I am unsure what law the Meridian City Council referred to but it boded well for Hutchisson and Krouse. Although it is unknown and speculative as to whether Hunt was offered or would have accepted the position of consulting architect, it ended up as a chance for the two old colleagues, Krouse and Hutchisson, to work together again.
Several details of this partnership are unknown. First, how long did Hutchisson work on the City Hall project? Gould raises this question but only answers it by stating that the last payment to Hutchisson for the project was on October 6, 1914, about the time construction began. Likely Hutchisson consulted from June or July to October of 1914. The other question is whether Hutchisson influenced or was involved in the Meridian City Hall design. The answer to that is probably no. Two of Krouse’s elevation drawings for the Meridian City Hall were displayed at the Mitchell Memorial Library Architecture Branch during the Spring Semester this year. Only Krouse’s name appears on those plans. However, architect C. L. Hutchisson, Jr. states that his father was heavily involved in the project, making numerous visits to Meridian. Gould writes that Hutchisson “was responsible for some changes made on the interior and on the wall construction.” Nevertheless, Hutchisson’s contributions to the Meridian City Hall as consulting architect were noted as such on a plaque located in the City Hall.
While short in duration, the collaboration between P. J. Krouse of Meridian and Clarence L. Hutchisson, Sr. of Mobile provided Mississippi with two landmark structures that the architectural landscape of the state would be poorer without.